Dame Asha Khemka issues an impassioned plea for FE and the benefits it can bring as the countdown to voting day nears its end.

There has been something quite worrying about the discourse in this General Election campaign.

Aside from the usual political point-scoring, we’ve seen something more sinister — an undercurrent of fear. Fear of the foreign, the stranger and the immigrant.

At a time when we need to be open to an ever-shrinking world and the opportunities international trade brings, we seem to be retrenching backwards into our small island.

People are afraid the stranger may take their job. They are sceptical about Europe, and worried about the impact of immigration on our already-stretched public services.

If we build a society based on strong employment, this anxiety will no longer exist. Instead of throwing rocks at the EU from the outside, let’s try and change things from the inside. And by creating the capacity to invest more in services and infrastructure — and a culture that doesn’t expect everything for free — people will feel less threatened by immigration.

It’s time to inject a sense of positivity back into our great nation, regardless of where we’re from, which side of a border we reside and where our political allegiances lay.

Our collective challenge is to create a country where opportunity flourishes and people can achieve their ambitions, no matter what their starting point.

Often it is easier for somebody from the outside to see the positives — and I believe the foundations are already in place.

We are an infinitely accepting and tolerant nation. I know, because this country and the people in it welcomed me and my family with open arms more than 35 years ago. Let’s not allow the rhetoric of fear to change that.

Rather than spending all our time trying to fix what isn’t working, let’s look at what does work and replicate that

Our country is one of promise and opportunity for those willing to seize it. I can testify to its life-enhancing opportunities. Let’s work together to instill in the next generation a sense of hope and create a society where people are willing to invest in their education — because in gaining skills, they gain their futures.

We are a society where people can be themselves and, because of it, innovation thrives and creativity flourishes. Let’s allow people to innovate, and have trust in those who work tirelessly in public service to put the interests of their communities first rather than meeting targets or quotas set from a distance.

Every day in my own college I see young people filled with hope and ambition, just like I was all those years ago.

I am a firm believer in allowing that ambition to flourish; in providing our young people with the skills and the personal tools to turn their dreams into reality.

Whether that is through apprenticeships or academic qualifications, our education system should be an enabler and not a blocker.

We start from the stand point that every single student has the potential to make a success of their lives and, in so doing, will go on to contribute to their communities and society as a whole. Positivity breeds positivity.

Our nation is filled with people who want to make a difference. I know because some of those people have helped me along the way. That, in turn, has made me want to give something back. The more we push people to the outside, the less they feel part of society and the less they give back in return. Negativity breeds negativity.

We have many challenges ahead — on controlling our borders, on balancing the books and repairing our fractured society.

We cannot achieve any of this with a deficit model. Rather than spending all our time trying to fix what isn’t working, let’s look at what does work and replicate that. Let’s learn from each other.

If there’s anything my many years in the FE sector has taught me, it’s that whatever our age, background or culture, we never stop learning.