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Education in business

Newly appointed Sunderland College chief executive and principal, Ellen Thinnesen, talks to North East Times about her new role

Education is a fast changing landscape, and as waves of Area Reviews begin to sweep the country – with the aim of redefining the way further education operates and better aligning it to industry – Ellen Thinnesen’s role with one of the largest education and training providers in the region couldn’t come at a more transformative time for the sector.

“These are unprecedented times for further and higher education,” says Ellen, who joined the college this month [January], from Greater Manchester’s Tameside College and Clarendon 6th Form College.

“I am proud, though, to have joined a college that is in great shape and fit for the future – both financially and operationally. The college and its staff have extremely high expectations and are passionate about developing skilled, professional and enterprising students. Our priority is to develop students as well-rounded, successful citizens, who achieve and progress through academic, professional and technical routes into high quality employment.

“I can see that the college has a strong sense of purpose and working in partnership, we will continue to be a key player in generating economic growth and prosperity for the people of Sunderland and the wider region”.

Over the next 12 months , all of the UK’s Further Education and  sixth form college’s will be reviewed, and decisions will be made about how a future academic, professional and technical education system  can be run more efficiently to deliver maximum value for public investment, and in a way that addresses regional skills gaps and needs of local employers.

“We really do feel that as a college we have a vital role to play in driving up productivity and we have the foundations in place to build on long into the future. I am delighted that the college has taken strategic steps to align itself to industry and is already working with some of the biggest employers across the North East to support the local economy. We are supporting many of the North East’s fastest growing sectors, from software, technology and IT, to engineering and manufacturing.  We have a team that understands business – that is absolutely tuned into enterprise, employability and the region’s education and economic needs. And with the support of the Governors and senior team, this is something I will continue to build upon. Education mustn’t operate in a silo. It’s vital that we wrap around the sectors and industries that are prevalent in the area we serve, and we are investing heavily to make sure we do just that.”

Last year, Sunderland College invested more than £20 million in new facilities at its oldest base, Bede Campus.  This year the college will build upon that investment, with a £29 million flagship campus opening in the city centre.  At the heart of Sunderland it will be the study-place of many of the college’s vocational students with resources to support teaching and learning of an exceptionally high standard.

The state-of-the-art facility will open in September 2016, and add to the college’s Bede Campus, Washington Campus, and St Peter’s Campus, which between them offer a wide-variety of A-levels, vocational courses, apprenticeships, University level programmes and other qualifications for both school leavers and adult learners.

She says: “The City Campus will genuinely transform our offer at Sunderland College, and we are already seeing the impact it is having on our ability to attract students from beyond the boundaries of the city.  The facility will also feature a dedicated centre of excellence for engineering, a sector that is becoming evermore critical to the economic prosperity of the North East.

“As well as investing in our buildings, we are also building upon a strong foundation of links. Links with likeminded, complementary organisations that ensure that we are more plugged in to the business community than ever.

“It is these links, these genuine specialisms, the academic and vocational expertise of our staff and the college’s passion for the future of the city that makes us a college with an edge – one that is not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.  As a progressive organisation we’re making a demonstrable difference to the region’s economy and to the lives of the young people who come to us to gain the skills needed to move on to advanced level study, apprenticeships, Higher Education or into meaningful employment, and we – and they – have a bright future as a result.”

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