Scotland's only adult education residential college will this month start recruiting students for a new Celtic studies course, designed to build on the controversial Scottish Studies Award that was launched in secondary schools last year.
The National Certificate-level course at Newbattle Abbey College, near Edinburgh, will focus on subjects including Gaelic language, the history of the Celts and their nations, storytelling and the heritage industry. Students can also take units in archaeology, contemporary Gaelic music and song, and Scottish dance.
The launch of the course comes at a time when the government and the Scottish Funding Council have pledged their support for the Gaelic language.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority said it was surprised by the level of interest after it launched the Scottish Studies Award in schools, although critics said that if there was to be a Scottish studies course, there should also be British, European and world courses to fit in with how people identified themselves.
The focus on traditional Scottish languages and arts also comes at a time when Scottish nationalism and identity are in the spotlight in the run-up to the referendum on independence.
Gill Turner, curriculum manager at Newbattle Abbey, said there had been interest in the new course already. "Hopefully it will be popular because of the current climate in Scotland and the interest in Gaelic," she said. "We are hoping that students who do Scottish Studies at secondary school will show an interest in this course."
The National Certificate is also aimed at people who are considering a career in heritage, tourism and the creative industries, and includes work experience and opportunities to progress to higher education programmes in Celtic studies.
Newbattle Abbey is unique in Scotland because, despite the recent government focus on 16- to 19-year-old learners, it caters exclusively to adults aged 19 and over with few or no qualifications who are looking to return to education.
Most of its 45 full-time students live on the grounds of the former abbey, supported by a dedicated team of staff. Each student has regular meetings with a personal tutor and small tutorial groups. "The level of support at this college is really different from other colleges," said depute principal Marian Docherty.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said there was growing demand for Gaelic in schools across the country, which hopefully meant that there would be lots of interest in the new course.
"If we are to secure a sustainable future for Gaelic as a vibrant and relevant part of our communities, we need to give people of all ages the opportunity to learn and, most crucially, use (the language) regularly," she added. "The last census figures show that we have made huge progress in slowing the decline in the number of speakers. And the interest generated by courses like this not only helps to encourage new speakers but raises the language's profile as part of our heritage and identity."
Newbattle Abbey offers a variety of courses at different levels, including a rural skills programme, but at the core of its provision is a year-long arts and humanities award, which allows students with limited qualifications to meet the requirements for moving on to higher education.