Dumfries and Galloway College, co-located at campuses in Dumfries and Stranraer, is very much at the centre of training opportunities in the region.
It is probably the largest of the smaller colleges in Scotland and trains some 5000 students every year, working closely with local employers to upskill more than 250 apprentices and offer post-school learning provision.
Department for Transport Engagement team and the Better Lives Partnership
Student satisfaction rates are a high 96 per cent – one of the best in the country – and in terms of learner outcomes, the college sits in the upper quartile of its peers across the country.
Perhaps it is hardly surprising, then, that with its role at the centre of the community, the college broadly welcomes this year’s Withers Review into skills development in Scotland.
The report, commissioned by the Scottish Government and published in June, contains a number of recommendations including creating a new single funding and delivery body.
This means bringing together the functions of the existing Skills Development Scotland (SDS), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and possibly the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS).
It also proposes moving responsibility for national skills planning to the Scottish Government, focusing on careers advice and education and making workforce planning an integral and embedded part of business development.
“I think it really places the college firmly at the centre as a key driver of an integrated regional skills planning and delivery system and acknowledges the really important role that we play in supporting our economy and communities to thrive”, says Joanna Campbell, the College’s Principal.
Dumfries and Galloway College’s Principal Joanna Campbell
It is not that colleges are being asked to do anything new, she adds, but it emboldens them. “I think that colleges have always done heavy lifting in that space, but Withers allows us to recalibrate the system.”
The college is already working with a number of employers and is keen to embed experiencial learning. It is already working with a large renewables consultancy service called Natural Power on a six-week work placement programme for its wind turbine technician graduates.
In addition, the college has been involved as a delivery partner in shaping the regional economic strategy, recognising collectively the three priority areas in the south of Scotland as housing, transport and skills.
“It recognises the role the college plays in place-based skills. For instance, we have forged an agreement with Gretna Green Limited, a hospitality company that owns two four-star hotels and is one of the south of Scotland’s biggest firms. They have faced recruitment challenges getting staff to offer our students placements and potential employment in different parts of the business. We have helped plug the skills gap and I’m sure the Withers review will help with that.”
The college has also been involved in two regional Pathfinder pilot programmes set up by the Scottish Funding Council following a review in 2020 to look at regional skills planning and alignment. “This is essentially how we would operate post Withers. We have developed our curriculum with different partners to create a joined-upefficient skills system regionally, co-creating learner pathways and in-work opportunities which is very much the essence of the report.”
Windy Standard windfarm
Campbell, who is also Chair of the Scottish College Principals’ Group, sees plenty of opportunities for colleges in the national skills planning by the Scottish Government envisaged by Withers.
“We’re very keen on that as this is shaped up. We are very happy to take the learning from the seven national Pathfinder programmes and to communicate those principles into a broader set of ideas.”
The examination of the Withers review is something that is collaborative and involves the Scottish College network, she adds. “Part of that is to give equal value to the transformational role that colleges play in our education system. We see a number of opportunites presented by the review that we wish to progress to allow our sector to flourish and respond to Scottish Government priorities; Equality, Opportunity and Community.”
Better Lives Partnership
She welcomes the Withers proposal for a new body heavily focused on careers advice and education.
“Anything that helps young people to make informed career choices is very welcome.” There are, Campbell adds, a whole series of opportunities presented to Scottish colleges by Withers. “I’m mindful of the significant role the college sector plays both nationally and regionally . The recommendations in the review enable colleges to step forward as a lead partner in a more joined up educational ecosystem, and to that end it is very welcome.”