Growing awareness creates great opportunities

Award-winning image by Edinburgh College graduate Lee Howell
Award-winning image by Edinburgh College graduate Lee Howell
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Photography students have the right image, says Mandy Exley

Last week saw the culmination of Retina, the inaugural Scottish International Photography Festival, which showcased work by Edinburgh College’s photography students and graduates alongside the work of celebrity photographer Rankin and fashion model and photographer Helena Christensen.

The exhibitions included contributions from former students who have helped the college’s Professional Photography courses to a five-year winning streak at the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) Scottish Region Image Awards. This year, students scooped 22 awards and graduates picked up eight. The winner of the Professional Photographer of the Year 2014 Award, Edinburgh College graduate Lee Howell, featured prominently in the Retina exhibitions. Photography contributes over £30 million GVA per year to the Scottish economy, with a turnover of around £70m, and with more than 3,500 photography businesses in Scotland, the industry is one of the fastest growing self-employment sectors in Scotland. The Edinburgh College Development Trust has just announced a series of scholarships for photography students, to help them sustain their studies and go on to become the best from local and emerging talent. We believe this is an important industry to invest in, to ensure Edinburgh College students can take advantage of the wealth of employment opportunities.

In our recent inspection by Education Scotland, we were given the top overall rating of “Effective”, saying we have in place “effective arrangements to maintain and enhance the quality of provision and outcomes for students and other stakeholders”. It is testament to the hard work of staff across the college that we received the highest rating possible.

One of the key things earmarked by Education Scotland was the way the college has been developing relationships with industry. For colleges to succeed, we must have a clear understanding of the needs of national industry, to ensure we are supplying employees who are ready for work and equipped with the skills and knowledge to thrive in rapidly developing environments. That the review showed we are doing this well is hugely encouraging. Our work with Retina and the photography industry is an excellent example of close industry links that directly benefit our students.

In their report, the reviewers singled out sector-leading projects such as the South East Scotland Academies Partnership, run in conjunction with Queen Margaret University, employers in a range of industries, schools and local authorities. The project gives senior school students the chance to attend one of four academies based on a key growth industry, to sample college and university, undertake practical work experience and, ultimately, smooth the path between school, continuing education and work. This innovative approach gives students the chance to learn more about career opportunities at an earlier stage, and the academies work closely with industry to ensure they are geared towards the needs of businesses.

The reviewers identified another innovative project with close industry links – the industry mentoring programme for HND Visual Communication Graphic Design students. The ties with industry – which involve design professionals acting as mentors – have resulted in students winning prestigious national awards and many going on to further study or directly to successful careers in the industry.

As a college, we continue to innovate and to seek out partners whose vision matches our own. We have just begun an exciting project with Codebase, the newest and largest technology incubator in Scotland, to develop a Technology Academy under the national Skills Investment Plan for ICT and Digital Technologies. Working to fill the vacuum of digital skills talent, we are developing three well equipped and excellently resourced technology spaces at three of Edinburgh College’s campuses. Student-led, but with support from Codebase, students can share ideas with others across the curriculum and will be supported to create and develop their own technology business ideas. There will be a direct link to Codebase for students who are ready to take the plunge and seek investment for their ideas.

This is what Edinburgh College is all about, and these examples perfectly demonstrate the benefits of linking with industry to create great education and employment opportunities for our students. Colleges have an important role to play in building a sustainably prosperous nation, as highlighted in the recommendations made by the Wood Commission. I am confident that with our innovative approach and strong links with industry, Edinburgh College is up to the challenge.

• Mandy Exley is principal of Edinburgh College


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