Decision in principle to move UHI to single campus in Scalloway

UHI SHETLAND could operate from a single campus in the coming years instead of two – with Scalloway picked as the preferred location.

The college’s board has made a decision in principle to move to a single campus at its existing Scalloway base at Port Arthur.

The decision comes at a time when the college – which also has a campus at Gremista in Lerwick – is in the process of implementing painful cost cutting measures which will result in redundancies and a reduction in the level of courses available locally.

During a well-attended meeting between students and college management on Wednesday, UHI Shetland was said to have been heavily criticised for “poor communication and lack of transparency”.

Shetland News understands that some voluntary redundancies are already taking place while compulsory redundancies are expected before the end of the academic year later this summer.

UHI Shetland has repeatedly declined media interviews on the ongoing restructuring process since the start of the year.

The planned amalgamation of the two campus sites into one at Scalloway was also discussed at the meeting, with students raising concern about the number of courses that could realistically be delivered from Scalloway, as well as issues with transport and accommodation.

Regarding the plan to move to a single campus, UHI Shetland vice principal Gemma MacGregor told Shetland News that there is more exploration work to do, with the plan being a “medium term” one of two to three years.

She said there is a “significant amount of work” involved in moving to a single campus.

But MacGregor stressed that it is only a decision made in principle.

The move to a single campus also features in UHI Shetland’s 2030 strategic plan.

An archive image of the UHI Shetland Lerwick campus. Photo: Shetland News

The local branch of lecturers’ union EIS-FELA said there has been a lack of consultation on the proposed move, while it suggested there is also no clarity on availability of courses.

Branch secretary Andrew Anderson said the “only consultation with staff on such a major change, was a 10-minute post it exercise – and we weren’t even provided with the results of this”.

“There has been no consultation on the spaces required for delivering the range of courses required for the future and no consultation on whether Scalloway campus is suitable for this and large enough to accommodate this,” he added.

“Concerns about public transport have also been raised and also that moving to Scalloway is very likely to reduce student numbers – staff have also voiced their opinion that a move to Scalloway completes the takeover process (as opposed to a merger).”

Meanwhile a proposed £2 million campus redevelopment project which is part of the UK and Scottish governments’ islands growth deal is now focused on UHI Shetland’s Scalloway facilities.

Part of the project recently went out to tender, to turn the upper floor of the college’s Port Arthur House into office accommodation.

The overall aim of the campus redevelopment project is to “support the delivery of a modern curriculum that meets the expectations of a 21st century student body and the needs of our local employers, businesses, and communities”.

It also aims to increase the attractiveness of the Scalloway facility for “traditional, on-campus students and, through the integration of new technologies, enable a greater degree of outreach to our more remote learners and island businesses”.

A redeveloped campus would also support education, training and design in fields such as alternative energy technologies, hydrogen energy and wind power, UHI Shetland said.

It all comes against the backdrop of UHI Shetland facing a significant financial deficit, leading to concerns over potential job losses and the restructuring of the academic offering.

Last year it was confirmed that the origination was looking to make savings of around £1.2 million.

More than 2,700 people have signed a petition by EIS-FELA against what it describes as “job losses at UHI Shetland and the attack on rural communities”.

In 2021 there was a merger of Shetland College, NAFC Marine Centre and Train Shetland into one local branch of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).

It operates from the college building at Gremista in Lerwick as well as the centre at Port Arthur in Scalloway, which continues to offer space for fisheries related education.

The Lerwick building hosts the college’s textiles unit, as well as a construction workshop, a training kitchen and a number of classrooms.

There are also six college learning centres throughout Shetland to “ensure that flexible learning opportunities and support are accessible to as many people as possible”.

Moving to one campus instead of two could also potentially support UHI Shetland in reducing its energy consumption in the drive to net zero.

Regarding the islands deal campus redevelopment project, a spokesperson said: “UHI Shetland are progressing with developing the Full Business Case for the Campus Redevelopment Project as part of the Islands Deal.

“The aim is to create modern, high-quality learning and training facilities with innovative approaches to digital and distance learning.

“In line with the UHI Shetland Strategic Plan, the focus of the campus redevelopment will be on a single campus.”

The spokesperson added that the project will be delivered through a number of elements, which UHI Shetland will seek to individually procure – such as the Port Arthur House contract.

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