Student of the year Tom climbs the barriers to higher education

see full size image

Tom on his sponsored climb on the Ardverickie wall

A young man with “dogged determination” to achieve a degree, while coping with epilepsy and Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, has been named student of the year at Moray College UHI, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Tom Hart, 23, from Auldearn, near Nairn, who has completed a higher national diploma in interactive multimedia, has refused to be daunted by his conditions and has already achieved two higher national certificates.

Learner support worker Wendy Cochrane described Tom’s work ethic as “second to none”, marvelling at his ambition to progress to a degree year in interactive multimedia.

“Tom has enhanced the diversity of Moray College UHI. He has educated many members of staff and students about the autistic spectrum and epilepsy, and future students will benefit from what he has taught us,” Wendy said.

“He is always keen to defend the rights of people with disabilities to access education as he knows how difficult this can be.”

Tom’s achievements are considerable. His epilepsy causes memory loss, so he meticulously records everything that he is taught. He must have medication with him at all times, and a support worker from the community support charity Cornerstone is available to assist his medical needs. His seizures mean that Tom has to work much harder than other students to catch up from this lost time.

Wendy added: “He has worked hard with learner support workers to create a personal support plan, without giving him any undue advantage. This work continues with plans to complete a degree course. He has spent six years determinedly working towards this goal.”

But it is not all work and no play for Tom. He plays the piano, enjoys martial arts, and is a qualified yachtsman – taking part in the Tall Ships Race last year with the Jubilee Sailing Trust. He is also a keen rock climber, and has recently completed a sponsored 600ft ascent of the Ardverikie Wall, Kinlochlaggan, as part of a four-man team to raise funds for the sailing trust. Sponsorship is still open at

Tom wins £100 as the Moray College UHI student of the year and now goes forward as a candidate for the overall University of the Highlands and Islands award.

“I am surprised and delighted to win this award. I never expected anything like this,” he said.

Tom paid tribute to the voluntary organisation Adult Basic Education in Nairn for helping him to achieve his HND. “The tutors have given me tremendous support, without being paid, and will continue to help me through my degree studies. I couldn’t do it without them and would like to thank them very much.”