Some of the differences between studying in a rural environment or an urban environment are huge. The financial, social and personal decisions involved in choosing what to study and where to study it, mean that it feels like a truly life altering decision. But if one of the former factors in the decision was that urban environments could offer educational services and industry opportunities which rural areas simply couldn’t, then the way the world is changing, and the efforts of the South West College to keep up with it, mean that this is no longer the case.
So as South West College takes its place as part of the SMART Region initiative spearheaded by First Minister, Arlene Foster, what exactly does SMART Region mean?
For South West College, breaking down the barriers of what may previously have been considered rural restrictions is nothing new. The IDEA centre in the colleges Omagh Campus is aimed at supporting students and organisations in the creative process of generating new ideas, while the IMAGE centre in Enniskillen is a design and development area focused on providing resources and services in the area of digital animation. Both are a sign that a rural education setting has never meant a purely rural education.
Now the college have continued these efforts by signing a Memorandum of Understanding alongside Ulster University at Stormont Castle, as part of a SMART Region initiative spearheaded by First Minister, Arlene Foster. A smart region is one that uses its own natural assets alongside more city-like features, services and technology in order to try and achieve its potential for future development. For South West College, involvement in the program is both a sign of the success of work carried out so far, and a nod of encouragement for the future. Arlene Foster has described the agreement, and the SMART Region project in general, as an important step in helping the Fermanagh and Omagh region compete for jobs and investment in all areas of industry.
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The Smart Region initiative is a world-wide project, prominent in America, where the latest technologies and infrastructures are brought into natural environments and used to create a wide variation of smart companies.
For Northern Ireland, inspiration for the project came from as far off as South America. Arlene Foster says, “I launched the Fermanagh and Omagh SMART Pilot Project when I was Enterprise Minster after returning from a trade mission to Brazil, where I saw the concept being successfully implemented in Recife.” Considering Recife is a heavily populated metropolitan area in Brazil, with nearly four million inhabitants, the agreement is a sign of the changing world we live in, and how projects carried out in urban environments are now just as applicable in more rural areas.
Educationally, the project will allow the college to bring students a variety of new opportunities, while it also promises to make the South West Region a more attractive area for modern and emerging industries to invest in, with the intention of creating employment for those emerging with qualifications. For students in the area, it means that at a stage of life where anything seems possible, more and more of what the working world has to offer will be available in the South West region.
Early stages of this latest development within the college include new courses in areas such as Digital Media, Medical Device Design, Cyber Security, Product Design for Engineering, Sustainable Construction and Energy Management and Environmental Science. Whereas in the colleges Innovation Centres, where students and industry work side by side in places such as IDEA and IMAGE, more industries of the future will be brought in, allowing the college to provide city-like industry services within the rural South West College environment.
According to College Director, Malachy McAleer, this means development not just for the College and its students, but “significant development for the South West Region,” and plans are already being put in place to ensure that these impacts will be felt as early as September 2016, meaning the South West College, continuously committed to offering new avenues for students to fulfil their potential, will soon be offering more opportunities than ever.