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Regional Tertiary Pathfinders

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SFC is working alongside key regional education and skills partners to support the seven innovative pilot projects now in development in two Pathfinder regions in Scotland. 

Through evidence, analysis, and collaborative action, the Pathfinders are taking a ‘learning by doing’ approach to understand how we can make the education and skills system more responsive, integrated, and supportive of economic recovery and inclusive growth in each region. 

Building on existing collaborative, regional working and rooted in local knowledge and understanding of skills needs, the Pathfinder groups in the South of Scotland and the North-East of Scotland have prioritised these projects which will have the most impact on securing: 

  • Simpler pathways and improved outcomes for learners. 
  • Alignment of provision against societal and employer need. 
  • Enhanced coherence and sustainability across provision. 

The Pathfinder programme flows from the insights in the SFC Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability  in 2021 and subsequent endorsement of the recommendations by the Scottish Government and was launched in Spring 2022. 

Regional Delivery Boards (RDBs) were established by SFC in Autumn 2022 for each Pathfinder region, and include institutional representatives and key regional stakeholders, to support, monitor, and oversee the delivery of regional projects. They make strategic decisions relating to the development of tertiary learning provision, coordinate the efforts of regional partners, and ensure the alignment of projects with regional and local needs and priorities.​  

South of Scotland Regional Delivery Board

Gillian Brydson  Dumfries & Galloway Council 
Joanna Campbell  Dumfries and Galloway College 
Sara Carter  Oilthigh Ghlaschu 
Grieg Robson  Skills Development Scotland 
Anne-Marie Sturrock  Borders College 
Karen Jackson  South of Scotland Enterprise 
Lesley Munro  Scottish Borders Council 
Jamie Newbold  SRUC – Scotland’s Rural College 
Marcus Ross  University of the West of Scotland 
Elizabeth Shevlin  Scottish Funding Council (Chair) 

North-East of Scotland Regional Delivery Board

Allison Carrington    Skills Development Scotland  
Duncan Cockburn  Robert Gordon University 
Neil Cowie  North–East Scotland College 
Jennifer Craw  Opportunity North– East 
Peter Edwards  University of Aberdeen 
Laurence Findlay  Aberdeenshire Council 
Matthew Lockley  Scottish Enterprise 
Maggie McGinley  ETZ 
Eleanor Sheppard  Aberdeen City Council 
Elizabeth Shevlin  Scottish Funding Council (Chair) 

The Pathfinders Tertiary National Advisory Board was established in Autum 2022 to provide strategic direction, support, and constructive advice to the Pathfinder programme. 

The pilots began delivery of new course provision and pathways from August 2023. 

Annual Year 2023/24 

Alongside further research and analysis of Pathfinder activity, a key element of our work has been to ‘learn by doing’ capture the learning and evaluate as the programme develops. In support of this Evaluation Support Scotland were commissioned in August 2023 to run three full day learning/evaluation workshops for partners in the two SFC Pathfinder regions. The aim of this was to focus participants on the initial outputs and experience from their Pathfinder Pilot Projects and the learning emerging from doing things differently to address regional skills needs.   

In the new year, SFC will continue to work alongside the colleges, universities, and partners as they draw out the learning from this pilot work. The regional pilots will inform potential system improvement and develop expectations, guidance, and good practice for the tertiary education system around skills planning and delivery. 


South of Scotland (SoS) - Digital Skills Pathfinder

The South of Scotland (SoS) – Digital Skills Pathfinder, jointly led by Borders College and Dumfries and Galloway College, aims to enhance regional competitiveness by improving digital opportunities for post-16 learners in the region.   

Key achievements of the pilot include delivering digital upskilling provision in hospitality and the construction sector; a newly developed offer of core/meta skills for Business and Enterprise students; and updating the digital element in the curriculum for Electrical Installation and Motor Vehicle courses for the academic year 2023-24. In addition, a joint curriculum development plan has been established to meet the digital needs of Health and Social Care sector employers.   

The project’s digital offer is showcased on the colleges’ websites and signposted to schools at key points in the academic year.  This includes courses and the highly successful “Meet the Learner events” which have been offered to bring employers and learners together and promote inclusivity. Five “Meet the learner events” were held in 2023, allowing learners at different levels of study (School, Apprenticeships, College, University) to share their experiences in relation to selecting a digital programme of study at school, college and university. A further programme is planned for Spring 2024 working with the regional DYW partners and schools. An interactive provision map of digital skills training for employers will be published in early 2024. 

West of Scotland Educational Pathways

A partnership between Dumfries and Galloway College, the University of the West of Scotland and Dumfries and Galloway Council, this pilot project has made progress in it’s ambition to deliver a broader range of programmes and integrated pathways for learners from school through to degree level provision.   

Through enhanced regional partnership working, with the Education team in the Local Authority and the region’s Deputy Headteachers, the project partners identified a need for, and developed, two new integrated degree pathways that have now been launched for the academic year 2023-24: the BSc Cybersecurity and BA Business.   

An agreement is in place between the institutions for a shared resource model to underpin efficient delivery. The partners are looking to apply the learning generated through the initial two new degree pathways into other sectors, and discussions are now being taken forward to explore opportunities in Health and Social Care. 

Developing a joint prospectus for learning and innovation in the land-based sector

SRUC and Borders College have been working in partnership with key regional stakeholders to respond to the needs of the natural economy – identified by all as a key regional priority. Underpinning this pilot project is a unique statement of strategic intent between SRUC and Borders College.   

After a period of intensive collaboration, a joint land-based prospectus was officially launched in June 2023, showcasing the complete range of learning options and pathways at each level of study, which includes flexible short courses and practice-based innovation opportunities.   

Partners have made significant progress in identifying areas for new jointly developed and delivered land-based provision, which will be put in place over the next two years.  These include agriculture, countryside and wildlife management, animal care and vet nursing, and an additional package will include business skills to existing courses.  

The project appointed a Business Development Officer, to act as an innovation broker to promote joint activity.  This resource, and associated expertise, is helping the project to develop a place-based innovation scheme.  The scheme will encourage stakeholders in the land-based sector to develop locally applicable solutions which drive upskilling and innovation in the region.  It also has the additional benefit of connecting into the Strength in Places funded research and innovation project. 


Developing demand-led, aligned, and sustainable learner pathways

This project, jointly led by NESCol and RGU, aims to deepen pre-existing partnership agreements and approaches between the two institutions to ensure the establishment of an industry-informed and student-centred sustainable education and skills infrastructure within the North-East. It is critical that this infrastructure is agile and responsive to challenges facing the region and the emerging job opportunities of the future.  

A series of joint meetings have taken place to identify new learner pathways from the college to RGU and to maximise and develop articulation agreements. New learner pathways have been identified in ten curriculum areas, and colleagues from both institutions are working collaboratively to look at HN frameworks for curriculum mapping and to identify pathways from senior phase into RGU – i.e. HNC Business and in key subject areas where no existing degree articulation routes exist. 

A joint marketing and recruitment working group has been established to take forward marketing actions relating to institutional websites. This will include material for events and potential for collaboration on recruitment events, such as RGU’s Access To programme and NESCol’s Schools’ Links offering to ensure clear and joined up messaging around pathways and careers. Joint meetings with Widening Access and Student Recruitment teams are also taking place to ensure an increased knowledge of the offers, facilities, student support and articulation pathways available for students. 

Enhancing the Senior Phase

Partnership working between Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council, NESCol and the two universities in the NE is at the heart of this project designed to enhance the senior phase offer for young people. Three tests of change are being piloted and tested.  

The introduction and further development of HNC opportunities for S6 pupils. The AY 2022-23 pilot was tested successfully with one school. Destinations of successful students completing the HNC Business course are being collated, and it is understood that almost all those who completed have started degree level studies. An enhanced pilot has been initiated for AY 2023-24, with six city schools participating. A key contributor to this success was working with LAs on their timetable alignment. Ongoing work is taking place for AY 2024-25 with the ambition to offer a selection of HNC/Level 7 qualifications across the region.  

A winter leavers’ programme, which aims to provide, practical, appropriate progression routes to employment or higher-level study, has been developed. A short-life working group led the design and delivery of practical programmes as an alternative to S5 within school, for those winter leavers. This was developed with increased support from SDS and DYWNE. Key tasks included reviewing college data for this group of learners, designing course aims, structure, content, contextualised core skills, meta skills development, progression, referral and selection of pupils and employer engagement. Applications open in December 2023 with partnership responsibilities identified for promotion and recruitment, delivery and quality assurance, employer engagement, career advice and support and progression routes. 

Critical to the success of this project has been the Strategic Working Group, established in July 2023, ensuring a joint approach to senior phase and pathway development, linked to growth areas in the region, identifying school engagement gaps and establishing regional priority projects. This group will be a legacy of the project. It has already identified other joint areas of work for the future, including collaboration between the College and Aberdeenshire Council to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Fraserburgh/ Peterhead area. A similar approach with Aberdeen City is being progressed. 

Enhancing and Coordinating the Simulation Infrastructure for Health and Social Care Education

Robert Gordon University in collaboration with the University of Aberdeen, NESCol, Moray UHI, NHS Grampian/H& SC Partnerships, the Scottish Ambulance Service and private employers, are working to provide a coherent plan and mapping of the provisioning of simulation needs across the region. Key health and social care stakeholders and education providers were engaged to agree an operational definition of simulation education and to provide data to enable a mapping of existing simulation learning and infrastructure in the region. 

Data collection across partners has enabled a joint understanding of what provision and infrastructure exists, identify where there is unmet need and to help anticipate future requirement. The data collected will support understanding of career opportunities and progression pathways to help ensure that existing and incoming staff have access to regional simulation infrastructure through their learning and career pathways. This is informing the Simulation Roadmap, which will support regional planning and provision of simulation infrastructure and simplify the simulation landscape to help the region develop a sustainable health and social care workforce. 

NESA Energy Transition Skills Interactive Pathway

NESA Energy Career Pathways Tool 

This project builds on an existing partnership between all NE institutions in the National Energy Skills Accelerator (NESA) and focuses on improving communication of low-carbon energy jobs and the education pathways into them. This interactive web-based tool will help individuals identify the qualifications that they require for specific jobs in the energy sector and where they can undertake these qualifications in the North-East of Scotland. It enables clear signposting of learners through the tertiary education system for low carbon energy jobs and contributes to improving accessibility for those looking to transfer into the renewable energy workforce and support those looking to re-engage in the workplace.  

The initial phase of course and pathway development at NESCol, RGU and University of Aberdeen was informed by outcomes from the programme of work supported through the Just Transition Fund project’s outcomes where research was conducted throughout 2023 to identify the skills needs and skills gaps in the region in relation to Energy Transition, including offshore wind, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, with some new provision started in September 2023.  

The web developer and video production team for the pilot were appointed in mid-August. A matrix for scoring job roles was approved by the NESA Board in late summer, incorporating insights from the Just Transition Fund project and NESA partner discussions. NESA are engaging with communities to inform and then test the tool through surveys and focus groups in schools, institutions, and with other key stakeholders. This will focus on ensuing the Energy Career Pathways Tool is clear, accessible, and user-friendly, and maximising impact of the project. The learning from this engagement will be crucial to future success of the pathways. 

SFC Strategic Plan 2022-27

Building a connected, agile, sustainable tertiary education and research system for Scotland.

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