Black Country academy goes public

Posted on 3 Nov 2010 by The Manufacturer

Walsall College and Wolverhampton University today revealed plans for a new University Technical College to safeguard the future of regional and national industry.

Today’s announcement takes the current government a step closer to fulfilling their commitment to support the launch of 12 new University Technical Colleges (UTCs) over the next four years. UTCs follow a similar format to the successful German technical schools and will provide young people with strong abilities in STEM subjects to develop their talents in an appropriately equipped environment. Although the curriculum of UTCs will adhere to national standards, it will be driven and informed by local industry, so that the development of student skills is relevant and applicable to the local and national economy.

The precedent for the new wave of British UTCs was set earlier this year with the launch of the highly successful and oversubscribed JCB Academy in Staffordshire. This exciting learning environment, dedicated to the support of young engineering talent and the rehabilitation of pride in the UK’s strong manufacturing heritage, opened its doors to students between the ages of 14-19 in September. The institution receives funding through the normal Department of Education channels but is sponsored by lead organisation JCB and also supported by a broad range of other local and national employers, including Network Rail, BAE Systems, Zyteck and Parker Vansco.

The demographic of the JCB Academy’s local industry has led the college to deliver a heavy focus on mechanical engineering, however, the new Black Country College has canvassed local demand and will be focusing its development and capabilities around process engineering and materials development, with a particular concern for rapid prototyping skills and skills for the emerging polymers industry.

The new college will provide a distinctly different offering to the current Walsall College, the local FE institution and lead sponsor of the UTC project. Guided by local partners from industry, government and education the Black Country UTC will deliver a progressive education to 14-19 year olds with a desire to apply their skills to a career in the manufacturing and engineering sectors. Skills will be taught in hands-on environments and always with reference to real industry challenges, including regulatory pressures and environmental sustainability. There will be a heavy emphasis and priority given to the development of STEM abilities but parents will be reassured that it will also be mandatory to study GCSEs in English, maths, science, IT and languages, along with employability and enterprise skills. It is anticipated that the college will offer 480 places and will open in September 2011.

To tackle the possible negative connotations that this career step may have, particularly with parents in the region, who have witnessed the collapse of the manufacturing economy in their region over the last 30 years, Walsall College, University of Wolverhampton and employers supporting the UTCs curriculum development, will be holding induction and information events over the next few months. These events are designed to inform potential students and their parents about the objectives of the UTC and its relevance to the national strategic priority of economic rebalancing through industrial rejuvenation.

Leading industrial partners and professional bodies who have committed to supporting the Black Country UTC include Caterpillar, Solidworks, Declam, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Stratasys, Hauton Design and Renishaws. Siemens have also expressed an interest in the new enterprise and have assisted in planning by hosting visits to its own Berlin-based technical academy.

Amarjit Basi, Principal and Chief Executive of Walsall College commented: “This is an extremely exciting opportunity for young people in the Black Country and surrounding area. The Black Country UTC, Walsall will provide pupils with an interest in engineering and science to learn and succeed within an inspirational institution, supported by expert staff, utilising the latest technology that industry has to offer.

“The Black Country is the birthplace of engineering. Pupils at the UTC will be involved in areas like product design for green technologies, such as water harvesting, solar power, climate control and wind generators. Both Sponsors are committed to working in partnership with other schools and colleges within the locality of the UTC so that their students and staff may also benefit from what will be a regional centre of excellence.”