Globally qualified

From Asia to Africa, City & Guilds is expanding to provide training that is internationally recognised. Stephen McCormack reports

Until recently, a City & Guilds qualification conjured up images of spanners in the back pocket of blue factory overalls or 17-year-olds in white aprons learning about food hygiene.

Until recently, a City & Guilds qualification conjured up images of spanners in the back pocket of blue factory overalls or 17-year-olds in white aprons learning about food hygiene.

While neither of those scenarios is entirely outdated, a better image of the City & Guilds organisation in 2003 is more sophisticated and reflects a geographical reach far wider than the local further education college. In fact, City & Guilds is going global in a big way. For decades, the familiar vocational qualifications - NVQ Certificate, Diploma and Advanced Diploma - gained in the United Kingdom have been viewed with respect and sometimes envy in other countries. Now City & Guilds is exporting its expertise by operating or supervising learning and training centres in more than 100 countries.

A young landscape gardener in Sri Lanka or trainee accountant in Nairobi can now study in his or her own country for City & Guilds qualifications that will be accepted the world over.

"The growing mobility of employment is one of the driving forces behind the increasing need for internationally recognised vocational qualifications," says Patrick Casey, the regional manager for the City & Guilds operation in South Asia and the Gulf.

"For example, it is common for blue-collar workers, hotel staff and accountancy professionals to move from India to work in the Gulf States. Universally recognised and understood qualifications help both employer and employee."

A recent development illustrating the trend is the signing of an agreement that will lead City & Guilds to help the Sri Lankan government strengthen its vocational and technical education framework.

Students in Sri Lanka will be able to study for the City & Guilds international vocational qualifications (IVQs) at colleges and training centres across the country. Employment sectors covered include beauty therapy, telecommunications and engineering, IT and car maintenance.

The City & Guilds investment will be paid back in the coming years when the 60,000 students in Sri Lanka on vocational courses pay the fees to take the theoretical and practical exams and receive the qualifications. These fees range from approximately £80 for the certificate up to £160 for the advanced diploma.

In India, the City & Guilds qualifications have already taken root in many industrial sectors. Sunita Motwani-Makhija, the director of the Schnell Hans chain of beauty schools and salons, has just received the highest City & Guilds award, the licentiateship, having been awarded the advanced diploma some years back. Her schools were the first in India to receive City & Guilds accreditation, and all young entrants to the profession in India are encouraged to acquire City & Guilds qualifications.

"The international recognition and prestige that the qualifications enjoy add tremendous value, particularly in the light of recent globalisation of Indian businesses and the arrival in India of large numbers of multinationals," says Ms Motwani-Makhija.

She also believes strongly that City & Guilds qualifications, uniquely, represent an international benchmark of quality. "The awards stand out among the mêlée of local and international qualification providers. They are, in my view, the preferred qualifications for students and employers alike."

The recent opening of a new City & Guilds branch office in Shanghai highlights the determination to establish a base in the biggest as yet untapped market in the world. The British awarding body is the only foreign organisation accredited by the Chinese government. The locally administered and awarded City & Guilds qualifications are assessed in the local language, Mandarin.

Other footholds in the overseas market for vocational qualifications are represented by City & Guilds branch offices in Delhi, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Budapest, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.

This year City & Guilds awarded 1.2 million qualifications in more than 500 subjects across the industrial landscape. Aided by the planned global expansion over the next three years, the aim is to boost that figure to 1.5 million awards each year. The thrust fits in both with City & Guilds' charitable status and its need to survive in the commercial world.

"We see it as our social objective to develop people and learning around the world," explains Patrick Casey. "But we need to sustain ourselves financially and to do that we have to provide our services as widely as possible."

As well as having staff on the ground across the world managing and monitoring training institutions, City & Guilds, like many other educational institutions, has embraced the e-learning culture. Its online studying option, "e-quals" (www.e-quals.co.uk), enables students anywhere to learn and be assessed from home. At present, qualifications via this method are confined to those in computer-related disciplines.

It is, though, another symbol of how City & Guilds intends to maintain its place as the leading player across continents in the awarding of work-related qualifications.

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