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Palvinder Singh, Vice Principal Growth and External Relations at Leeds City College reflects on 2016 and looks to the future of Further Education.

“Never in my career have I seen as many students on smart digital devices as I have in 2016, though in an age of cyber connectivity, this is of course, expected.

“Our students are more informed than ever before and face quite different challenges in what is an interconnected world. As I look back, it is hard to ignore the insurgencies of our time. We have a whole encyclopaedia of recent events: Brexit, Trump, the Syrian civil war, the refugee crisis in Europe and a rise of the European far right. We are dumbfounded in our observations of hate-mongering against immigrants.

“We are witnessing a time when oppressive and racist language has gone smoothly mainstream. References to “creature” and “ape in heels” don’t belong in a country where we have a longstanding respect for acceptance in towns and cities which have been built on migrant communities.

“International figures can generate division through a simple tweet, which is exposed to our students in an instant, along with fake news with no editorial controls. All of this, playing out in the palms of our students’ hands. ‘Mobile phones’ are quite different to only a few years ago.

“Our young people are living in a global system and are bombarded with thousands of messages every day, so we need to be aware of this to sustain a culture of respect, balance and tolerance, as we always have in the Further Education sector.

“I look at the current world and cannot help feeling that this year, we need to be more conscious of these divisive messages and go beyond ‘British Values’. Brexit has problematised this term and if we look at what this encompasses, is it not what good educational establishments – and good human beings – have always promoted? Language is powerful and we have a worrying sense of dictatorship simmering.

“Coming back to FE: those who know, know. We have no barriers to recruitment. We take students from all parts with no postcode lottery. Our purpose is to support our students, communities and help regenerate our economies.

“We are the melting pot of culture, taking students from every background, but how often do we recognise that our sector is the leader in multi-culturalism, diversity, and is consistently at the forefront of community cohesion?  We have some spectacular individuals working in the sector and some of the most inspiring teachers who have delivered ‘British Values’ before the term even existed.

“So in 2017, in this time of divisive media rhetoric, I want us to remain aware of the power of Further Education to challenge inequality and unite communities in pathways of hope – our country needs us now more than ever.  As the late, MP Jo Cox said: “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.” 

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