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College merger plan is backed by Scottish Government and will take effect next month

By Gordon Calder

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A PLAN to merge three colleges, including UHI North Highland in Caithness, has been approved by the Scottish Government.

The merger which involves the Thurso-based college as well as UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland will take effect from next month to form UHI North, West and Hebrides. The project has been backed by Graeme Dey, the Minister for Further Education and Higher Education and Jenny Gilruth, Secretary for Education and Skills. It has also been ratified by the Scottish Parliament.

The plan, it is stated, will have the capacity, resource, and expertise to better support the needs of its local communities and become more sustainable at a time when colleges are being challenged to do more with less in difficult financial circumstances.

The new college will have 9000 students, 600 staff and 19 campuses and centres stretching from Caithness and Sutherland, Easter Ross and Cromarty, to Lochaber, Wester Ross, Skye, and the Outer Hebrides, and will cover more than 40 per cent of Scotland’s coastline.

It will meet current and future workforce needs as well as deliver for growth sectors, including net zero decarbonisation, renewable energy, engineering, advanced manufacturing and technologies, space ports and land and sea-based industries.

Lydia Rohmer, principal designate of UHI North, West and Hebrides, said the project has been planned for more than two years.

Lydia Rohmer says the new college will provide opportunities for students to develop their skills and will respond to the economic opportunities in the area
Lydia Rohmer says the new college will provide opportunities for students to develop their skills and will respond to the economic opportunities in the area

The three colleges will create "a new, anchor institution, connecting rural and island communities through distinctive education and research shaped by our culture, location, and landscapes, providing opportunities for our students to develop the skills they need now, and in the future, for learning, life, and work," she said.

The college will be well placed to "respond to the economic opportunities in our region, particularly around the blue and green economy. I look forward to working with our staff, students, and the board in building a college for the future, which will have lasting benefits for our communities, as well as the UHI partnership as it looks to work more closely in the future," she added.

Debbie Miller, principal of UHI North Highland, said: "This is good news not just for the North and West Highlands and Outer Hebrides, but for the education sector in Scotland. At a time when we are all being challenged to do more with less, we have not only risen to the challenge, but we have begun a journey which brings the UHI partnership closer together through more effective and efficient institutional change, which can only benefit our current and future students."

The merger – backed by the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association – comes after a 10-week public consultation, which resulted in approval by all three college boards of management at the end of last year.

The merger takes place on August 1.

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