At Perth College, diversity has come to define who we are and what we offer. A walk through our corridors puts to bed all the stereotypes about colleges and further education. I'm as likely to run into a young woman pursuing a career change in the field of tourism as I am to walk into a room where the students are 200 miles away, receiving their lesson via video conference.
This is a new generation for all of us. Once perceived as the Cinderella of the system, colleges are now transforming themselves into world-class learning centres and, as such, first stops for dreamers.
Embracing diversity has created extraordinary opportunities for growth. Our partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute has helped us open the door to higher education, a route that was an obstacle to many students and customers. Now our learning spaces hold full and part-time students including school leavers, career changers, new English speakers, life enhancers, distance learners and career improvers.
If we are to be successful in the global economy, we must engage all potential learners, and we must be open to exchanging ideas, teaching methods and technology. For these reasons, Perth College has joined a growing international community of educators who are introducing a new way to learn: the new generation university.
At a 2004 conference on diversity, Millicent Poole, president of Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, explained that new generation universities - many of which had been colleges, polytechnics and technology institutes - were the only ones that had the ability to answer growing student demand for alternative educational solutions and products. They respond to markets which demand diversity at all levels, spanning vocational and academic divides.
Although committed to addressing global economic needs, new generation universities are intricately woven into the fabric of our local communities, serving as a positive force for growth and prosperity.
So we support and celebrate diversity. Now when I walk through the real and the virtual corridors of Perth College, I'm inspired. I meet middle-aged mothers learning side-by-side with their teenage daughters; I meet aeronautical engineering students from the Kuwaiti Air Force; I meet a group of men who can study music to a degree level; I meet a teacher about to fly out to a base in China and deliver training to RAF personnel; I meet a retiree studying horticulture; I meet an employer who has hired the college to deliver call centre training to his entire workforce.
The possibilities are endless.
Mandy Exley is principal of Perth College