Beacon of learning that has grabbed global attention

Forth Valley College’s holistic approach to making learning work is key to its accolades for innovation. 

Forth Valley College’s mission state­ment is a bold one: Making Learn­ing Work. But it is a promise that is being delivered. Set over four campuses and home to 14,500 students the regional college is not only a national award winner in Innovation in Further Education, it’s a beacon of learning that has the world’s attention. Little wonder, as over 90 per cent of students progress onto work, further training or education.

Last year the college collected the Inno­vation in Further Education Award at the Association of College’s Beacon Awards, UK awards open to 400 further education colleges. College principal Dr Ken Thom­son said the accolade is due to a holistic approach to innovation. And key among those innovations is what happens at the Stirling campus.

“Forth Valley College was created from the merger of Clackmannan College and Falkirk College in 2005 and as part of that we worked alongside Stirling Council who had a vision of locating a college in Stir­ling. One of the criteria in the decision making process was the economic devel­opment impact the college would have on the city. This was the first time such an impact had been applied to developing a college in an established city.”

Dr Ken Thomson says the college has nurtured important links with business
Dr Ken Thomson says the college has nurtured important links with business

The college’s strategy is to ensure their service provides both high quality education and an equally high learning experience, while providing a positive des­tination for students. Dr Thomson added: “In order to do that across the campuses we were very clear about the niche mar­kets the campuses each have. In Falkirk it’s engineering and science but in Stirling we are majoring in creative industries, hospitality and tourism. That ties in to the cultural strategy the council has and the drivers from the Scottish government in food and drink and tourism.”

The £29 million Stirling campus has now become an icon for FE in Scotland and much of that is due to the aspiration and ambition of Stirling, and the key links with Stirling University. “It’s fantastic to have one the best colleges in the UK alongside Stirling University. We have some unique programmes running with the university in particular our integrated degree models where students will do two years of a vocational qualification and then progress onto their third and fourth year to a degree at Stirling.

“The degrees with the university focus on areas important to the city of Stirling including life sciences, computing and digital technology and heritage and con­servation. This vision is also being brought into the conversation we’re having about Stirling’s new City Framework plans.”

Key to the college’s success in voca­tional training is the close links it has nur­tured with local businesses. Hospitality students benefit from working links with the Stirling Court Hotel, Glen- eagles and the Mhor Group, while tour­ism students can learn a lot from working with Historic Scotland. The college also boasts the facilities management training centre for Stirling based building services company FES.

The approach to collaborative work­ing, however, is a mutually beneficial one, especially for businesses who forge links with the college. Dr Thomson added: “We have a new mission and that is ‘Making Learning Work’. When businesses work with the college we ask them what it is they need and we will provide them with those skills. That could be providing a skilled workforce or transition training to support workforce development or moving people from one set of skills into one that is more applicable to the industry they are in. We want to make learning work for our industry partners too.”

Looking ahead, Forth Valley College will cement its reputation for education excellence with a new international per­spective, further ensuring Stirling’s global reputation. Dr Thomson concluded: “The university has that international reputa­tion and we now have our own interna­tional strategy and I think the vision Stirling Council has will allow us to develop a knowledge centre as good as anywhere in the world.”