Ministerial and MP Visits to Fort William

The college has been fortunate enough to welcome Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Minister for Further & Higher Education, and Ian Blackford MP on separate visits to West Highland College UHI in Fort William recently.

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Mr Lochhead visited in November and Mr Blackford just this week.  For both, it was their first visit to the college and, over separate lunch events, they met with Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive and John Hutchison, Chair of the Board of Management. 

Both learned more about how the college has developed and implemented a unique and flexible operating model to deliver relevant curriculum and access to education through its ten college centres, which are firmly rooted in their communities throughout the West Highlands. 

Ms Rohmer explained: “We are extremely grateful to both the Minister and our local MP for taking so much time out of their busy schedules to visit us and learn first-hand what this very unique college is all about.  We are using technology in a very innovative way to create access to learning for the many dispersed learners in the very remote rural communities we are based in. This unique blend of local personal support and virtual learning communities allows the college to provide a broad range of relevant qualifications in further and higher education, that otherwise would not be available in the West Highlands given the relatively small number of learners in any one of our college locations. This unique delivery method also allows the college to provide significant learning opportunities to rural schools, with many senior phase opportunities for specialist Highers and Foundation Apprenticeships delivered this way across Highland. Whilst this delivery method is uncommon, particularly within the further education sector, the college is proud of its excellent student outcomes and satisfaction rates.

We were also very pleased that both guests were able to meet so many of our staff and students and to be able to bring him up to date with our plans for a  £ multi-million Centre for Science, Technology, Engineering and Health in Fort William by 2020. This state of the art technology centre is part of the college’s and the University of the Highlands and Islands’ strategy to develop Fort William into a major hub for learning in the West Highlands, complementing its existing local campus at An Aird.  This aligns with the vision for Fort William 2040 and supports exciting economic developments in the area creating important new opportunities for all those who want to live learn and work here.”

Mr Lochhead’s visit concluded with a tour of the Fort William college campus, meeting many staff and students and observing learning and teaching across a wide range of courses; this included Dr Steve Taylor from the college’s Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research; Lecturers Tom Smale and Chris Mackie and students from our School of Adventure Studies a well as students from HNC Fashion, HNC Computing, and NC Construction courses. The Minister met Marina Finlayson, Lecturer in Psychology, and saw for himself her delivery of National 5 and Higher Psychology via Google Hangouts and Google Classrooms to 95 senior phase school pupils across Highland schools. Finally, the Minister met the HISA President Alan Simpson and one of our college student representatives, Katie Wrigglesworth.

On his visit, Mr Blackford enjoyed talking to students from our BA (Hons) Marine and Coastal Tourism degree and their lecturers about the hugely positive impact that graduates from the School of Adventure Studies are having on the rapidly growing outdoor adventure and marine tourism sector in the Highlands and beyond.  He also had the opportunity to hear more about the college’s tourism research department’s internationally acclaimed lead on ‘Slow Adventure’ and the opportunities it provides for the enhancement of tourism in the local economy.