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Most people are convinced by the plans to merge UHI Outer Hebrides - formerly Lews Castle College - into a new entity with two other colleges, say those who are behind the plan. 

They say the  first phase of consultation around the proposed merger of UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland has concluded.

"The majority of respondents were supportive of the rationale for the merger and the overall direction and vision for the proposed new college."

The organising group from the governing bodies of UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland see themselves as "exploring an exciting new strategic development, which would see them merge into one single organisation.

"Consistent themes around protecting job security, avoiding centralisation, enhancing the student experience, and protecting and enhancing the Gaelic language emerged during the initial consultation period, which included a series of stakeholder events and online surveys."

The feedback will inform development of the full business case for merger, which will be considered by the boards of management at each college next month. This will be followed by a 10-week period of public consultation, which will now commence in August.

The timeline has been moved to allow more robust scrutiny of the business case and for meaningful consultation to take place with staff and students when they return after the summer break.

In a joint statement, the three principals, Debbie Murray, Sue Macfarlane and Lydia Rohmer, said: “We set ourselves an ambitious timeline for this project, but it’s important we take the time to ensure the merger proposal and business case is robust and the strategy and vision for the new college reflects the ambitions of our communities.

"By moving the next stage of consultation to after the summer, we can ensure that everyone’s views are heard, and that feedback is fully considered as part of a final business case, which has the support of our boards of management and the communities we serve.

They continued: “By coming together as a single organisation, we can ensure a positive and more sustainable future for our colleges, and have the resilience, resources, talent and expertise to help lead the economic and social renewal of our region.

"In this way, we can fully realise the ambitions of our communities, and the opportunities available to us in our regions, particularly in relation to the blue and green economies and the sustainability of our communities.”

All three colleges experience similar challenges in their remote, coastal and island contexts, including real-term funding cuts and a declining demographic base - that is, there are fewer people around locally.

The new strategic partnership would create what the organisers call "an anchor institution of scale and impact" within UHI, supporting 9000 students and 600 staff in 20 remote, rural and island campus locations.

The new college would be better positioned to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented in a post-Brexit and post-Covid environment and realise its Net Zero ambitions and commitments to the communities it serves.

By building on existing excellence, expertise and partnerships, the new college would protect, develop and grow tertiary education, skills, research and innovation to unlock growth opportunities, which the colleges are unable to achieve on their own.

The three colleges have already confirmed there will be no compulsory redundances as a direct result of the merger, all savings resulting from the merger will be reinvested to strengthen teams, and that centralisation will be avoided through the introduction of local advisory committees.

Following the 10-week consultation, the full merger proposal and business case will be submitted to each of the three colleges boards of management for approval.

Thereafter, the business case would require Scottish Government approval. The project is working towards a proposed vesting date of August 2023 for the new college.

A link to the initial consultation report is available here.