Whanganui UCOL's new Bachelor of Art and Design degree is attracting a varied lot of students who get to try a lot of different skills.

It's the end of the first semester and a rash of exhibitions is happening. The Certificate of Art and Design (CAD) one opens on Tuesday and on Wednesday the 11 students in the visual arts strand of the Bachelor of Art and Design (BDA) open a show of their paintings.

Each had to do four 1800mm x 500mm paintings on brown paper in acrylic paint. They are each showing at least two of those in their Big Painting exhibition, which opens at 1pm in the Community Arts Centre in Taupo Quay and runs till 4pm on June 28.

The students have already tried painting in oils. Next they try sculpture and drawing.

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Bayley Kauika came to the three-year degree course straight out of Whanganui City College because he loved painting. He had already done NCEA Level 1, 2 and 3 art.

It's different at polytech, he said.

"You can pretty much do your own ideas."

He's looking forward to working in 3-D, and said trying new things was exciting.

Fellow student Kristine Lott did a glass course at the polytech after leaving school, and graduated. Then she worked in rest homes, but has been lured back to art after discovering she can paint in the free CAD course last year.

"I had just paid off my student loan and now I've got another one," she said.

She's not sure what she will do when she's finished the three-year degree.

"I will see where it leads."

The BDA degree is in its third year. There were 15 students in the first, 25 in the next, and 34 started this year. They are divided into three strands - visual arts, graphic design and textile/fashion.

They do art and design history and theory together, and split up to learn about specialised subjects like typography and pattern drafting. In their third year they each do an internship to use their skills.

One third-year has worked with the Plastic Bag Free Whanganui group, and another organised an exhibition.

Visual arts senior lecturer Lorraine Webb said this year's BDA students are a varied lot, from school leavers to people in their 20s and 30s, and older people. She's glad they get a chance to learn practical skills like illustration that can get them jobs.

"I'm very proud of the students. They work hard and argue well. I think they get better every year," she said.