Clydeside alliance of science and learning hits 70

1st October 2004 at 01:00
As you read this, we'll be clearing up after the party! Stow College, Glasgow's oldest purpose-built further education college, opened its doors to the community on the same day that the Queen Mary was launched on Clydeside, September 26, 1934.

Of course, at 70 years old, we know we cannot compete with those venerable universities which can count their years in hundreds, and not tens. But for an FE college, we have clocked up a pretty impressive mileage and a wealth of experience. Experience is mostly what we've been about - building our experience, sharing it with others, and encouraging them to go on and grow.

Reflecting on our proud heritage and achievements, I'm struck by the fact that a 70-year-old college is like a septuagenarian nowadays. For one thing, we're open to new ideas and experiences. Like many "third-agers", we have embraced the challenges and the opportunities of ICT wholeheartedly.

We want the best that intelligent technology can bring to learning and teaching. But having grown up in a pre-computer age, we also know the value of one-on-one personal communication. So when people talk about blended learning, we know what that means - finding the right blend of elements to achieve the optimum outcomes for each learner.

Among the other things today's third-agers are known for is getting out, making new friends and mixing. That's another attitude we share. We are very keen to make new alliances both locally, through bodies such as the Glasgow Colleges Group, and much more widely than that.

We've made friends in colleges around Scotland and England, and we know these relationships are mutually beneficial. Now, in recognition of the global village, we are beginning to forge educational alliances further afield, even beyond the boundaries of the European Union. Just to tie together our commitment to ICT and our outgoing personality, we're about to send three of our "champions" of learning technology out to the United States to extend and enhance the sharing of ideas about making technology better serve learning.

From our perspective, what technology allows us to do best is to make learning opportunities available to more and more people, which, in turn, will allow them to access learning in ways which are convenient and agreeable to them. It takes us back to what we came into being to do: to take learning out to people wherever they may work or live, and whatever their aspirations might be.

Now you might have thought that the metaphor underlying this piece, so far, has been creaking a little under the strain; so let's confess, before I proceed, that it pretty well breaks down in this passage. Like all 70-year-olds, it has to be admitted that, while the heart and the mind are still in pretty good shape, and well able to continue for many years to come, the body is reaching a point where it knows what it wants to do, but just can't quite manage it any longer.

Unlike the human body, however, the college building is in need of not just repair but, more importantly, of replacement.

We started out on the road to achieving that end some considerable time ago, and would have to confess to a certain impatience with the lack of progress and the obstacles which have been put in the way of our vision of a new 21st-century campus on Clydeside.

By the time this article is published, however, I'm hopeful that a sensible and achievable way forward for college estates in Glasgow will have been agreed. I believe that all it takes is the will, a sense of realism, and the continuing support of some informed stakeholders. Then we can ensure that long into the future, managers and musicians, carers and chemists, physicists and pharmacists, paramedics and programmers, engineers and electricians will all still be able to say, with the same pride as so many oftheir predecessors: "I'm part of theStow family."

Bob McGrory is principal of Stow College, Glasgow.

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