Delegation of principals visit Canada to raise profile of FE and facilitate opportunities for collaborative working

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Together with colleagues from across the FE sector in Wales, Principal of The College Merthyr Tydfil, Lisa Thomas, recently visited Montreal to attend the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics/Colleges and Institutes Canada Annual Congress. 

The event provided a strong focus for a series of wrap-around activities aimed at raising the profile of the FE sector in Wales whilst facilitating opportunities for partnerships with FE institutions and other relevant organisations in Canada and globally.  

Here, Lisa shares some reflections on the visit. 

ColegauCymru together with Global Wales organised an outward delegation of college Principals to attend the conference in April, which brought together post-16 leaders from around the world in the largest event of its kind. The delegation was funded by Wales’ Internation Exchange Programme, Taith, and Wales’ colleges were pleased to have the opportunity to attend this important event and to network with and learn from more than 1,300 FE colleagues from across the globe. 

The standout keynote speaker opening the Conference was Dr Farah Alibay, a French-Canadian Aerospace Engineer. With a glittering career, including working on both the M2020 mission at NASA and the Perseverance rover which landed on Mars in 2021, she is a fierce advocate for women and minorities in STEM.  

The Association of Colleges hosted a valuable session on ‘Brand TVET’ and the #LoveOurColleges and #CollegesWeek campaigns. This provided an opportunity for delegates to share their local challenges, discuss how they are raising the profile of vocational education in their countries, and take part in the launch of a new global ‘Affinity Group’. The ’Brand TVET’ session was an opportunity to hear from colleges and governments from a wide range of countries including Kenya, Singapore, Australia, Guyana, and Dominica, all of whom are working to raise awareness of the significant contributions of colleges in their different colleges. 

Building industry partnerships is a key priority for colleges in Wales, and the Conference was an opportunity to hear about best practice from around the world, including:  

  • Abu Dhabi Polytechnic who reported a significant increase in the employment rate of their learners, following their development of dual qualifications and focus on professional development. 
  • Basque Country who emphasised the importance of ‘think global, act local’, and how industry partnerships are a critical pillar of their technical education system, with regional skills eco-systems providing a framework for excellence. They are shifting mindset towards continuous open innovation.  
  • Australia who spoke about the need for education to respond to disruptive technology and keep up with the pace of industry change. They are currently focusing on Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things, and urged the audience to begin thinking differently about education. 

Norquest College, Canada hosted an inspiring session on their Anti-Racist Curriculum development, which included detail on: becoming an anti-racist organisation; identifying and dismantling racism; promoting inclusive and safe learning experiences; and contributing to the decolonisation of the curriculum. They emphasised the importance of the co-creation of learning – ‘nothing about us without us’. Their strategy is called ‘We Are Who We Include’. The session was an opportunity for us to reflect on our journey towards becoming an Anti-Racist nation here in Wales by 2030.  

The conference highlighted that the FE sectors across the world are dealing with similar challenges, albeit in different contexts. Raising the status of technical and vocational education with policy makers, prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of learners following the Covid19 pandemic, and supporting efforts towards net zero and green energy, were consistent themes across the participating countries.  

We were heartened to learn that in many cases Wales is ahead of the curve, particularly our strong working relationship with government. And whilst there is so much we can still learn, we’re committed to working with partners globally to learn and grow our sector together. There was real interest from other countries in the strides we are making here in Wales. 

Memorandum of Understanding between Colleges and Institutes Canada, ColegauCymru and Universities Wales 

During the visit, ColegauCymru and Global Wales hosted a reception to celebrate partnership and collaboration between FE institutions in Wales and Canada, and to mark the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Colleges and Institutes Canada, ColegauCymru and Universities Wales. The MoU commits to developing institutional links, and collaboration in further and higher education between Wales and Canada. The reception also provided a forum for the principals and vice-principals from Wales to connect with their Canadian counterparts, providing valuable networking and partnership development opportunities.   

The final day of the visit was spent meeting colleagues and touring Cégep de Saint-Laurent, a French-language college with 5,000 learners registered. This was an opportunity to discuss shared challenges and aspirations, including, creating a culture where we can meet the diverse needs of our learners to ensure their success; promoting an inclusive, caring and safe environment; and prioritising sustainability in everyday college life. I’d like to thank the Director General, Mathieu Cormier, and his team for hosting us at the college.  

These international activities are a critical part of colleges' efforts to create global citizens and networks, and establishing purposeful partnerships and promoting Wales to the world.  


About Lisa Thomas, Principal, The College Merthyr Tydfil

Lisa joined the FE sector as Assistant Principal in September 2012. Having started her career as a history teacher, Lisa benefits from over 25 years’ experience of leadership and management roles within secondary and further education and local government. As a member of ColegauCymru, Lisa has represented the sector in several Welsh Government working groups and played an influential role in shaping government policy regarding the FE sector in Wales. She is also an experienced ESTYN peer inspector. Lisa has more recently appointed as Vice Chair of Colegau Cymru and acted as Interim Chair for the ColegauCymru HR Directors Network and Wales Negotiations Committee FE (WNCFE).

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