When I was appointed principal two-and-a-half years ago, I realised that the college had yet to harness technology as a positive force in learning, teaching and, ultimately, the student experience.
Passionate about the transformative effect of digital technology, I was keen to understand the opportunities that the college and, more broadly, our region could maximise.
First, we looked at business processes, mainly learning and teaching. Because of the pandemic, we had to do that quite rapidly, so we shifted our entire curriculum online and digitised most back-office processes. This is very much work in progress, but I never thought so much could be achieved so quickly!
Always mindful of cyber resilience, we're now looking at our IT architecture to see how many systems can shift to the cloud.
In parallel, we are undertaking a data readiness assessment as we move towards more automation - streamlining the customer journey by integrating systems. We’re also making sure that we have the right skills in the right place to support technological changes.
Once these pieces of work are complete, then the students, staff and our region will all benefit.
Meeting regional skills needs
Dumfries and Galloway College and Borders College have come together to form the South of Scotland Digital Skills Hub. Enabled by an investment of £7m from the Scottish government, it is a distributed learning and skills network, which provides the infrastructure to offer training across a geographically dispersed area.
It widens the number of learners we can reach and the breadth of subjects they can study. It’s a godsend in this area, because public transport is almost non-existent.
Private and public sector collaboration
Together, we have taken the hub one step further by bringing together education experts at the two local authorities, community support and the third sector, three of the innovation centers at Scotland’s universities, plus local businesses.
We've come up with five programmes of work for the hub. One of the most successful is ‘digital mentoring.’ That means connecting industry experts with educators in a variety of subjects as a means of up-skilling staff.
We’re also looking at business events focused on building resilience and how we create a curriculum that allows us to increase the number of people who have opportunities to study and, in turn, develop the kind of skills we need in this area.
The green agenda
When I arrived at the college, and unlike other colleges, Dumfries and Galloway hadn't really carved out a niche in any one particular area. So, I asked the team, ‘What do we want to be known for? What are we good at?’
We came up with a list and green energy and digital were at the top, which is where we have focused our strategic priorities towards.
There's been investment in green energy in the south of Scotland. There are many on and off-shore renewable energy installations and the area is a net exporter of green power – producing roughly three times more electricity from renewable sources than the south of Scotland consumes.
In order to maximize the journey to a net zero Scotland by 2045, we need the right skills to support this transition.
Skills Development Scotland recently published a climate emergency skills action plan, which has set out the national context. This has been a call to action and our curriculum has been created to offer career pathways within the energy sector.
Last year we launched the Green Energy Hub, an annex to the college entirely resourced and powered by renewable energy sources, including two different types of solar panels, a wind turbine, ground source heat pump, TESLA battery storage system and rainwater harvesting.
Any excess energy that we generate is stored so that we can use it when, for example, it isn't particularly windy or sunny.
At the hub, we've got apprentices who are learning how to install electric vehicle charging points for domestic and commercial purposes, we are working with the local authority on maintenance for its electric vehicle fleet, and we offer apprenticeship training for aspiring wind turbines maintenance engineers.
Tackling the climate emergency
The college declared a climate emergency two years ago. For me it wasn't just about the curriculum and what we teach; it was about my role in signaling to the whole organisation that this is a world problem that requires a collective effort.
We set up a climate emergency action group and created an action plan with a pledge to become net zero by 2030. It was signed by me, the student president and the education minister of the time.
We also tackled some very practical tasks such as eliminating single-use plastics, setting up a recycling swap shop for students, changing our fleet to electric vehicles and a cycle-to-work scheme.
We have also embedded sustainability into the curriculum and into our college ethos.
I’m really proud of the work we’ve been doing, and how that’s been recognised. The college was named sustainable institution of the year at the 2020 Green Gown Awards and, this year we are nominated for a further two Green Gown awards.
Jisc has already committed to achieving net zero, including offsetting emissions, by 2040. We are collaborating with external experts to help us achieve this and, once that analysis is clear, we aim to bring forward this target. To date we have:
- Included both strategic and operational climate risks in our risk framework
- Prepared an environment policy
- Recycled IT equipment
- Maintained gold membership through our Trees for Life partner
- Made the environment a priority for all recently refurbished Jisc offices, including reusing and recycling furniture
- Begun the complex process of analysing carbon emissions of our cloud-based services