Award-winning link changes the fabric of Indian jute craft
Dundee used to be categorised, in geography lessons, by the "three Js", jute, jam and journalism; and through the jute industry, the city developed strong links with India.
Although jute is now practically non-existent in Dundee, it is a big growth industry in India and one in which Dundee is again becoming involved through the international activities of Dundee College.
The Jute Project is one of three initiatives which have won the college the award for Best UK Skills Provider from the India Skills Forum, supported by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
Topping the list of 120 UK colleges and skills organisations, Dundee gained the award for its delivery of employability skills and industrial awareness training to creative industries students at South Delhi Polytechnic for Women, and for its work promoting health and safety education in the petro-chemical and automotive industries in the Indian sub-continent.
The Jute Project in South Delhi focuses on modern techniques and design innovations in the production of environmentally-friendly jute products, and familiarisation with global markets. Around 200 students and 30 staff currently benefit but, once the two-year pilot is made mainstream, it is expected to reach some 250 students a year.
The project is also benefiting Dundee staff and students.
"While we are helping to train Indian students in new technologies, our textile design students are learning traditional methods, such as block printing, from India," says Sheila Mortlock, the project manager and tutor in textile design.
"The project encourages the acknowledgement of a shared heritage and brings a new generation of Dundee students to an awareness of the possibilities jute offers."
In India, new products are being developed all the time, such as felt, jewellery, paper and quality woven fashion products and accessories, she says. The production of jute bags has also been given an enormous boost by the Indian government's banning of plastic bags.
"The opportunities for international cultural awareness, including the cross-flow of techniques, are invaluable and unique," she says.
The approach in the Jute Project, and the petro-chemical and automotive initiatives, is holistic.
"When I took two of our students to Delhi, we learnt traditional Indian techniques alongside lessons in Indian cooking, sari dressing and traditional dance. It is very much a cultural exchange," says Mrs Mortlock.
Vocational skills provision in India offers huge potential for UK providers, as India aims to train 500 million people for work by 2022.
In the health and safety project, Dundee College is partnered with the Shell Technology Centre in Bangalore, developing the Shell Health and Safety Passport.
"Shell is a major employer on the Indian sub-continent, where students are well trained theoretically, but lack the practical skills to be safe workers. This is where we come in, providing practical as well as transferable soft skills," says Fiona Jurk, international manager at Dundee College.
"Our Dundee students are helping Nepalese students to develop portable solar packs for heating and lighting homes in rural areas," she says. "They are helping to create something of direct use to Nepalese students and their families."
The Dundee students have also designed the circuitry and packs which are being produced by students at the Balaju College of Engineering in Katmandu, she adds.
In addition, Dundee College is working with the University of Delhi and FICCI to bring over graduates in hospitality, to give them hands-on training in restaurant and kitchen management.
Through the Jute Project, Mrs Jurk and her female colleagues have also learnt to multi-task in a new way.
"We can all now wear saris and hold a bunch of roses and a microphone while giving a speech at the same time," she says. "Believe me, that is multi-tasking of the first order!"
For staff and students visiting Dundee from South Delhi Polytechnic last week, one of the highlights was meeting and seeing the work of Sandra Thompson, the only jute entrepreneur now working in the city.
Ms Thompson, who produces jute handbags and fashion accessories (as well as coffins) is known simply to the students as the "Jute Memsahib".
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Upasna Mehta - Second-year student in fashion design, South Delhi Polytechnic for Women.
"Coming to visit Dundee College is like a dream come true for me. It's a great opportunity to learn new techniques. We have limited techniques in India but, hopefully, with our links to Dundee this will change.
"The two-week trip has increased my confidence tremendously. Scotland is amazing and so different. Your cities are so small compared to India and I'm struck by how few people seem to live here, compared to home.
"I love how close cities like Dundee and Edinburgh are to the sea and how small your city centres are. The cultural differences and exchanges are very fruitful and, as a vegetarian, I'm amazed how good the vegetarian food actually is.
"The teaching here is much more explanatory and detailed than in Delhi and the students' work is less traditional and more creative and imaginative. It has made me more free and, I hope, creative in my ideas.
"It's this freer creativity I want to share when I go back to Delhi."