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

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - FURTHER -

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.

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