Scottish colleges which work together not only do a better job for students and the economy, but improve global relations too. Neil Munro reports
Colleges are on the move to consolidate their links with their counterparts overseas. Last week, delegates from Canada, the United States, Australia, Fiji and New Zealand gathered in Scotland as part of the "post-secondary international network" (PIN) to discover how they could "act locally, think globally".
Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, welcomed them as chancellor of Adam Smith College, which hosted the conference.
The college has established links with the Box Hill Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and the partnership has already received European funding to develop joint qualifications in catering and hospitality and construction courses. This will lead to students from both colleges working in industry and studying in the two countries.
Craig Thomson, principal of Adam Smith College, said: "Over the past few years, Scotland's colleges have focused increasingly on working together as a coherent group, and this has meant we can do a better job for both our students and employers. On an international level, we can do the same: by working together, we can create a global sector to support our increasingly global economy."
Mr Thomson suggested that, in such a way, Scotland's colleges could demonstrate they were "world class".
But Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of education, cautioned that, while colleges provided high-quality learning and success for their students, "colleges still have headroom to move from good to great, or excellent".
He added: "The criteria for being world class do not demand perfection, but more a very high-level and improving all-round performance. It is probably not, or not yet, for me to accord such an accolade to Scottish colleges, but it is clear that we have a college sector which is increasingly capable of holding its own in such company."
Mr Donaldson said the new style of FE inspections, involving a lighter touch for colleges which have a strong track record, pointed to the fact that "the sector is maturing and, increasingly, taking ownership of its own effective arrangements for quality assurance and enhancement".
He suggested that, if Scotland's colleges were truly world class, students from around the world would want to study here. But the picture was mixed: 16 colleges accounted for 92 per cent of international students, and around half of these showed decreasing trends of enrolment while the other half showed growth.
"To be world class, we need to provide value for money, get it right for all our learners and get it right first time," Mr Donaldson added.
He urged colleges not to stand still if they aspired to be world class. "What is high-quality today runs the risk of being mundane by tomorrow," he suggested.
College leaders should "avoid dogma, beware snake oil, focus on learning and outcomes for students, build capacity and be a lead learner".