By Natalie Wilkie
Weston College is officially a further AND higher education establishment following a successful bid to the Government.
The move towards offering more degrees at the College, ties in with North Somerset Council’s strategy for the regeneration of Weston-super-Mare, and will eventually lead to the development of a figurative ‘University Centre’ in the town.
As one of the top performing colleges in the South West, awarded ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted in January this year, Weston College already offers degrees, but its new status means that it will be able to expand its provision significantly, leading to many more new jobs for the town and surrounding area.
Awarded an OBE for services to further education, Weston College Principal and Chief Executive, Dr Paul Phillips, said the College’s new status tied in with the continuing development of its South West Skills Campus (SWSC) on Locking Road, extensions to University Campus on Locking Road, the development of the North Somerset Enterprise and Technology College at Junction 21and improvements at its Knightstone Campus.
Dr Phillips believed that “The time was right to go for this bid, particularly when the town of Weston-super-Mare will be seeing major regeneration in the very near future, in the form of Junction 21 and the Dolphin Square development. I am jointly working through the Local Enterprise Partnership and North Somerset Council so that the idea of regeneration in Weston-super-Mare leans towards a ‘town centre urbanisation project’, with HE as a major feature of this.”
Chief Executive of North Somerset Council, Mike Jackson, welcomed the plans: “This is excellent news for North Somerset, and Weston-super-Mare in particular. We work very closely with the College and I am delighted that their bid to Government has been successful. Weston College already plays an extremely important role in Weston-super-Mare’s economy. As we look to the future, higher education should play a significant role in delivering development and investment in the town centre, which is a priority for the council.”
HE provision at Weston College has grown rapidly, with around 800 students now on HE courses, with partners Bath Spa University and the University of the West of England. It is hoped that a new centre may easily double this number in the next few years.
Weston College’s aspirations tie in with a speech made recently by Universities Minister David Willetts, who said that HE provision should focus on economic ‘cold spots’.
The minister said that he hoped the removal of controls on student numbers from next year would result in more campuses being set up. He added: “There are no barriers to setting up a higher education campus. If this is your town’s dream, we want you to pursue it.’