John Major has signed up to an agreement with Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo which could spark a business bonanza for the burgeoning British training industry.
Mexico has been given $265 million from the World Bank to spend on its Technical Education and Training Modernising Project. The joint action plan is designed to encourage "technical co-operation" between the British Council and the Mexican equivalent of the National Council of Vocational Qualifications: the Consejo de Normalizaci"n y Certificaci"n de Competencias Laborales.
The agreement is the latest step in a concerted campaign by the British Council to tap into the lucrative Mexican market. There has been British involvement in the setting up of the World Bank-approved project, and last year Baroness Perry headed a delegation to offer British consultancy and training services.
John Hillier, the chief executive of the NCVQ, said: "The significant feature of the deal is the amount of business it could bring to consultants, training providers and equipment manufacturers."
Much maligned in Britain, national vocational qualifications have been recognised as the world leader in competence-based qualifications, and the World Bank expressed this explicitly in a 1994 report. They have been successfully marketed abroad, notably in Oman, where export earnings total around Pounds 2.5 million.
Elsewhere, several countries, rather than importing the qualifications, have borrowed and adapted the freely available standards and models developed since the mid-1980s by the NCVQ.
According to Elizabeth Rylance Watson, NVQ development officer at theBritish Council , who is developing an export strategy: "Australia, New Zealand and Ireland are building and marketing their versions based on the UK occupational standards system and qualifications."
The Mexican accord, by far the biggest so far, follows a similar deal with Pakistan, signed last September. The British Council is also preparing a response to the Hong Kong government's invitation last November to offer technical and consultancy services.