Mirroring industry

November 1, 2018

Newcastle College University Centre principal Tony Lewin shares his vision for the future of higher education

Newcastle College sits prominently at the edge of the city centre, responsible for teaching more than 16,000 students each year. While the core of those are school leavers, it also offers apprenticeships, professional training and courses up to Masters degree level, with its higher education provision recently relaunched as Newcastle College University Centre.

Much more than just a name, it’s a significant change which allows it to offer an alternative student experience, equal to that of a university.

At the helm is principal Tony Lewin, who took the reins in 2015 and has a vision for Newcastle College University Centre to produce a pipeline of talent for the region’s employers, while merging a university experience with the benefits of studying at the college.

“The premise is to offer an alternative experience to those studying for a degree,” Tony explains. “It takes higher education teaching and puts it into a more personalised setting, allowing students to take advantage of specialist support facilities, hands-on learning and industry links.”

It’s an experience which is not likely to be the same as those at neighbouring institutions. As a vocational skills provider, Newcastle College University Centre offers professional work based study opportunities, industry-linked activities and training which reflects real working environments and employers, providing a unique level of support to its students.

“It’s vital we offer experiences and teaching environments which will give people the practical skills to get on and do the job,” Tony says. “Our ability to award and develop our own degrees and our relationships with employers across the region are what really help us to deliver on what we promise.”

Explaining the significance of the University Centre’s Taught Degree Awarding Powers, Tony continues: “Our degree courses come with a ‘work ready guarantee’, which is the mission our teaching colleagues are given when developing their courses.

“It’s their relationships and connections which inform the content, ensuring we’re providing up-to- date skills and insight. If something changes within a sector, we can respond to that and change the courses to reflect that.

“We develop our courses in collaboration with employers to ensure we’re addressing the right skills gaps and developing our facilities in line with industry. In fast-moving industries, such as digital technology, we’re training students for roles which may not even exist yet.”

The skill gaps Tony mentions are something which affect many industries across the region and he points out that the University Centre has a major role to play in closing those gaps and supporting the North East economy.

“Employers are looking for qualified workers with the right skills and experience for the emerging technologies which change the way their industries work,” Tony explains. “As an education provider, we’re instrumental to the development of a skilled workforce and we align ourselves very closely with North East LEP priorities to support skills training.

“By working with employers and employing teachers with the right experience, we help address the issue for employers but also help our students’ chances of employment.”

Those real working environments and industry standard facilities are perhaps the most important parts of what Newcastle College University Centre has to offer. Tony’s vision is for all of the facilities to mirror those found in industry, so that the practical experience students leave with is equal to what they’ll find in the workplace.

“Development in facilities is so important and many people don’t realise the scale of the College, or that these facilities are here,” Tony says. “Our campus footprint spreads much further than our main Rye Hill Campus. We have an Energy Academy in Wallsend and our award-winning Transport Academy based in Gateshead and Newcastle International Airport.”

Indeed, the application to establish Newcastle College University Centre comes the same year it was awarded The Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Further and Higher Education in recognition of its commitment to vocational training through its Transport Academy.

It also received a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) Silver Award in 2017, a government initiative which recognises excellence in teaching at higher education level.

The facilities don’t stop there. Hidden behind the exterior of the main campus is a whole floor dedicated to simulated hospital wards with attached intensive care unit, children’s nurseries, science labs, recording studios, a state-of-the-art digital tech hub and a 200-seat theatre.

Culinary students learn in restaurant standard kitchens and run their own á la carte eatery, The Chefs’ Academy, while hair and beauty students benefit from their own salon and spa facilities, all of which are open to the public.

Tony says: “By providing the right tools, we’re creating spaces in which students can envision their future career and be inspired by their surroundings and environment.

“It’s not just workspaces which give students a sense that they’re learning ‘on the job’. Many courses are either developed in partnership with employers, or benefit from a collaboration with one along the way, whether that be working on fashion briefs from global designers such as Levi’s and Dr Martens, or collaborating on working on real projects with leaders in industry.

“We work closely with companies such as Nexus, Maersk Training and Responsive Engineering to deliver training and projects to our students and higher level apprentices.”

He continues: “Our relationships with employers are vital to the success of our students – by meeting and working with people already successful in the industry, students can envisage themselves doing that too. They can ask the questions they want to ask and who better to inspire them but real people doing real work?

“Newcastle College University Centre is here to help create the workforce of the future but is also helping those already working within their chosen industry to progress.

“Workers of any age can benefit from up-skilling and businesses can invest in their existing workforce by helping them learn new skills. The space and experience provided here is flexible and supportive, so it’s definitely suited to mature learners with existing family or work commitments.

“It’s our job to provide the solutions to problems and support progression, which in turn will support the local economy and create even more opportunities.

“The facilities and the connections we have are vital to do that but it’s the passion and expertise we have within Newcastle College University Centre which helps to create an environment where learners are inspired to succeed.”

Newcastle College

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