The meridian connections

7th July 2006 at 01:00
In Greenwich the building of global links is being taken very seriously. Martin Whittaker reports

Here's a question. What do the Iraqi further education system, Ghanaian textiles and the Millennium Dome all have in common? The answer is Greenwich Community College.

The college has won praise for its international work and is held up as a shining example of how to build partnerships abroad.

Many colleges attract foreign students and develop links overseas. But Greenwich College, in south-east London, has taken a strategic approach, developing international work on a range of fronts and building this into its ethos.

Its global approach benefits those in its partner countries as well as its own students, and feeds into its local community. The college also had the foresight to get involved early on with Anschutz, the American developers of the Millennium Dome. From next September it will begin training the workforce for the planned new indoor entertainment arena, which includes the proposed controversial casino. Anschutz which will be a major employer on Greenwich Peninsula, the redevelopment site along the Thames.

The Government wants to see other colleges following Greenwich's lead. At a recent conference on global skills, further education minister Bill Rammell said: "I would like to see more FE colleges build strong strategic partnerships with their counterparts overseas.

"I'm convinced that through greater collaboration, the huge potential of FE to fully contribute to the economy and industry can be unlocked - locally, regionally, nationally and internationally."

The first thing you see when you walk into principal Geoff Pine's office at Greenwich is a giant stone head. As well as providing a talking point, the artwork also symbolises the college's commitment to globalisation.

The head is the work of Albanian artist Genc Mulliqi, who was brought in as artist-in-residence in a project designed to help overcome social isolation for Kosovan refugees in the borough.

Greenwich College attracts large numbers of overseas students - it has more than 200, not including those from European Union countries. Mr Pine has seen this number grow during his 14 years as principal, but the college has not gone out of its way to recruit them.

Much of this growth has come about through its local population - with many people having immigrated because of family ties. The college's students reflect this, speaking more than 100 languages.

Greenwich College has made the most of the different cultures on its doorstep and is involved in the borough's twinning arrangements with the town of Tema in Ghana, which, like Greenwich, is on the Meridian line.

Tema is known for the quality of its fabrics. The college has brought crafts people in to run workshops with its students, in return teaching them the business skills they need to make a better living in Ghana.

Greenwich has also forged links with community colleges in the United States. It has a partnership with Ann Arundel College, in Maryland, and has sent staff over there to look at its work with the health sector.

This has been a contributing factor in Greenwich being designated a centre for vocational excellence in health and social care. It is also a CoVE in tourism, and has just signed a partnership deal with a college in Beijing.

In another project with partners in Italy, Germany, Spain and France, college staff are developing e-learning training programmes for staff in disability counselling.

Greenwich is also in a partnership of nine FE colleges with counterparts in Iraq, which is helping to rebuild the country's shattered further education system. What do the college's students gain from all this international work?

"I hope it's started to give people from Greenwich a sense of greater cultural awareness," said Geoff Pine. "Also I'm hoping it's giving them an increasing awareness that when they go out to work, they are going to be working in a global economy."

As part of phase two of the Prime Minister's initiative for international education, the Government has earmarked pound;300,000 to encourage colleges to develop international projects over the coming year The Association of Colleges, the Learning and Skills Council, the British Council and the Department for Education and Skills plan to launch a prospectus at the end of this month, setting out the criteria under which colleges can apply for grants from the fund. The AoC has also developed a Charter for Excellence in International Education and Training and is developing a framework for its regulation and review.

In parallel, the Centre for Excellence in Leadership is including modules in its programmes to help college management develop the capacity for more international work. It is also developing case studies to show the leadership challenges of globalisation and is keen to hear of other colleges' work. "Up until now, colleges haven't had the confidence," said Jo Clough, CEL's director of international development.

"International work has been seen as a marginal bolt-on or as a commercial activity. It's just not been considered a priority given other local demands. But now, for the first time, we are starting to look at this far more strategically."

The TES is running the Make the Link awards in partnership with HSBC to promote better links between schools and colleges and their counterparts abroad. See

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