What does ‘College’ mean to you?
Your response will depend on who you are, what stage of life you’re at and where you’re heading.
For Principal and CEO Simon Hewitt, Dundee and Angus College is “ingrained in the fabric of our communities”.
Originally from Northern Ireland but a passionate ‘adopted Dundonian’, Simon has worked his way through the College ranks, initially joining as Lecturer in Computing 13 years ago. He was later promoted to Head of Department and, in 2017, appointed Vice-Principal (Curriculum).
Almost a year ago to the day, father-of-three Simon sat down in his new Principal’s office at the Kingsway Campus, preparing to start the next Dundee and Angus College chapter. However, it’s been far from an easy transition.
Reeling from the repercussions of a devastating cyber-attack, the College was then hit by the pandemic, with the closure of College premises, a swift shift to online learning and the cancellation of all physical events, including Graduation.
There’s no doubt Simon’s first year as Principal has been "challenging, to say the least". However, as restrictions relax across the country, a new exciting era awaits.
As Chair of the local employability partnership ‘Discover Work Executive Group’, Simon believes the College is key to the economic recovery of both Dundee and the wider region, bridging the gap between the College and businesses.
Simon explained, “As a further education College, our core business is undoubtedly learning and teaching. However, the climate has changed. In order to recover and thrive, the wider Tay region needs the right people so we’re working hard to ensure that we’re feeding businesses the workforce they need to succeed. That’s why we’re currently leading a review of business needs to shape what they need, embedding their views and feedback in our planning and portfolios. If that means changing courses and the way they’re delivered, so be it.”
In a matter of months, the College has also become a leading partner in numerous major developments including the Dundee eSports arena and Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc (MSIP) Skills Academy.
Simon added, “We’ve always been at the table in local discussions but now, we’re not just involved, we’re playing a key role. That’s an exciting shift for us. There are also more partnerships forming which are creating real change. The world has changed and so much more can be achieved through collaboration than working in isolation. This region is well placed to allow this to happen.”
So, despite its many devastating repercussions, what opportunities are emerging from Covid?
“We have been full-time centric for too long, with most of our curriculum geared towards full-time students. However, the expectations of students and employers are continuously evolving and, although we already had plans to review our offering, Covid forced us to accelerate them, step back and look at where the College is going. We need to look at a broader offer which is much more focused on upskilling, reskilling, short-term provision and blended learning.
“There’s also growing demand for short, sharp chunks of learning in the form of micro-credentials – blocks you can bolt on as you move through your lifelong learning journey, either as an addition or alternative to full-time options.”
With an annual intake of around 17,000 students, almost every local household has some sort of connection to the College.
“We’re central to so much of family and working life across the region. Whether your neighbour’s a student, your brother works here or your company provides apprenticeships, we’re all touched and supported by the College in some shape or form.”
“Some people are supported via upskilling or completely reskilling – while local businesses come to us as they plan for the future. We’ve demonstrated over this challenging period that we are agile and responsive, actively looking to work with industry and ready to take brave and bold steps so the region gets the attention and focus it deserves as it moves forwards.”
Walking through the city’s Magdalen Green, a favourite walking spot, Simon added, “I love Dundee. This city has given me everything I have – my family, my career and my friends. I owe a lot to the city and am absolutely focused on making Dundee and the wider region even stronger and more resilient as we take the next step on our journey, hopefully with a few less hurdles along the way!”