Computer Game Design at Somerset College : Edge Magazine Feature

The following is a feature article from Edge Magazine, September issue 2012 on computer game design courses and the general change in trend from university based courses to college ones. The article covers a number of areas in particular focusing on the commercial acceptance of video games designer top graduates securing places with
high-end UK and international firms.


Original Source :
Edge Magazine September 2012, Author: Lee Hall http://www.edge-online.com/get-into-games/game-industry-jobs-the-case-for-college/

Further Education colleges offer game industry job hopefuls a friendlier degree experience than many universities, according to a leading college tutor.

Sam Batten, curriculum area manager at Somerset College (college website: http://www.somerset.ac.uk) in Taunton, UK, says: “The key thing with college – and especially Somerset College – is that you have got caring staff, excellent pastoral support and lots of time with the lecturers. It’s incredibly personal and we keep in touch with students when they finish.”

Batten will welcome her first cohort of third-year degree students on the newly validated BSc (Hons) in Computer Games Technology this September. It’s the first time college students will be able to complete a three-year degree in the Technology Department of the institution without a top-up at a traditional university.

Cliff Gutteridge, who teaches modelling, animation, rigging and sound on the course, adds: “Students come back to college because they sometimes feel lost at big universities. We go the extra mile and spend more time with students. And while we may not have some of the equipment large universities have that’s changing over time. We certainly have the experience among the teaching staff to deliver the degree.”

A loosening of red tape around which institutions can deliver degrees means colleges can now offer a full undergraduate course which is accredited by a university. Previously students had to uproot for a top-up year at a dedicated higher education provider after a two-year foundation course. The change suits many people who don’t want to experience life at university, says Gutteridge. “College is a great place to learn if you are a little intimidated by the prospect of going to a big university,” he explains.

And the course is delivered on a timetable to suit students who need to meet family and employment commitments: the full-time degree is taught in two full days on a 9-5 basis. And it’s priced relatively competitively at £7,000 per year for tuition fees whereas many universities are charging up to the full £9,000. Batten believes that price also broadens the course’s appeal.

The view that higher education delivered at colleges widens participation is supported by research published in June by a team at the University of Sheffield and the Institute of Education, University of London for the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). They found that most students studying in FE colleges come from non-traditional educational backgrounds where neither parent had a higher education qualification. Few had any real knowledge about universities.

Batten adds: “We’ve got 11 students embarking on the top up year, which is a great start. All but one of the students who did the foundation degree is staying on, and the one who isn’t has already got a job as an animator.” One recent graduate from the programme, Tom Pook, now works on augmented reality as a 3D artist for Digicave, a firm behind James May’s 3D tour of the Science Museum. Proof, Batten says, of the range of career opportunities open to graduates.

“We’ve even got students who sat out a year and chose to wait for our course to be validated rather than going to another university,” she adds. “We’ve invested heavily in a dedicated games development studio and sound production lab especially for the students on their top up year, so they can feel well-equipped for their games project.”

The degree on offer is subject to the same scrutiny from external examiners as courses at universities and Batten believes there is no question mark over the quality of education at college. “Our degree courses are now validated by the Open University,” she explains. “In terms of a quality badge that’s important. And in writing the top-up year course we had to do our homework. We looked at what’s happening in the marketplace and secured endorsements from employers.”

That consultation process included taking on board recommendations from the influential Livingstone-Hope report which identified a gap between skills offered by educators and those needed in the creative industries.

“We looked at the Nesta report, and we meet the needs for a strong thread of programming and maths. And we’ve been praised for our module in games prototyping. These are shortage areas in gaming,” says Batten, who also hailed her college’s TIGA membership, employer links, guest speakers and purpose-built facilities.

“There’s a great deal of maths in the course,” adds Gutteridge. “There’s a misconception that game courses are all about playing games. But it’s academically rigorous.”

But surely there must be fears that opting for college will mean students miss out on the university experience? Not according to the BIS report which found that HE students in colleges are frequently taught in smaller classes than in higher education institutions and they enjoy regular access to teaching staff. Although there is less opportunity for extra-curricular activities and less breadth of experience within FE colleges, most students did not regard this as a drawback, according to the report.

“Our message to employers is to look at what our students have done – from mobile gaming to 3D modelling,” says Batten. “We offer a really sound degree. Our students can say ‘look at what I can do, not just where I got my degree from’.”

 

For further information on the computer game design courses available at Somerset College, please contact the technology building reception desk team on 01823 366419/366364 or email enquiries@somerset.ac.uk