South West College celebrated its Higher Education Graduation Ceremony recently, honouring the achievements of over 600 students at Omagh Leisure Centre. It is the largest in the College's history. The College, working in partnership with Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast has tried to widen access in participation in undergraduate study through a number of new courses.

Speaking at the event, Mr. Michael McAlister, Chief Executive of South West College, said;

“South West College’s higher education has been a beacon of light for the regional economy, and has grown by over 400% post-merger. The industrial and commercial base of the South West Region has prospered, greatly, from the outstanding graduates, that leave this institution on an annual basis. Those graduates bring their newly found skills and knowledge to bear, for the benefit of this region and beyond, and we are constantly reminded by leaders of industry in the region, how important a resource you are, and indeed we are, as a centre of learning”.

This year’s key note address was delivered by Mr Michael McQuillan, Chief Executive at Enterprise Northern Ireland. Prior to this, Mr McQuillan was the Director of the Business Institute at the Ulster University Business School. An entrepreneur by background, he was involved in several businesses, most notably as co-founder of "The Streat" coffee chain, which he established in 1999, expanding it organically and then through franchising, leading to an acquisition by a major food distribution company in 2010.

Through McQuillan Associates, Michael consulted and mentored more than 250 SMEs across Northern Ireland from 2010 to 2014. He is a Board Member of Tourism NI and a Non-Executive Director on several Northern Irish businesses. Michael was appointed as a Visiting Professor to Ulster University in 2011 and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Nr NcQuillan's business success and advocacy of and involvement in skills and enterprise development underpin his career-long contribution to Northern Ireland's business arena. He said:

“It is a privilege to be part of South West College’s Higher Education Graduation Ceremony. The college provides an invaluable service to the south west region and to the rest of Northern Ireland, developing such a rich source of high performing graduates for a range of vital sectors in our economy. The graduation marks the end of this stage of learning for this year’s graduates and their first step into the workplace or onto further learning. For Northern Ireland to continue to grow economically and socially to its rightful place in the smaller economies of the world, todays graduates will play such an important part. I am delighted to be present at their celebration and to encourage them on their journey ahead.”

Degrees, Foundation Degrees and other professional qualifications were awarded to graduates at the event who studied at South West College’s campuses in Dungannon, Enniskillen and Omagh. Students graduated on a number of undergraduate courses that are accredited by Ulster University and Queen's University Belfast. The College is hoping to continue the development of its higher education provision in the years ahead.

Mr. McAlister, concluded:

“We are essentially a rural economy, and we don’t have the kind of services that are readily available in larger cities, and if we want our region to remain in a healthy state, with high levels of employment, in export driven industries, we must continue to develop our services. With that in mind, I call on all public representatives to support us in that mission, and to bring whatever influence you have, to ensure that this region, receives its rightful levels, of investment and support.

“We need to see more, level 6 Honours degrees available in South West College, to support the growing demand for high level skills within our indigenous industry. We have been extremely fortunate in recent years, that through strategic-partnership-arrangements with Ulster University and Queens University, we have seen a number of programmes at level 6, offered locally. That provision is limited, and only scratches the surface in relation to local demand, and we will continue to work with our valued partners, to explore what other developments we can deliver, into the future.”