The internationally renowned Underwater Centre in Fort William has become the first provider of subsea training to be given a prestigious seal of approval from a national quality assurance organization.
The Centre, which delivers a range of courses in commercial diving and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), has been accredited by the British Accreditation Council (BAC), which oversees the quality of independent further and higher education in the UK.
This BAC approval is a significant achievement for the Centre as the Council’s accreditation is recognized globally as the highest mark of educational quality in the private sector.
It is also a boost to the Centre's thriving international recruitment market as visas are now only issued to overseas students at accredited institutions. In 2008, the Centre attracted more than 100 overseas students from countries across the globe including India, South Africa, Canada and the USA.
The Underwater Centre is the only training center in the world that offers the full range of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commercial diving qualifications in air and mixed gas diver training, from HSE scuba to HSE approved closed bell diving.
Its in-depth seven week training program for ROV pilots comprises a four week electronics module and three weeks working 'hands on' with the Centre's fleet of remotely operated vehicles.
As part of the stringent process for gaining accreditation, The Underwater Centre provided around 400 pages of documentation, including student manuals, various policies and course notes. This was followed by a comprehensive audit when BAC staff visited the Centre to see the facilities and courses first hand.
Steve Ham, General Manager of The Underwater Centre, said gaining the accreditation is an important step forward for the Centre.
"This announcement is not only great news for us, it's great news for our students and the industry in general. We see our achieving the standards set out by the British Accreditation Council as being recognition of the work we are doing to make our diving and ROV courses world class," Ham said.
"The opportunities this has created for us, both within The Underwater Centre and beyond, means that accreditation is the catalyst for further development of every aspect of how The Underwater Centre works."
The Underwater Centre is based on the shores of Loch Linnhe which is in parts deeper than the North Sea. It is at the base of Ben Nevis which is sheltered so training and diving can take place virtually all year round.
As well as the seawater dive site with a large range of underwater structures and facilities, The Underwater Centre has an enclosed dive training pool, purpose built welding bays, private pier, three barges with wet bell and closed bell training facilities, fully equipped lecture rooms and accommodation for up to 49 students.