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The Corporation

Posted: 01/03/16

£6.5 million university centre will transform skills landscape

A £6.5 million university centre set to open at West Nottinghamshire College will transform the skills landscape in Mansfield and Ashfield and boost business.

  • Checking progress (from left) is Simon Barlow, of IBI Group; Tom Stevens, executive director of capital projects and estates; Dame Asha Khemka; David Ralph; Eleanor Taylor, head of HE and international; and Gary Hallam, of Wildgoose Construction.
  • Artist's impression of Vision University Centre, as seen from Nottingham Road, looking north.
  • How the new university centre will look from Cauldwell Road.
  • Development of the new Vision University Centre has been welcomed by Dame Asha and David Ralph.
  • “This is what the area has been crying out for," - Mayor Kate Allsop
  • "The centre will act as a flag for Mansfield,” - Russell Jones, Mansfield 2020
  • "Higher-level skills are absolutely essential," - Jane Box, Interactive People Development
  • "One of the most important things happening in the district,” - Michael Asher, NatWest
  • “Shows local community how serious West Notts is about providing a university-level environment," - Will Sargison
  • “It was good to know my employer was investing in my future,” - Nicole Perkins

That was the promise made by education chiefs and business leaders during a site visit last week (Thursday 25 February, 2016) to check progress on the state-of-the-art building currently under construction at the college’s Derby Road campus in Mansfield.

The flagship Vision University Centre opens its doors in September and forms part of an ambitious plan to boost access to higher education (HE) and advanced-level skills amongst local communities.

Part-funded by a £2.6 million grant from the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, it will allow the college to grow its already-successful HE provision and work even more closely with employers.

Many of the courses to be offered at the centre will be tailored to meet the needs of local businesses – enabling them to up-skill their workforce and develop the highly-trained talent pool to achieve future growth and prosperity.

Currently, the college has more than 500 students on university-level courses, ranging from higher national certificates (HNCs) and higher national diplomas (HNDs) to foundation degrees and full-honours degrees.

The three-storey building will eventually provide places for an extra 600 students, including higher apprentices and people studying part-time professionally-certified qualifications such as AAT, CIPD, CIM and CIPS, plus those attending one-day or evening ‘masterclasses’ and professional development programmes.

Designed by Cheshire-based architects IBI Group and being constructed by Wildgoose Construction, of Alfreton, Derbyshire, it will boast modern teaching and learning spaces, IT suites, study rooms, a learning resource centre, 100-seat lecture theatre and a science laboratory.

Dame Asha Khemka, principal and chief executive, said: “The creation of this inspirational new centre represents a landmark moment, not only for the college but for the communities we serve.

“Having a local university has been a long-held ambition amongst many in our towns, and the opening of this flagship facility in September will bring that dream much closer to reality.

“As a community, our area currently lags behind the East Midlands for the number of people who possess higher-level skills. That is not down to a lack of ability but a lack of opportunity.

“Local employers repeatedly tell me they need more people with advanced skills, whether in technical trades such as engineering and manufacturing, or in the professional services sector.

“Vision University Centre will go a significant way towards addressing this problem by making higher education even more accessible to local people and equipping businesses with the highly-trained talent pool they need.

“Higher-level skills are at the heart of business success and individual prosperity. This is an exciting and much-needed development and is the final piece in our £50 million investment to bring world-class learning facilities to the area.”

David Ralph, chief executive of D2N2, said: “Access to higher-level skills for potential employees of the area’s businesses is vital for building the economy and creating new jobs, allowing all communities to share in the prosperity.

“This is why significant time and resources are being invested by the Local Enterprise Partnership in skills and training development, including through capital investment schemes which create leading facilities such as the new Vision University Centre.”

New centre welcomed by business

The college recently held a business breakfast to update employers and community leaders on the new university centre, and the courses it will offer.

Here’s what some of them had to say…

Kate Allsop, executive mayor of Mansfield: “This is what the area has been crying out for. It means people can study locally and still get that high-level education.”

Russell Jones, chairman of the Mansfield 2020 business network: “Investing in skills is the only way the area is going to build its businesses. The centre will act as a flag for Mansfield.”

Jane Box, managing director of Interactive People Development: “Mansfield is such an up-and-coming area for business, and higher-level skills are absolutely essential. They’re the future of our economy.”

Michael Asher, relationship manager at NatWest: “Locally, there’s a bit of a skills gap, so this is probably one of the most important things currently happening in the district.”

We spoke to two current HE students about their reasons for choosing higher-level study...

“Opens doors to careers”

Will Sargison had no hesitation in choosing the college for his Higher Education (HE).

The 20-year-old, from Mansfield, is studying a foundation degree in criminal justice (human rights), having progressed from the level 2 and 3 diplomas in public services.

Although he considered applying to university, Will decided that staying at the place where he’d already achieved so much was the right option for him.

“College has done so much for me,” he said. “I’ve improved my qualifications and had a great experience. So there were no downsides, only positives.”

A major factor was being able to continue in his three part-time jobs, which he combines with his studies.

“Why move to another part of the country and compete with thousands of students for part-time work when I’ve got three jobs here that I’m perfectly happy with?” said Will, who is a barman at the Oakham Suite, a safety steward at Mansfield Town FC and a ‘student advocate’ at the college, advising would-be learners about its HE courses.

But the main attraction, insisted Will, was the high standard of teaching and learning.

“The tutors are brilliant and give you all the help and guidance you need,” he said. “And because college is smaller than most universities, they’re able to give you more one-to-one support.

“They also go out of their way to secure work placements for you, which is a big thing for students these days.”

Will, who has ambitions to join the police, welcomed the creation of the new university centre as “probably the best thing the college has ever done.”

He said: “It shows the local community and surrounding areas how serious West Notts is about providing a university-level environment. It’ll give even more people the opportunity to get a degree and open doors to their careers.”

“Study shows you’re ambitious”  

Nicole Perkins says her employer’s commitment to fund her studies has fuelled a desire to “give something back.”

The 22-year-old purchasing assistant at Midland Aerospace, in Huthwaite, studies the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) Advanced Diploma in Sustainability and Supply Chains on day-release at the college.

She previously completed an apprenticeship in supply chain management, which equipped her with the skills and knowledge to carry out her role while gaining essential on-the-job experience.

Nicole, from Selston, said: “When I joined, they said they wanted to train me to management-level so when my manager leaves or retires, I can take on his role.

“It was good to know my employer was investing in my future.”

Her course involves attending classes one afternoon each week and studying at home.

Although she initially found studying at a higher-level “quite stressful”, she soon adjusted to the demands.

She said: “I’ve learnt to manage my time effectively and know exactly when I’ll be studying or revising. It is challenging, but it’s a case of getting into a routine.

“These days, employers want people with experience as well as the right qualifications – so it’s about showing you’re ambitious and that you want to better yourself.”

Nicole believes companies that invest in their staff also reap the benefits.

“It gives you the aspiration to achieve,” she said. “Because I know they’re giving me access to skills and qualifications, it makes me want to give something back and succeed for them.”

Ambitious Nicole has now set her sights on progressing to the CIPS professional diploma – an internationally-recognised qualification that leads to full-member status of the chartered institute.

“Although it’s slightly daunting to think I’ve got another three years of study ahead of me, it’ll definitely be worth the effort,” she said.