A beacon in the right place, at the right time

17th March 2006 at 00:00
Recent national statements and initiatives in Scotland in the field of regeneration strategy, led by the First Minister, emphasise the significant role to be played by colleges. The Scottish Executive is placing its emphasis on combining private and public sectors so as to raise capital, heighten the stakes and take risks.

Colleges have pushed ahead in many challenging environments to create new estate, new opportunities and optimism. And they have done this at a time when activity levels have been held. Credit has to be given to the funding council for allowing colleges to think strategically about their estates and for releasing important amounts of capital.

Ministers are signalling a step-change in respect of the effort put into regeneration. This means that continuity of effort in respect of inclusion, skill enhancement and progression will be mandatory. It is the essence of what colleges are and have been about. But there will be important changes for the roles played by colleges, particularly in the fields of partnership and knowledge transfer.

For James Watt College, the formation of Pathfinder urban regeneration companies in Inverclyde and North Ayrshire will define significant elements of the college's activities. This is a scenario being followed by other colleges, such as Clydebank, North Glasgow and Cumbernauld.

The formation of urban regeneration companies in several regions does give investment focus as well as confidence and the established skills and knowledge providers should support and enhance revitalisation initiatives.

Indeed, the argument really is that without the colleges, there will not be inclusion, achievement and retention. Without these elements of added value, the attractiveness of location to business is diminished.

Economic and social regeneration is much more than a location or a physical manifestation. It requires new ways of involvement and innovation, giving people the opportunity to develop and business the comfort of being able to depend on workforce skills.

The particular social and economic needs of Scotland demand an educational intervention by colleges as a driving force and catalyst of change. The colleges look to make an impact that is different in kind rather than by degree. Involvement through enhanced inclusion and skills intervention will be characterised by innovation. New partners will enable new skills to be developed in these localities.

In addition, new college buildings will create social capital; communities recognise the asset value of rebuilt colleges and identify with the positive messages around involvement, learning and changing lifestyles. New colleges are symbols and beacons.

The mandate for modernisation within colleges, particularly in human resources, is driven by the need for flexibility, geared to the colleges'

requirement to be entering new fields of activity and operating dynamically so as to achieve higher levels of inclusion and attainment.

But a paradigm shift is required to develop new functions and grasp new opportunities. The seizing of opportunities by colleges is fundamental to regeneration and an early foundation stage in the process. Through new building, facilities and functions, the impact of the colleges will be heightened, new partners attracted, new horizons set and new functions engaged.

Colleges themselves, and the funding council behind them, are worthy of congratulation for the manner in which they have grasped the nettle of estates issues. For many, there was a backlog of work to be done: poor estate was undermining delivery.

New estate, however, will more than "repair" these issues: it will enable the further engagement of existing functions and the introduction of new elements which lift the colleges' contributions to new levels.

Ironically, at a time when activity levels will show only at best moderate increases in the next few years, colleges' contributions will be heightened because of new faculties and the modernised functions which they enable. As colleges have been very responsive in exploiting opportunities for estates development, so they have been responsible for linking this to broader initiatives.

Bill Wardle is principal of James Watt College, Greenock.

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