THE University of Cumbria is forging new links with the Far East following a delegation tour to China.

It is hoped that the visit will plant seeds of opportunity which could lead to the university and the region it serves playing an important part in the rapidly changing global economy.

The university’s director of industrial strategy Professor Andy Gale, co-head of the Institute of Education Ruth Harrison-Palmer along with the university’s regional manager for Asia, growth and partnerships Xiao Hong Yang-Stringer have just returned from a forum hosted by the Chinese Government to promote education ties between China and the UK.

The 'Belt and Road' Forum held in Beijing drew together delegates from a wide range of areas ranging from forestry, the environment, nursing and midwifery, teacher training, business and apprenticeships.

The name of the event refers to the ‘belt’, an overland link crossing continents while the ‘road’ refers to shipping lanes linking China with the rest of the world.

Over two days, the University of Cumbria team contributed to the forum event and met with many Chinese and British organisations and work to collaborate is already moving forward.

"The Chinese Government clearly sees the modernisation and the creation of Chinese internationally credible vocational education system as fundamental to the success of the Belt and Road initiative," said Professor Gale.

"We signed 14 Memoranda of Understanding – a clear indication of the value of the trip and a sense that the Chinese really want to do business with the University of Cumbria."

Forestry is one area where the university found favour.

Talks were held with the College of Forestry, Guansu Agricultural University which is keen to collaborate in the areas such as soil, water, forestry and garden/landscape design.

Cumbria is home to the National School of Forestry.

The Chinese education sector is vast with 12,300 vocational schools, collectively hosting nearly 27 million students and annually recruiting 9.3 million new students.

The Chinese Government and educational experts in China are looking to the UK’s apprenticeship models and commitment to accredited vocational education as a good example for China to learn from.

"In the medium to long-term, we’re confident the contacts we made here will bring benefits to support the future of the Cumbria region more widely," said Professor Gale.

"It would seem a sensible strategy for us to be in the vanguard of UK institutions leading strong strategic collaborative relationships with Chinese institutions."