The FE sector is creating landmarks for learning

Although it has been open for 18 months, some students still receive a shock when they step inside the Lifestyle Academy at Newcastle College. In addition to a lecture theatre, other teaching areas and a resource centre, the three-storey building includes two restaurants, a gym, hair salon and spa – all open to the public.

When diners gaze across the city from the top-floor restaurant, they could easily believe they are in a four-star hotel rather than a further education college, says the academy's director, Susan West.

Opened in September 2006, the £16m academy includes four departments – hair and beauty, sport and fitness, food and hospitality and travel and tourism. During the past two years, the number of 16 to 18-year-olds studying there has risen from 693 to 740, while adult enrolments have increased from 220 to 376.

"It's definitely been a magnet," says West. "Before parents and students come around, they imagine a college to be a stuffy environment with people sitting around desks. This is a real eye-opener for them."

Designed by Edinburgh-based architects RMJM and given its name through a local newspaper competition, the academy was built to feel modern and airy to attract a wider range of users than just students. All commercial operations are run by students as part of their courses. "They can immerse themselves in their vocation," says West. "They train on the lower floors and then go to real working environments where they provide a service to customers."

Other colleges are also seeing the benefits of investing in new buildings and facilities. Four years after South East Essex College moved into a £52m flagship building in the centre of Southend, applications are up 42 per cent. This year, it has 3,029 under-19s on roll, up from 1,983 in 2003.

With the University of Essex having recently opened a second building next door, the college sees the campus as a one-stop education shop within a few minutes' walk of the town's two railway stations.

Jan Hodges, the principal, says its open-plan offices and extensive technology help to prepare students for work. "A lot of people's experiences of education is of fairly run-down, uninspiring buildings," she says. "When they come here, there is a wow factor."

According to Julian Gravatt, director of funding and development at the Association of Colleges, the surge in investment by colleges during the past decade has been as much in response to demands from students for better facilities as the need to replace ageing buildings. "People's expectations are rising," he says.

Part of the costs are normally covered by the Learning and Skills Council, which is spending nearly £500m on FE capital projects this year alone. But colleges also raise money through land deals and loans.

Since 1993, when colleges left local authority control, about half of further education buildings in England have been modernised or replaced. "The sector has been independent for 15 years and has generated surpluses that make it attractive to lenders," adds Gravatt. In addition to modernised facilities, new buildings are expected to make more effective use of space and reflect environmental needs. Two years ago, Somerset College opened a £2.5m learning and resource centre, made with recycled and sustainable materials, that is seen as a showcase for the construction industry.

Blackpool and the Fylde College ripped out the entire floor of an existing building to create a state-of-the-art gaming academy, costing £800,000. Aimed at students on engineering and tourism and leisure courses, it been oversubscribed since it opened in 2006.

Earlier this year, the college joined forces with Greenwich and North Warwickshire & Hinckley colleges to set up a consortium – the National Gaming Academy – that is taking advantage of the casino boom by offering bespoke training to the gaming industry.

Students are also promised better college facilities in Scotland, where no fewer than 17 FE construction projects are in progress. Jewel & Esk College is due to open new campuses in Edinburgh and Eskbank this autumn, worth a total of £53m.

College staff have been heavily involved in designing the new buildings so that they reflect modern curriculum requirements, and Jewel & Esk principal Howard McKenzie is confident that they will attract extra students. "There has been a lot of liaison with business about what we should be teaching, and that's feeding into the design," he says.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Early Years Teachers Required

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Early Years Teachers ...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Qualified Early Years Teachers Required

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualifed Early Years ...

Do you want to work in Education?

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energetic gradu...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform