Guest post – Dame Ruth Silver gives a straight A in access excellence to Ayrshire College

ruthsilverAs Chair to the Commission on Widening Access I want to better support the ambitions of Scotland’s talented young people regardless of their background to ensure that they can fully pursue their post school educational journeys and pathways. For this reason, I am undertaking a roadshow and a series of visits. As a former Principal myself of Lewisham College, a large bustling and diverse college in London, I was insistent that my journey to understand access excellence in Scotland must include colleges.

That was what brought me to Ayrshire College and what a lovely welcome and day out it turned out to be. After being met in person I was shown the new college build which will be a straight A in shape it seems! Upon arrival at the college we were greeted in person by the Principal and the Chair and treated to a fabulous lunch and pudding courtesy of the staff and students from the catering department. Simply delicious.

The Principal and Chair then provided an overview of the access work of the college but mostly what came through was a pride in its staff and its students, for this reason they asked me to listen to the stories of the students and the staff themselves as they felt they could best tell the story of what access in Ayrshire College was about.

What followed was a session with past and current students to understand their journeys, their barriers, how they overcome them and what advice they would give to others to help them achieve their ambitions. The honest stories told by the students who had lived the experience reminded me of the need for choice and the need for flexibility in our systems if the talent of our young people is to be fully released and recognised. There is no one size fits all model or one right or best route but what there must be is flexibility and positive experiences along a progressive pathway.

My discussion with the students and staff also highlighted that sometimes this good practice is already in place and is working well, as is the case for one student on the SFC’s Associate Student scheme with the college and the University of Strathclyde whereby he is both a college and a university engineering student and, it seems, getting the most out of both those systems. But in other cases this pathway is not as smooth or flexible, such as the student who entered advanced study in a Glasgow university with little support or connection to the cohorts progressing from year 1 or 2. Thankfully in the latter case the college was on hand to help find an alternative route to a university degree through the OU at the college.

I was then invited to visit The Hive and discovered another level of access and inclusion. I also noted that one of the students I had met earlier started her journey and belief in herself through the great work of the staff from The Hive. This element of access is absolutely crucial and it was plain to see that this element of the college changes lives and increases the chances of progressive positive pathways. I wondered what would happen to the lovely lively students from The Hive and what pathways they would enter next with the great support of the professionals around them.

With my head filled with thoughts and stories of pathways, I was invited to try even more delicious treats from the catering department before meeting some impressive and ambitious school students from the local area who will in time become our future teachers, dentists and doctors. Their stories differed from that of the college students and outlined how important it is to have a support network around you when considering university. It was clear to me that the application process itself, when told through the eyes of the first in family pupils, is a daunting procedure. Not only that, but it requires an element of forward planning and understanding of the system, to ensure you have right grades in the right areas at the right time. This simply must change and future students must receive better advice and support. It is unfair for those in the know to have a competitive advantage over those who do not. Furthermore, it is not the best means of identifying talent.

All of that said, the perseverance and determination of the young people I met in Ayrshire to pursue their dreams and chosen careers was remarkable, and I am not sure if anything will ever really stand in their way. I wish them all the best in their future careers and would like to thank them, the Principal, Chair and staff (and of course the wonderful catering department) for their time. I have a lot to think about as I lead the Commission on Widening Access towards its final report but, like the students, I and my fellow Commissioners have an impressive level of perseverance and determination.

Thank you Ayrshire College, like your new build I am giving you a straight A in access excellence.

You can get involved in the work of the Commission on Widening Access at www.commissiononwideningaccess.co.uk/#!join-the-discussion/c127h or by following @CoWA2015 on Twitter.


RAISING ASPIRATIONS | INSPIRING ACHIEVEMENT | INCREASING OPPORTUNITIES

The Student Association Welcomes You To 2015-16 At Ayrshire College

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With a new term underway at Ayrshire College, the Student Association are preparing to enter a new era with a new look, a new structure and a fresh vision for the year ahead. However, their objectives remain the same – to provide the best support and guidance possible to all students and ensure that their college years are some of the most memorable.

As they prepare to welcome new and returning students back through the doors of the College, let’s get to know a little bit more about the people behind the Ayrshire College Student Association (ACSA).

Angela Alexander is the Student President, entering her second year in residence. Previously a Sport and Fitness student at Ayrshire College, Angela’s role is to represent the students of the College and provide a voice for them at meetings with staff and the Board of Management. Since coming to Ayrshire College, Angela has been given some life changing opportunities and experiences that she now wants to use to help others.

Angela is enthusiastic and excited about the year ahead after a productive summer. We caught up with her shortly before the start of Freshers’ week and she explained her outlook and vision for the year ahead:

“The Student Association have been busy throughout the summer months organising and planning the year ahead and I hope you are looking forward to being a part of it. Freshers Fair has been taking place all this week on all campuses. Cumnock Campus Freshers has been postponed and we will confirm a date soon.

We will soon be holding a bi-election to elect a Vice-President. After consultation the Student Association introduced a new structure to ensure effective leadership and cross campus events and initiatives therefore enhancing the student experience.

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We have lots of exciting stuff planned for the year ahead so please come and speak to us in any of the SA offices and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates.”  – Angela Alexander, Student President

As well as our Student President and soon-to-be-elected Vice-President, the Student Association is also home to our Student Association Advisor, Charlotte Mitchell. Charlotte’s role is to support the work of the Student Association to ensure that the Student Presidents and the Executive Committee have the information, knowledge, training and resources they need to run a successful and effective association.

Charlotte also deals day-to-day with students who may have ideas for fundraisers, projects or voluntary placements but don’t know where to start. It is Charlotte’s job to link up students with other college teams as well as outside agencies.

When we spoke to Charlotte she revealed her main aims for the year ahead and explained why she found herself part of the new look Student Association at Ayrshire College:

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“This year my priority will be to support the association in developing and implementing a long term strategy and to ensure that the association’s legacy is carried on for the benefit of future students by assisting in the continuation of long term initiatives. I want to work closely with the Executive Committee to support them to build new skills which will help prepare them to stand for presidency in the Student President elections in 2016.

I came to this post in November last year after working in community education and development for many years. I find that I use the same set of skills for this job in that there’s a lot of problem solving, capacity building and thinking on your feet. The most important characteristic of this job is that you need to be flexible. Often I have to drop what I’m doing to deal with the unexpected. Also, the dynamics of the team are constantly changing as new presidents and executive officers are elected.

I have enjoyed my year so far and look forward to supporting the team and championing the work of the association for many years to come.”

– Charlotte Mitchell, Student Association Advisor

Angela and Charlotte want as many students as possible to get involved with the Student Association over the next year and there are many ways they can do so:

• Drop in to one of the Student Association offices at our Ayr, Kilmarnock and Kilwinning campuses

• Connect and interact with the Student Association pages on Facebook and Twitter.

• Email angela.alexander@ayrshire.ac.uk, charlotte.mitchell@ayrshire.ac.uk or phone 0300 303 0303 and ask to speak to Angela or Charlotte.

• Visit the Student Association page on our website to find out more about how you can get involved by becoming an executive officer or class representative. Click here: http://www1.ayrshire.ac.uk/students/student-association/

• You can get involved with The Student Voice – a magazine packed with the latest student news, gig reviews, and lifestyle articles. If you have a story or feature idea or have any upcoming events you wish to review for us then get in touch with Martin Currie on martin.currie@ayrshire.ac.uk

Keep your eyes peeled for all of the great events Angela and Charlotte have got planned for the year ahead. And don’t forget, a new Vice-President will be elected within the next few months. If you are interested then please contact Charlotte via email or pick up a nomination pack from any of the main campus reception desks.

It’s an exciting year in store for Ayrshire College so get involved and make a difference to your college experience!

Welcome to Ayrshire College 2015-16!