New fund established to help rural students

A new fund has been set up to support people from rural communities to access UHI courses. The Witherby Publishing Group Charitable Trust has donated £105,000 to provide scholarships and bursaries to talented individuals across the Highlands and Islands over the next three years.

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Iain Macneil

The donation will be used to provide scholarships to one new student each year, giving financial support for the duration of their study. Students will also be able to apply for bursaries of up to £1000 to help them buy equipment, attend conferences, take part in field trips or to help with unexpected costs.

As well as providing financial support, the fund will also be used to create a new ambassador programme to help inspire and empower young people in rural communities.

Iain Macneil, owner and CEO of Witherby Publishing Group, along with the other trustees agreed to make the award. Iain left Castlebay High School on the Isle of Barra at 16 to join the Merchant Navy. As someone with dyslexia, he found it difficult to read training manuals, but did not let this hold him back. He enjoyed a successful career at sea before going on to develop software to help other seafarers through their maritime exams. In 2008, Iain and his wife, Kat Heathcote, acquired Witherby Publishing, a London based publishing company which has the accolade of being the oldest independent publishing company in the English-speaking language. Today it is the world’s largest independent marine publisher in addition to being one of Scotland’s largest publishing companies.

Iain was awarded an honorary doctorate from UHI in 2022 and was inspired to explore how Witherby Publishing Group Charitable Trust could support talented individuals from island and rural communities. He explained: “It was a moving experience for me at the graduation ceremony at Eden Court in September 2022 to see first-hand so many people from the Highlands and Islands being helped to attain further and higher education, regardless of their age.

“Often the education and career decisions we make in our mid-to-late teens and early twenties do not reflect our actual skills or potential and the engagement work that UHI is undertaking in the rural communities of the North and West of Scotland, with students of all ages, is incredibly important. The potential benefits that are achievable when people recognise that it’s not too late to learn or re-skill was something that our charitable trust definitely wanted to get behind and we are delighted to be supporting UHI in this cause.”

Alison Wilson, UHI’s Director of Advancement and Alumni Engagement, said: “It’s a privilege to meet people like Iain who want to make a difference to the lives of young people in rural areas by supporting UHI scholarships and bursaries. The fact we both grew up in the Highlands and Islands at a time when people had to leave the region to go to university makes this donation, and the sentiment behind it, even more poignant. The generous funding from the Witherby Publishing Group Charitable Trust will play an important role in enabling and encouraging people to access UHI courses from their own communities.”

To find out more about the Witherby Publishing Group Charitable Trust Scholarship, visit