College merger approved by Scottish Government

UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland will merge on 1st August to form UHI North, West and Hebrides.

It follows approval by Graeme Dey MSP, the Scottish Government Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Jenny Gilruth MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, and ratification through the Scottish Parliament.

By coming together, UHI North, West and Hebrides will have capacity, resource, and expertise to better support the needs of its local communities. The new college will enhance the student experience and develop its curriculum, research and innovation, and commercial opportunities in response to the significant social and economic opportunities in the region. It will also become more sustainable at a time when colleges are being challenged to do more with less in a difficult financial environment.

With 9000 students, 600 staff and 19 campuses and centres stretching from Caithness and Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty to Lochaber, Wester Ross, Skye, and the Outer Hebrides, UHI North, West and Hebrides will cover an area larger than Wales and more than 40% of Scotland’s coastline.

The new college will provide an effective skills and innovation pipeline to 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. The college is ideally placed to work with communities to develop Gaelic as an economic and social asset.

It will also grow its research and knowledge exchange capacity by connecting its current specialisms of national and international standing with the region’s potential, creating centres of excellence that deliver value and impact for its communities and the rest of Scotland.

Lydia Rohmer, Principal Designate of UHI North, West and Hebrides, said: “UHI North, West and Hebrides has been more than two years in the planning and would not have been possible without the incredible teamwork of the principals, staff, students, and boards of management. I would also like to thank UHI and the Scottish Funding Council for their support throughout this process.

“We bring together three remarkable colleges to 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. Our unique distributed operating model, staff expertise and geography make us 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.”

Derek Lewis, Chair Designate of UHI North, West and Hebrides, said: “This welcome news signals a vote of confidence in our merger, the business case we presented to the Scottish Government and the role UHI North, West and Hebrides will play in supporting the social, economic, and cultural opportunities open to the communities we serve. We will have the scale and expertise to provide the training and skills needed by employers in both traditional and emerging sectors in our region, as well as the research capabilities to support their success. I look forward to working with Lydia and the senior management team to ensure we continue to play a key role in attracting people to live, work and study in our rural and island communities.”

Vicki Nairn, Interim Principal and Vice Chancellor of UHI, said: “This is an important milestone for our transformational three college merger project and the UHI partnership as a whole. The university fully supports the project and we are excited about the benefits it will bring to our students, staff and communities across the UHI region. The university looks forward to continuing to work with our colleagues at UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland as they move closer to launching UHI North, West and Hebrides later this year.”

Heather Innes, Regional President of the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association (HISA), said: “As the body that represents students at UHI North, West and Hebrides, we welcome the news that the Scottish Government has approved this decision. Our team has worked closely with the boards, management, and staff throughout this merger to ensure the voices of our members were represented and heard. We'd like to thank everyone who has made this future, and the opportunities it will bring to students, possible.”

The decision by the Minister for Further Education and Higher Education and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills comes after a Scottish Government-led consultation on the merger. It followed a 10-week public consultation run by the colleges themselves, which resulted in approval by all three college boards of management at the end of last year.

Work is now continuing to ensure the three colleges are ready for merger on 1st August.