College’s new digital hub will help deliver ‘curriculum of the future’ for students
- Credit: Coffey Architects
Leaders at a Norfolk college hope a new £9m digital technology centre will help it teach students the 'curriculum of the future' as well as equipping the region's employers for the 21st century.
The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has handed City College Norwich a £6.1m grant towards its Digi-Tech Factory, which will help it boost student numbers, improve its digital and technology courses and create new jobs.
It is a massive step forward for the further education college – which, until three years ago, did not have any IT-related courses in its curriculum.
Jerry White, deputy principal at City College Norwich, said the college was proud to be able to deliver 'something to benefit the students and the region'.
'The local industrial strategy [compiled by the New Anglia LEP] identified the digital sector as a key sector and if you look at the sector skills plans, digital skills feature in varying forms,' he said.
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'It is not just about young people learning how to go into those digital professions – we are planning it to have a knock-on effect across quite a lot of areas of the college.
'For example, in the plans for the building are lab spaces where we will be looking at automation, engineering and robotics, the kind of thing that our engineering and manufacturing firms are crying out for to make their processes more 21st century.'
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The introduction of T-levels – which the college will be one of the first places in the country to offer – was a key element in its planning for the new building, with the first cohort of T-level students expected to move into the new building in during their first year (2020-21).
Mr White said: 'It is really important that parents, carers and schools start to appreciate that these new qualifications are coming along and will be a really inspiring alternative to A-levels.'
T-levels and a demographic boom in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds in Norfolk are expected to push up student numbers at the college in the next four to five years.
With the new building, the college will be able to quadruple the number of students on digital technology courses from 107 to 477.
It also plans to bring in more adult learners on basic and advanced digital skills courses and build on the growth in its apprentice cohort.
Mr White said: 'One of the major jobs now is to continue to work closely with our employer partners and university partners at the University of East Anglia and Norwich University of the Arts, both of which have significant IT and digital pathways available, to make sure whatever we are putting into the new building is really top notch and kept up to date.
'There are colleges around the country that teach digital skills but we have been able to look at the T-levels and the emerging apprenticeship standards and make sure we have designed a building that can deliver the curriculum of the future and serve Norwich, Norfolk and the region for years to come.'
Mr White said the new building would make best use of the limited space on its Ipswich Road site, with part of the Southwell building – formerly a residential block but now used for administration and storage – set to be demolished to make room.
But he said it was only through the LEP's funding that the development had been possible.
Unlike schools and universities, colleges do not get an annual capital funding allowance from the government. They are also required to match-fund any donations or grants towards building projects; the college is stumping up around £3m for the Digi-Tech Factory, similar to the proportion it put towards its creative arts building, which was built around six years ago.
Tim Robinson, chief executive at TechEast, the region's digital skills body, said the project at City College was one of several in Norfolk and Suffolk designed to address a significant gap in the digital workforce identified by Tech East and the New Anglia LEP – which could stretch to 10,000 roles by 2024.
He said: 'Digital skills cuts right across business. It is not just tech companies, although they have specific needs which this will address, it is all kinds of businesses. For example, the non-tech SME market very much needs digital help whether it's in marketing or cyber security.
'I think City College is a good example of how a further education college can really help to fill a gap in the current provision. It is about having something relevant which is based on employer needs and they have responded to that challenge.'