Students on super-fast track to success with UK's first visitor attraction degree course

"I've wanted to work in a theme park since I was seven years old. This degree course is the perfect gateway for me to gain a good, in depth understanding of Merlin Entertainments and the roles within the organisation. "

Simon Hope. Foundation Degree in Visitor Attraction and Resort Management

A group of students from across the UK are celebrating after getting on an innovative Staffordshire University course that has a unique twist - and turn!

Thrill-seekers have been selected to embark on a brand new two year course, delivered by Staffordshire University and Alton Towers Resort, offering them the opportunity to work behind the scenes at the UK's largest theme park whilst studying at the University's Stoke campus.

The Foundation Degree in Visitor Attraction and Resort Management is the very first of its kind in the UK, as well as for the Resort and wider Merlin Group. The full-time students will split their time between the classroom and working in roles at the 500 acre Staffordshire-based theme park.

During the course, the students will get to work alongside industry professionals in a range of areas including hospitality, marketing, HR, retail and operations. Their first assignment will be working backstage at the theme park’s award-winning Scarefest event over Halloween, putting their first term classroom learning in to practice, before returning to the Resort at Christmas for the festive period.

For rollercoaster enthusiast Simon Hope,18, from Essex, the course is a step closer to helping him achieve his dream. He said: “I've wanted to work in a theme park since I was seven years old. This degree course is the perfect gateway for me to gain a good, in depth understanding of Merlin Entertainments and the roles within the organisation. The reason I chose this degree option over any other business management course is because it is specific to the industry I want a career in.

“It's an incredible opening and the opportunities available are overwhelming. This whole experience and the things I am about to encounter will stay with me for a lifetime. It's a dream come true.”

Student Robert Wild, 19, from Burnley, said: “I've spent a lot of time at Alton Towers Resort as a guest and always loved it, so the chance to work here whilst I study was amazing.

“I've not decided what area I would like to work in I just know Merlin is the company I want a career with. The experience I will gain across different areas of the Resort will help me narrow down my options and help me understand where I want to focus my efforts.”

Fellow student Leia Appleyard, 18, from Chester, added: “I saw the opportunity to apply for the course on Facebook and thought it was a great opportunity. Blending the classroom study at the university with interactive and practical learning at Alton Towers Resort is ideal for me, as I think it is how I will learn best. I would love the opportunity to use the new skills I gain at Merlin resorts overseas, such as Japan.”

Mum of three, Hayley Mellor, 30, from Leek was inspired to apply for the course after subscribing to the Merlin Entertainments careers website. She said: “My partner works at Alton towers Resort and he loves his job. It made me realise that this is what I wanted. I've recently completed a travel and tourism course at Leek and Buxton College and fell in love with the subject and how it's such an important part of our economy, but I never thought I would get the opportunity to continue to study in that area and go to university.

“I've grown up coming to Alton Towers Resort on family trips and now I do that with my children, so it's something that I'm really excited about. I was ecstatic when I found out I had been selected for the course, I cried.

“I'm really interested in the marketing and PR areas of the course, as well as the charity work Merlin do through Merlin's Magic Wand and the conservation work with SEALIFE, so I'm excited to learn more about those areas.”

The students will graduate from Staffordshire University in 2018 before hopefully embarking on a career within Merlin Entertainments, thanks to their new knowledge and skills.

Linda Phillips, Academic Group Leader in Business School at Staffordshire University said: “Selecting the students has been a 12 month process so it's great to see them starting their journey.

“We are delighted to be working collaboratively with Alton Towers Resort and delivering the very first course of its kind in the UK. It's a fantastic opportunity for the students to combine working for Alton Towers and studying in a digitally connected learning environment at Staffordshire University.

“We have been working with Alton Towers Resort for a number of years now and we look forward to developing this partnership moving forwards. It will enable more students to benefit from this unique and exciting opportunity.”

Once the students have completed their degree course they will have the opportunity to find employment within Merlin Entertainments' 124 attractions worldwide, including Alton Towers Resort.

Jason Mumford, Senior Learning & Development Manager at Alton Towers Resort, said: “A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to get this course off the ground, so it's great to see it come to fruition. We're incredibly excited to welcome the first learners to the Resort today and to watch them develop.”

Apply for the next FdA Visitor Attraction and Resort Management course starting in September 2017 here