It is very worthy of the TES to run its "Make the Link" campaign. However, colleges battered by funding changes and reviews that threaten their core activities could be forgiven for glazing over, shrugging their shoulders and looking the other way. Why should they attempt to "make a link" that seems likely to be bothersome and marginal?
It is now nearly five months since the then Secretary of State, Charles Clarke, published Putting the World into World-Class Education. Since then, we have had the familiar annual cycle of letters and announcements about spending plans and the future of the FE sector. But there has been not a word about the international strategy document. So, should anyone in FE pay attention to it?
In a word, yes. The document did mark a major development in government policy. We have had a wide range of policy initiatives in the international arena from the present Government: from the Prime Minister, for the UK to be the first choice for international students, and to lead efforts to address global warming and "the scar on our consciences" that is Africa; from Gordon Brown, to maximise the contribution of our universities to innovation and enterprise in the global economy, and to write off Third World debt; and from Patricia Hewitt, to "make globalisation a force for good for every country".
We have had calls from the Department for Education and Skills to "transform our capacity to speak foreign languages", and to engage with employers in a skills strategy focused on making us competitive in a global knowledge economy.
We have had EU and wider international exchange programmes and scholarships. What Putting the World into World-Class Education did was to "Make the Link" between all these, and bring them together into a strategy that is aimed at every school, college and university in the country.
The document published last November set out the general vision. The Government is committed to publishing a detailed implementation plan by the end of the spring. The plan is being developed in consultation with many key stakeholders - prominent among them the FE sector.
FE colleges have a major stake in the strategy. Some colleges have significant numbers of international students. Some are using their specialist expertise with local employers to offer packages of goods and training services overseas. Many have an international curricular or commercial link, often supported by ICT.
The DfES International Strategy strongly supports this. But it goes much further. It redefines the curriculum to which all young people should have access to include eight key concepts of global citizenship, ranging from social justice to sustainable development.
It redefines key skills as those needed to work in a global economy, including the ability to work in diverse cultures, countries and contexts.
It sets a target for every college to establish a strategic international partnership with at least one other college overseas.
That invitation was directly answered by the Association of Colleges at its November conference with the launch of a Charter for Excellence in International Education and Training. The charter invites every college to commit itself to an international strategy that embodies key ethical values, and includes strategic partnerships that enable us all to learn from and share best practice with other countries.
Every college will start from its present reality. At the London college of which I am governor, we do not currently have strong links with any institution overseas. But we have a rich and diverse student population, more than 50 per cent of whom come from ethnic minorities. Through our local community, we will now explore how we can develop a more global perspective supported by international links.
David Forrester was director for further education and youth training at the then Department for Education and Employment from 1995 to 2001 and is advising the DfES on the International Strategy. He writes in a personal capacity.