January 22, 2021 @ 17:15 by Steven Hugill
World-class facilities that will deliver “unparalleled learning opportunities” for North East students are set to move forward after a successful £3 million bid to Government, education bosses have said.
Sunderland College will be rolling out T Levels from a new immersive environment after Downing Street confirmed it will fund the transformation of a space within its Bede Campus.
The 1920s Bede Building will see its old hall undergo a complete refurbishment, with the inclusion of a sophisticated, 360-degree immersive visualisation ‘dome’ created within it, which will allow students to train in a number of virtual reality environments.
The dome, a fully integrated immersive solution, will create virtual realities for students studying in several technical disciplines.
The major refurbishment will also include the creation of an amphitheatre-style seated area, and a number of innovation suites and flexible spaces for employer-led training.
North East firm Malcolm Hollis has been appointed to oversee the major development and construction partner Engie has been appointed to deliver the designs – which were developed by North East architect Seymour Architecture. Work will commence in January and will be completed in October 2021.
Ellen Thinnesen [pictured below], chief executive of Education Partnership North East, which includes Sunderland College, said: “I am absolutely thrilled we have secured funding to develop what will become a leading technical skills and digital innovation centre.
“The centre will be a game-changer for our college and most importantly for young people and employers from across our region.
“Bede is a stunning campus that has already benefited from major capital investment over the last few years to ensure that, behind its beautiful red brick façade, we’re able to offer first-class educational experiences.
“This latest investment will raise the bar yet again, and the plans we have for the new centre will position us right at the cutting-edge of education.
“The new centre will be a fantastic regional asset that will ensure our T Level provision is exceptional and we are able to increasingly deliver a valuable pipeline of students to meet regional skills shortages.”
Ellen says the new centre will allow the college to develop student’s knowledge, understanding and skills in a shared VR facility offering flexible applications for all T Level disciplines – for instance, health students might learn CPR in a simulated football stadium, where the sights, sounds and reality of an emergency response situation are recreated by digital 360- degree technology, a learning environment radically different to the confines of a traditional classroom.
Similarly, T level students studying construction will be able to shape the way a health and safety worksite scenario unfolds in response to their decisions.
And, supported by the college’s technical team, employers will be able to recreate their manufacturing plants within the centre using 360-degree immersive technology for training of existing or future employees.
Sunderland College will begin delivery of its new T Level provision from the new centre from September 2021.
T Levels will offer a new and unique curriculum, which will include employer-led education and technical training for students within industries such as construction, digital, health, science and education.
The college is also set to new strategic partnerships to support the development of the digital innovation centre as a vibrant business hub ensuring employers are at the heart of the next generation of talent.
“We want this facility to be a collaborative space, where businesses co-design and co-deliver education to ensure we maximise the value of this space,” says Ellen.
“We’re a future-focused college, and this new centre will absolutely exemplify that – it’s a place where education and business will converge.”
As well as being an innovative centre for T Level training, the college will open a small sensory environment within the centre where T Level students will gain real work experience supporting the delivery of digitally informed immersive therapies for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Ellen added: “This will be a truly life-changing space for children and young people with SEND, and we are determined the centre will deliver maximum advantage to people from across the city of Sunderland and wider region.”
The college is working alongside Sunderland City Council to shape its plans for digitising the city through roll-out of ubiquitous 5G connectivity.
Council leader, Councillor Graeme Miller, said the latest investment in digital infrastructure represents another step in the city’s transformation into a truly smart city.
He said: “Sunderland was named Smart City 2020, so it’s apt that we end the year with yet another exciting announcement of digital investment, this time led by the college.
The news has been backed by business leaders.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: This is absolutely fantastic news for Sunderland and the region generally.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned about education and skills over the past 12 months, it’s how important gaining ‘hands-on’ experience is to the development of future talent, be that through student work placements or apprenticeships.”
Hannah Matterson, chief executive of Generator, added: “This is the perfect example of leading-edge tech being utilised to enhance the learner’s experience.
“Sunderland College has a well-earned reputation for always pushing the boundaries of digital learning.
“However, this new immersive environment will improve learning not just for students on the digital courses.
“It will put trainee paramedics, apprentice engineers and construction students in a ‘real life’ environment, where they can test themselves and their skills, and then replay scenarios to pinpoint strengths and eliminate weaknesses safely and virtually.
“This really is the future of learning.”