The Scottish Government has formally launched its consultation into the proposed merger of UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides (formerly Lews Castle College), and UHI West Highland.
At the end of last year, the boards of management at UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland formally approved the merger proposal and business case, which will see them come together to form UHI North, West and Hebrides from 1 August 2023, subject to Scottish Government approval.
Merger requires approval by Scottish Ministers under the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992.
The closing date for government consultation responses is 5 May.
The merger has support from UHI, as the regional strategic body, as well as key bodies, organisations and political representatives including MSPs for the merged college area, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Skills Development Scotland (SDS).
The Scottish Government consultation comes as the Transition Board for UHI North, West and Hebrides met for the first time following approval of the business case.
The Transition Board, which will become the Board of Management of UHI North, West and Hebrides, replaces the Partnership Board, which was set up to lead the case for merger. The Transition Board is responsible for overseeing the merger implementation programme of work and delivering a fully functional merged college on vesting date.
It includes membership from staff and student representatives, members from the existing boards of management at each college, non-executive members, and trade union observers, bringing together a wealth of experience, knowledge, and skills. Dr Michael Foxley, who chaired the Partnership Board, joins the Transition Board as one of the non-executive members.
Derek Lewis, Chair of the Transition Board, said: “The launch of the Scottish Government consultation and formation of the Transition Board are two important milestones for this merger, which brings together three outstanding colleges and their respective teams.
"We encourage stakeholders to provide feedback on our plans through the Scottish Government consultation, which follows two extensive consultations carried out by our project team to inform the development of our merger proposal and business case. While that consultation takes place, a huge amount of work continues in all three colleges to prepare for our planned 1 August vesting date, and I want to personally thank staff for their commitment, enthusiasm, and effort in getting us to where we are today.
“UHI North, West and Hebrides will have the scale and expertise to meet the needs of traditional and emerging sectors, providing the learning and training needs for the workforce, now and in the future. It will also play a key role in attracting people to live, work and study in our rural and island communities.”
The Transition Board meets monthly, with face-to-face meetings planned in UHI North Highland in April, UHI Outer Hebrides in May and UHI West Highland in June. This will ensure board members have the opportunity to visit local campuses and meet with staff and students in these areas.
By coming together, UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland will create a more sustainable organisation with combined capacity and resource to grow the curriculum, research, and innovation; develop existing and new partnerships to support employers address skills gaps and retain, attract, and nurture talent; and become more responsive to the social, cultural, and economic opportunities in our regions.
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 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.
The Boards of Management at UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland will continue to work alongside the Transition Board until vesting. Local advisory committees will be introduced post vesting to ensure local needs continue to be met.
+ To take part in the Scottish Government consultation, visit: Rural and Islands College Merger proposal: consultation - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
+ To view the merger proposal and business case, including a summary of the 12-week consultation carried out by the merger programme team, visit: Home - Rural and Islands College Merger Project (uhi.ac.uk)