A CHAIR designate has been appointed to lead and implement the merger of UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides, and UHI West Highland.
Derek Lewis, the current chair of the board of management of UHI West Highland, will lead the transition board, working closely with Lydia Rohmer, Principal Designate, UHI North, West and Hebrides, alongside the boards of UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland towards a merger date in August 2023, when he will become chair of the new college.
Derek has extensive experience in roles as chair, chief executive, director, or trustee of organisations in fields such as education, training, television, prisons, healthcare, technology and social care. He currently runs his own farming, forestry and tourism business in Morvern, and is director of the new Nc’nean Distillery.
Alastair MacColl, chair of the UHI court, said: “Derek brings a wealth of experience in education having served as pro-chancellor and treasurer of the University of Essex, a school governor, advisory board member of the London Business School and chair of companies providing apprenticeships, employment services and teaching staff.
"Coupled with his experience of working with government, local knowledge, and commitment to living in and contributing to Highland communities, he is an excellent candidate for this role, and I look forward to the exciting months and years ahead as UHI North, West and Hebrides emerges.”
Derek Lewis said: “The opportunities open to the communities served by the three colleges which will merge to form UHI North, West and Hebrides are enormous, in both traditional sectors and in emerging new sectors.
"The new college will have the scale and expertise to provide the training and education that will be needed by the workforce, is expected by employers and is essential in attracting people to work and study in the region.
"It will also be better placed to pursue the research that is vital to the social, cultural, and economic well-being of the region, while contributing to and drawing strength from the anticipated developments in the UHI partnership.
“I am excited by the prospect of working with the transition board as it is formed and with Lydia Rohmer and her new leadership team to realise these ambitions. The merger brings together three outstanding colleges and their respective teams. It will be a privilege to help in building on their achievements in serving our students, our staff, employers, and communities across the region.”
Last month the boards of management at the three colleges formally approved the merger proposal and business case, which has now been submitted to the Scottish Government for approval.
By coming together, UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland insist they will create a more sustainable organisation with combined capacity and resource to grow curriculum, research, and innovation; develop partnerships to support employers address the skills shortages in our area; and become more responsive to the social, cultural, and economic opportunities.
With 9000 students, 600 staff and 19 learning centres and campuses stretching from Caithness and Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty to Lochaber, Wester Ross, Skye, and the Outer Hebrides, the merged college says it is ideally placed to develop Gaelic language provision and respond to the region’s key growth sectors including the economic opportunities around net zero decarbonisation, renewable energy, engineering, advanced manufacturing, and aquaculture.
Earlier in 2022, Lews Castle College - formally opened on September 24, 1953 and originally led by former Aird School headteacher Colonel John MacSween – vanished from the academic map to be replaced by UHI Outer Hebrides, which will have survived only about 16 months before itself vanishing into the new corporate structure run from Fort William.