LEADERS OF a powerful consortium of education and business in South Africa have accused UK colleges of flirting with international links and using them for "academic tourism".
A lack of rigour and quality in exchange programmes - which were little more than opportunism - had tarnished the name of FE colleges, they said.
And yet, despite the anger at individual colleges, they agreed the first of a series of training contracts under a College Collaboration Fund which could bring pound;10 million over five years to UK colleges.
South Africa is seeking up to 100 colleges to help retrain their middle managers for top jobs.
The college would take a person on secondment for three months and provide training, guidance and mentoring in all aspects of management.
At the launch of the SA-UK programme last week, Khetsi Lehuko, chief director of FE for the SA government, said "institutional racism" was still a hangover from apartheid. Virtually all the top college jobs were done by whites, and this had to change.
South Africa was facing radical changes in FE similar to those faced by the UK in the past eight years. The Mandela government had been impressed by what was happening here, he said.
However, concern about variations in standards of overseas links and the damage done by a few mavericks was discussed by advisers to both governments in a series of high-level visits to South Africa.
Tight quality controls are therefore to be imposed on colleges involved in the new African contracts. They will be monitored by the non-profit-making British Training International, set up by Education Secretary David Blunkett in 1997 to promote UK education, training and qualifications.
Mr Lehuko last week said of existing exchanges: "The links we have had so far have not demonstrated any real positive changes in terms of quality of programmes delivered."
Ruth Gee, head of BTI, said: "This contract is not about academic tourism. It is about ensuring the best possible exchange programme for both countries." The partnership was developed by BTI, the British Council and the National Business Initiative, set up by Nelson Mandela.