Colleges are offering Tanzania a boost, says Martin Whittaker
Plans to build links with Tanzania to create gap year-style opportunities for further education students are gathering support.
Colleges, unions and other organisations have formed a new network to develop the scheme. The group aims to launch it at this autumn's Association of Colleges conference.
Gordon Brown, the chancellor, who has pledged that the UK will spend pound;8.5 billion on global education over the next 10 years, has given the idea his backing.
The network - known as Skills Exchange with Tanzania - recently held its first meeting at the Institute for Public Policy Research.
It aims to develop links with Tanzania's further education system to offer volunteer work placements to college students and exchange visits for staff.
It is expected exchanges would benefit both countries, offering enrichment for UK students and professional development for staff, while strengthening training in Tanzania to help reduce poverty.
The group includes the Association for College Management, the University and College Union, Lifelong Learning UK, the Association of Colleges, the Centre for Excellence in Leadership, and college principals. A delegation of Tanzanian officials also attended.
Tanzania has a growing economy and needs to develop training for agriculture, IT and tourism. The number of vocational education and training centres has more than doubled in the past decade, with the number of courses teaching trades increasing from 15 to 96.
Nevertheless, they still only have capacity for 80,000 students, while there are more than 500,000 school leavers per year. The country is suffering from a scarcity of college and university places and a shortage of competent vocational teachers.
Text books and other learning materials are also in short supply.
Zebadiah Mochi, director general of the country's vocational education and training authority, said work training is a forgotten area in education support.
"One of the key areas to address economic development, particularly in developing countries, is to focus on vocational development through skills development," he said.
"Tanzanians have received this initiative with much anxiety and optimism.
We are looking forward to concrete plans on this initiative."
The idea for Skills Exchange with Tanzania began with Ken Spours of London university's Institute of Education. In 2004, he visited the district of Morogoro and was shocked at the poverty he witnessed.
City of Bristol College has also been involved. It is building a partnership with Morogoro and has staged fundraising events to support a classroom for street children, a centre for people with disabilities, a home for the elderly and a vocational centre.
The college is now investigating sources of funding to help its students have a two or three-week placement in Morogoro, where they can use their practical skills to help the impoverished community.
"Most of our vocational students are not able to take the kind of gap year experience which many middle-class A-level students have," said a spokeswoman.
City of Bristol College has asked the British Council to support a Tanzania link with Sir Bernard Lovell school and Warmley Park school, both in Bristol.
Nadine Cartner, of the Association for College Management, said: "I think we have a wonderful offer of partnership between Tanzania and the UK."
The TES is running Make the Link 2006 - a campaign to promote international links between schools and colleges. It is part of a worldwide drive to fight poverty by providing education for every child. See: www.tes.co.ukmake_the_link