London is open – our colleges should be, too
It is too soon to judge the outcome of Britain’s departure from the EU, but we must continue to welcome students and staff from all backgrounds if our sector is to flourish, says Mark Malcolmson
SINCE WE opened nearly 100 years ago, City Lit has welcomed tens of thousands of Londoners through its doors every year. We have welcomed students from all backgrounds, all in pursuit of the same goal: to better themselves and carve out a world of new possibility both professionally and personally, whatever their particular passion or interest.
Both students and teachers are drawn from communities throughout London and countries across the world. We firmly believe the diversity of our teaching team leads to a richer tapestry of thinking both among students and fellow staff. However, the Brexit vote has created a sense of unease for many members of the community.
The diverse, cosmopolitan and inclusive environment is under a huge threat due to the way the government is approaching its negotiations around Brexit.
We estimate that we have over 200 EU nationals working for us on either a full-time or part-time basis. We don’t know the exact number; we have never captured it as it has always been irrelevant. We check people have the legal right to work here and leave it at that. Our languages department is the most comprehensive in the country offering over 30 languages across all levels. Each of those languages is taught by a native speaker and as a consequence we employ many excellent teachers from across Europe and beyond.
There is little doubt the arguments over Brexit will continue to rumble on for years to come. However, we need to focus on how both London and the adult education section can flourish, whatever outcomes arise from a protracted negotiation period. That requires us to have the highest quality teachers and to be as welcoming as possible to all adults, irrespective of their backgrounds.
While the recent general election has added even more uncertainty, with an extensive negotiation period with the EU now underway, we have a responsibility to provide forward-thinking, constructive contributions to the debate. We must work diligently to ensure our voice remains prominent throughout negotiations, whether they last for two years or move towards more of a transitional withdrawal, as many now anticipate.
London must remain open
Following the EU referendum result, the mayor of London Sadiq Khan has campaigned exhaustively under the banner of “London Is Open”. At the time, he outlined the unique credentials that help make London one of the world’s truly global cities. “We don’t simply tolerate each other’s differences, we celebrate them,” he said. “Many people from all over the globe live and work here, contributing to every aspect of life in our city. We now need to make sure that people across London, and the globe, hear that London is open.”
We believe that City Lit actively embodies this spirit of openness, and that whatever challenges leaving the EU may bring for a city as cosmopolitan as London, we will remain committed to embracing all Londoners alike, wherever their journey started in life. Around 200 different languages are spoken on the streets of the capital, and the sight of Londoners of all cultures and backgrounds coming together after recent tragedies again shows that more unites us than divides us.
If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s to avoid making hasty predictions. So I’ll avoid making any forecasts about Britain’s future outside the EU here.
And while it may still be far too early to judge the outcome of the final Brexit deal, as an institution, we believe that nothing is more important in the current negotiations than ensuring London remains as open as it always has been.