Tertiary - Hospitality and catering group well served in Swiss hotel school

29th October 2010 at 01:00
Charity funds and arranges three-day course where tutors and tutees hear from the best in the business

Lausanne, Switzerland, late September. Delicious food, exquisite wine and service so good you develop a new insight into what customer service should be like.

A trip to Ecole Hoteliere in Lausanne, the oldest hotel school in the world, proved to be a real eye-opener for a group of students and FE lecturers who went there to investigate how an international school is run and how the Swiss approach teaching.

The three-day trip was the first Hospitality Industry Trust Scotland (HIT Scotland) bursary to take place, funded by the charity through money donated during business events across the country.

Nine hospitality and catering students from different colleges, as well as two lecturers, attended a three-day course in Lausanne, where they went to lectures and visited award-winning businesses to learn some of what students at a top hotel school are taught.

Willie McCurrach, from Glasgow Metropolitan College, was one of the two lecturers who went. "The experience was fantastic," he said. "I always wanted to go to Lausanne. To get this opportunity was excellent."

The visit highlighted the differences between Scotland and Switzerland. "The students there are immaculately dressed," recalls Mr McCurrach. "Our students were warned to dress well in advance. The other lecturer said she felt like the fashion police, but students got a buzz out of this.

"On the way back to the hotel on the first day, they were discussing it. On the second day, I noticed skirts were longer and ties were tied correctly.

"There was a food court where we had morning croissants and lunch. It could feed 300 in one hour - a very slick operation. Also, the students there always taste the food prior to serving. Here it can be a challenge to get them to do that. It is a cultural thing."

Trips were organised for the afternoons and the group visited a vineyard, as well as the prestigious Beau-Rivage Palace hotel in the city. For the first part of the day, there were three one-and-a-half-hour lectures covering everything from verbal and non-verbal communication to executive dress code.

As a lecturer-turned-student for three days, Mr McCurrach was fascinated by the verbal and non-verbal communications class. "They covered how easy it is to misconstrue posture in meetings etc," he says.

"Two students interviewed me as part of role-play for a job at Gleneagles. Every aspect was noted, including hand movement, hand position, eye contact. My eye contact was OK but my hand gestures could put people off, I was told. It was amazing how much students took in, and the answers they gave. They came out with more than I thought they would."

Matauka Yeta, 22, is in her third year studying hospitality management at Queen Margaret University in East Lothian.

She was particularly interested in the non-verbal and verbal communication class. Some of it was an eye-opener, she says.

Rather than making her feel that her course in Scotland was inferior to what is taught at Lausanne, Matauka says it made her appreciate how much she has learnt.

"It was good to top up what we are taught at Queen Margaret University," she says. "And good seeing and hearing from a different perspective, learning in a different environment where things are done differently.

"The Swiss place more emphasis on culture, because students are from different cultures. In Scotland, we get an all-round education with more emphasis on the operation."

But it was not only the content of lectures that left an impression. Mr McCurrach saw differences in how the information was put across: "Each lesson had PowerPoint presentations and all went to time. They never run over. And they used YouTube to highlight points, such as a clip of Gordon Ramsay working."

Being a student for three days has given Mr McCurrach something to benchmark his own lectures against, but he was also pleased to see that Scotland was not doing too badly: "It was good to see the different types of equipment, much of which we have here. Sometimes we feel we work in isolation and we can be criticised by industry."

On the third day, there was an award ceremony where all participants received their certificates for "doing business in a multicultural environment".

There are also plans for the students to go back to their own institutions to talk to other students and act as ambassadors, telling them about what they learnt and encouraging them to apply for next year's scholarship.

David Cochrane, chief executive of HIT Scotland, says: "The Lausanne bursary was set up for students to develop worldwide skills, to motivate them in their second year or above, so that they become a great asset to any business. We see it as a great way for industry to engage with education.

"The fact that we mixed the colleges was a great network opportunity - even the fact lecturers were from different colleges. Glasgow Metropolitan College now has a better relationship with Perth College."

Lausanne has made a lasting impression on those who visited, and the students didn't want to come home. Both students and lecturers were given something to compare with their own experiences, and viewed some of the highest standards in the industry.

As Mr McCurrach says: "They always told us everything has to be done 101 per cent. From what we saw, they put in 110 per cent."


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