As the recession deepens there is an even greater focus on training and re-skilling. In fact as much as the need for upskilling there is the need for business and learning providers to change their products and approaches. I have been in further education for some 30 years and during that time the magnitude of change has been significant – not just with the Colleges I have worked in but across the country. I still have significant aspirations for the future; however, because I believe that the whole culture of learning will need to change that doesn’t mean I believe wholesale in what the Government is doing. I do agree that singularly the status quo is not an option.
So what needs to change and how will this benefit North Somerset, the area I work in? I do not profess to have every answer but I would like to see the following happen: a Conference Centre that will allow small and large groups to access state of the art resources for training of all kinds; for the area to have its own bespoke institution of Higher Education and possibly a University Technical College in conjunction with the local schools; a range of facilities that will support learners who have learning difficulties and disabilities simultaneous with resources for all types of foundation learning.
Now, what will these give to the community? Probably the best combination of learning resources in any unitary authority to complement the existing models of best practice in the country.
To try and achieve this mammoth list might appear impossible or at best daunting but I think it is achievable, albeit in stages, and I will tell you why. We need to ensure our towns have significant Higher Education. The word ‘University’ actually worries me a little because it may become associated with ‘debt’ in the current climate. What I would like to see is an Institute of Higher Education that will be known for its very high quality of provision at reasonable cost. Already, many HE in FE graduates enjoy First Class Honours achievement and progression to employment at levels significantly above the UK average so let’s capitalise on it.
The sceptics amongst you are going to say none of this will happen but I beg to differ. Before we accelerate to success however we do need belief in ourselves and commitment from all local business and industry. We need employers to take in apprentices, we need a greater range of opportunities for 19-25 year olds and for partnership between key organisations.
Last week I had the pleasure of presenting awards, with local businessman Kerry Michael, to pupils of a local school in Weston-super-Mare. This morning I met with the new Chief Executive of the local NHS Trust. Two weeks ago I was able to discuss College plans with the Chief Executive of North Somerset Council and this afternoon I will meet with a small business who want to take on an apprentice. Have you picked up the common theme? It is that partnership at all levels can bring economic prosperity and that the belief, expertise and commitment is already here.
Interesting times for the UK but interesting and achievable times for North Somerset. I will keep you updated!
Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare
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