Russian students who have never stepped outside eastern Europe are using British vocational qualifications to boost their job prospects.
British further education colleges have been forging links with Russian and Ukrainian technical and vocational schools since the thaw in East-West relations. Now they are exporting City and Guilds, Pitman and RSA qualifications.
College leaders in Moscow, St Petersburg and the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk, have introduced courses in the past 18 months. Students take the same exams in English as home students.
Brooklands College, Surrey, has sold courses in English and business administration in Moscow and St Petersburg. Andrew Bayley, dean of curriculum at the college says the Russian market is ripe for exploitation.
"There is huge export potential for vocational qualifications and the British could sew up the market if we move fast enough. With the right level of support the market is there for the Russians to buy our qualifications intact. If we don't move soon the Russians will adapt their existing theory-based examinations to the practical needs of the market."
Talks between the federal education authorities and Moscow Technical College over official acceptance of the City and Guilds as timetabled subjects are well advanced. Moscow college principal Oleg Rochin says: "Students receive an absolutely new system of training and assessment and marketable skills in a real working atmosphere."
Six members of his staff have been trained as RSA and CG examiners at Brooklands and 20 students have passed units in the RSA's business administration NVQ level two course. More than 500 have gained English for business qualifications. Brooklands and MTC are also working with a teacher-training college in St Petersburg where British NVQs will be introduced this year.
Students on the business administration course are offered work placements, although finding enough western firms willing to do this is a problem, Mr Rochin admits.
One young woman who went on an attachment to the British Council's Moscow offices last year was taken on as a secretary. The college hopes that the British Council will offer further placements this year.
A number of university graduates have approached the college who want to improve their job prospects through the courses. Working for a western firm in Russia enables people to earn dollars - a key factor in an economy beset by chronic poverty and inflation.
Russian federal backing for the British qualifications is expected soon which will mean students will receive Russian and British qualifications.
Bonney Rust, research director of the body which represents the Association for Colleges in Europe, said the AFC was very positive about the Russian opportunities.
"In the past there were a number of disappointments when colleges hoped they would be able to earn substantial income from providing services in this region but came up against the exchange value of the rouble. We're very positive and will support relationships wherever possible."