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College merger is 'about doing more, not less' says principals in Thurso, Outer Hebrides and West Highland

By Gordon Calder

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THE merger of three colleges, including UHI North Highland in Thurso, is "about doing more, not less."

That is the claim made by the three principals who say the merger will "create a more resilient, sustainable organisation". They stress the move will enable the colleges "to serve our local communities in the way we do now, but with more impact."

"We will have combined capacity to better meet the needs of our communities and to respond to the range of social, cultural and economic opportunities that make our region one of the most exciting places in the country to live, work and study," they state as the 10-week public consultation on the proposed merger of UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland enters its final stage.

Under the plan UHI North Highland in Thurso would be merged with UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland
Under the plan UHI North Highland in Thurso would be merged with UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland

The partnership would support 9000 students and 600 staff in 19 rural and island campus locations across the north of Scotland.

The three colleges face challenges including, real-term funding cuts, rising costs and a declining demographic. By coming together, they have the capacity to grow and respond to the needs of their local communities.

Merger, it is stated, will enhance the student experience by providing access to more learning opportunities and support; protect local jobs; and focus the colleges’ collective strengths to support the growth of key industries, particularly in the blue and green economies, through education, training, and world-class research.

In a joint statement, the three principals, Debbie Murray (UHI North Highland), Sue Macfarlane (UHI Outer Hebrides), and Lydia Rohmer (UHI West Highland), say they believe the merger plan will be "transformational for our rural and island communities."

Dr Michael Foxley, chair of the partnership board leading the merger project, said: "By coming together, we ensure we have the resource and capacity to meet the training needs of employers in our areas, helping to support the growth of our fragile economies. All views will be taken on board and will help refine the case for merger, which will be considered by the boards of management at each of our three colleges later this year."

The last of three online public consultation sessions takes place on Wednesday 28 September, 7pm to 8pm. It will provide an opportunity to find out more about the merger proposal, ask questions and provide feedback. You can visit https://www.rural-islands-merger.uhi.ac.uk/consultation-events/ to sign up.

A series of public drop-ins have taken place in campuses and learning centres – the one in Thurso was held on Tuesday.

An initial consultation with staff, students and external stakeholders took place in December 2021 and January 2022.

The public consultation runs until Friday 14 October.

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