UCM Opens up Options in Further Education

University College Isle of Man (UCM) is helping students at all levels unlock their futures.

As UCM gears up for the next academic year, Gef sat down for a catch-up with Principal Jesamine Kelly (aka Jes), Vice-Principal Jo Richardson and Head of Student Services and Pastoral Support Lulu Gillow.

Whether you are a post-16 student looking for specialised learning in a different environment from school, or an adult returning to education, UCM has plenty to offer.

The University College is still accepting applications for some courses due to start in September, but work on the 2023-24 intake has already begun.

This year UCM will be welcoming pupils from year 10 from all high schools on the Island for a taster day ahead of their GCSEs.

‘We would encourage young people to start making their decisions early,’ said Lulu. ‘Year 11, the GCSE year, disappears very quickly.’

Applications for 2023-24 open after the October half-term break.

For 16-18-year-olds, UCM offers different pathways towards degrees and degree-level qualifications (higher education) or employment. Courses tend to be more specialised and vocational.

‘We have a really broad curriculum,’ said Jes, who is also a former UCM student,

Colleges in the UK often specialise in certain areas but UCM provides a greater range.

This year UCM introduced forensic science and criminology as a subject, with a former police officer involved in the delivery of the course.

‘That is something young people have been asking for at school and it has been received positively,’ said Jes.

UCM’s senior leadership and management teams are busy formulating the strategy for the coming academic years.

Jes said: ‘We have been meeting a lot of employers and organisations, from Manx Care to the MNFU, organisations in the hospitality and catering industry and everything in between; a whole range. 

‘We need their perspective on what the Island needs.’

They are also looking at the vision contained in the Government’s Island Plan and, most crucially, ‘thinking about what both young people need and adults need’.

Jes confirmed: ‘It is not always exactly the same as what employers want.’

Jo Richardson is the Vice-Principal and she explained that UCM seeks to map the best route for students to get to where they want to be.

‘On some courses students basically have to start from scratch. If you want to become a plumber, for instance, you have to start the course with the basic skills.’

Jo Richardson said: ‘For many young people we are an important stepping stone from school into employment.

‘We give students the skills they need for their career, and importantly we recognise the need to ignite their interest in education and sometimes help them find their passion.’

One of the big differences for student moving from school into a college environment is the culture. At UCM lecturers are on first-name terms with their students.

‘We offer something different from A-levels,’ said Jo.

‘We can help develop mastery in a specialised area. We work on finessing skills and knowledge. We will stretch and challenge the student as they develop.

‘We still have a curriculum that we have to teach around but it is very much up to us to make sure that it is modern and relevant to both our students and the needs of the Island’s employers – the students are learning what they need to learn to benefit them most now and in the future.’

Lulu said a key aim was to prepare students for the workplace or higher education.

‘We’re really proud of our real working environments; we have a fully active hair and beauty salon, for example, a fully active restaurant, engineering and construction workshops, with students practicing and perfecting their skills in them.’ she said.

‘The pastoral support and the student experience is very different from school as well. We offer a great deal of support on mental health and welfare because, like other colleges and universities, we have a Student Services department which concerns itself entirely with providing support for students.

There are about 1,100 full-time students at UCM, with more than 800 in the 16-18-old age range. On top of that there are 4,000 part-time students.

Not all students completing their further education qualifications at UCM want to go straight into employment. Lots of students progress to a degree and UCM supports those who want to either stay at UCM to do that, with degrees being validated by Chester University, or move to a University across.   

Jes said: ‘People still seem to think the only route to university is via A-levels in schools and that is a misnomer.

‘Our BTecs carry the same UCAS (uni application system) tariff as three A-levels at A* grade. It is a recognised and successful route. 

Lulu added ‘We also offer Access to Education Courses which enable people who perhaps didn’t get on at school and want to get back in to education to get a degree. It’s often something they’ve always wanted to achieve or they want to move careers.’ 

Lulu said: ‘We treat our students as adults. We have very high standards in the classroom. If people don’t turn up, we don’t wag a finger we ask if they are ok, how we can help them, what additional support they need. We have high expectations and we want students to not only enjoy their time at UCM but to exceed their own expectation – and we’ve found giving students autonomy backed by consistent support is the best way to help students reach them.’

The focus is on finding the right route for students:

Lulu explained: ‘The conversation with a potential student usually starts with, “What sort of life do you want to live?”

‘We appreciate that for some young people actually moving from school to a University College can be a bit of a culture shock so we do transition work.

‘At the other end of their UCM journey we support them about what the next step is, whether it is employment, one of our own higher education courses, or university away. We make sure they are talking to the right people.

‘We can help prepare for job or university interviews.’

Jes said: ‘Students are investing in us. Sixteen-year-olds know school and if they choose to move here, they need to know that they are going to be okay.’

UCM’s pastoral provision includes support for students who have other demands, be it family or part-time work, or are struggling with outside pressures.

Jes added: ‘For school pupils finishing their GCSEs and looking at their future, or finishing their A Levels considering their next step is a big deal. Not everyone knows straight away what they want to do. If you’re in this camp – it’s not too late to choose UCM. We’d recommend anyone thinking of coming to us apply online as soon as they can.’ 

Find out much more at the UCM website