SCOTLAND’S further education sector caters for a huge variety of students of different ages and at varying levels of learning. That means the range of courses and outcomes has to be broad too.

South Lanarkshire College in particular has worked hard and put considerable thought into ensuring that it is responsive to the many different needs of the communities it serves.

The college offers more than 200 courses, catering for those with significant barriers to learning through to third year degree level in Accounting. It provides learning to meet the requirements of the Scottish Funding Council and commercially-based delivery.

The college has three faculties: Business, Construction and Care. Alison Chambers, who is Associate Principal at the Faculty of Business, says her area of responsibility is quite diverse, taking in subjects such as horticulture, photography and hospitality alongside more traditional teaching areas.

By its very nature, the Business faculty is more classroom-based than the others at the college. Has this made remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic easier? 

“It has, in that we can meet the needs of our students as they don’t have to be on campus all the time,” says Ms Chambers. “However, in many ways it’s been much harder for our staff, who are still working remotely.

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“When we went into lockdown in March, we were two thirds of the way through the academic session. The lecturers knew their students and had a rapport with them. But in this new year, the students coming in have had to build relationships with our staff remotely, and that’s often been quite hard to do.”
Under Tier 4, the college has responded by introducing what it calls restricted blended learning. 

“The only students on campus are those where there are practical elements to their courses, although these hours have now been reduced as we have moved to an enhanced approach to restricted blended learning. If they have closed book assessments they also have to come in for those, but we have very strict health and safety measures in place, with measured social distancing and perspex screens where appropriate and we require face coverings in all social areas and in some teaching spaces.”

The change has, she says, been difficult for the lecturers. “But their response has been astonishing. They have to do a lot more preparation for remote learning and put a lot more thought into giving feedback to the students. They can’t just walk around the room and talk to them. But they really have risen to the challenge.

“However, every cloud has a silver lining, and it would be remiss of us if we didn’t reflect on what has worked well when being delivered remotely.

“If we can continue to do some remote teaching going forwards that will mean more capacity in the college building, and that’s something we need to consider as we continue to grow.”

The fact that student numbers are continuing to rise gives some indication of South Lanarkshire College’s success. “I think it’s because we are very focused on achievements and on getting our students through their courses”, Alison Chambers says.

“We also have a strong reputation in the local community and work with about 1500 employers where we have identified routes to employment opportunities. They come to us and that has helped us to grow.

“There’s a lot of work placement too – more than 30 per cent of our courses have this as integral parts of their programmes. That means our students are getting real world, hands-on experience of what a job is going to be like, they understand entrepreneurship and are better job-ready on graduation.”
Retraining is a hugely important part of the college’s work. “That’s never been more important than now. This pandemic means that organisations have closed down and people have lost their jobs. 

“The age demographic of our learners is interesting. It tends to be slightly older people – we have about 5000 students and only 17 per cent of those are up to the age of 35. Last year, 42 per cent were aged between 36 and 50 and a total of 29 per cent were between 51 and 60. Another 12 per cent were above that age.
“So it’s not all about school leavers and young people, important though that is. It may well be that we attract others who want to move on in their lives and careers, so they come here and learn about something that they love as they are keen to  make life-affirming choices in their career direction. Or they may want to upskill to help them transfer to another career following redundancy.

“For example, we have people on our hospitality patisserie course who took up baking during the pandemic and thought they’d give it a shot with the aim of eventually perhaps setting up their own business.

“We love our jobs at South Lanarkshire College. I’ve always thought it’s an absolute privilege. The people we meet are astonishing. If you can make a change and a difference to people’s lives, that’s something fabulous.”

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Career prospects stem from study

WORKING for a  travel company is currently a precarious business. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the sector hard, pushing many firms towards bankruptcy and causing thousands of job losses.

For one South Lanarkshire College student, however, it has provided the opportunity to take up a course leading to an exciting new career in horticulture. 

Fraser MacRae from Stamperland, East Renfrewshire, worked for an adventure travel company organising trekking and cycling holidays.  

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“It was particularly badly hit by the virus and I was made redundant”, he explains. “In reality, I wasn’t really enjoying the work. I was in the office 99 per cent of the time and I’m a lover of the outdoors. 

“I wanted to do something that allowed me to do that and made me happy. So I was thinking about a career change anyway.”

Losing his job provided him with the impetus to make the leap in a different direction and in September he began his studies. 

“I’m 38 and I’d spent a lot of time in my own garden landscaping and realised that I love it. South Lanarkshire College ran a National Certificate horticulture course and it was only a 10 minute drive away, plus a friend had recommended it, so it seemed ideal.”

Fraser planned to do the course for a year but now thinks he will extend it for a further 12 months. “Initially, I didn’t realise the opportunities and the different career paths it offered.  

“Our lecturer is passionate and really knows what she’s talking about – she’s amazing. That makes it so much easier to learn. And discovering botany and finding out the Latin names for plants is fascinating.”

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Count on exciting new opportunities

WORKING as a chef isn’t always the most sociable of occupations, particularly if you have a family. For Katarzyna Fabiani, it conflicted with her role as a mother, so she decided to head off in a completely different direction.

Katarzyna started in the hospitality industry 14 years ago as a kitchen porter and then developed her career at a bar and restaurant in Pollokshaws, Glasgow. 

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“However, I felt I needed a change”, she recalls. “That kind of work is difficult when you have a family and two kids. It was just too antisocial.”

She applied to South Lanarkshire College to take a pathway to accounting course. “I live in East Kilbride and the college was convenient for me. I’ve always enjoyed working with numbers – maths operates on set rules and that’s easy for me. I thought it would be something new. It’s really an introduction to HNC accounting and gives me an idea of what to expect when I follow on with that course next year.”

She admits the work can be hard, but says she really enjoys it. “I’m originally from Poland and so my first language isn’t English. That made me a bit worried at first. It is sometimes challenging, but fun too.”

Intriguingly, she is now thinking of blending what she is learning at college with her previous career in catering and eventually opening her own small cafe.

“It’s not just numbers we learn on the course – there’s business management in there as well. There will be loads of options for me when I’ve finished, but running my own place would be a dream and would make me very happy.”