University celebrates anniversary of innovative degree

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Professor Frank Rennie

The University of the Highlands and Islands is celebrating the 25th anniversary of one of its most innovative degrees. Launched in 1993, the sustainable development BSc (Hons) programme was the university’s first ‘networked degree’ with a team of lecturers delivering the same lesson content to students across multiple campus sites.

The model was a forerunner for the way the university delivers many of its programmes across its partnership of 13 colleges and research centres today.

Professor Frank Rennie wrote the content of the degree programme, moving from private research consultancy to take up the role with the developing institution. Professor Rennie, now Assistant Principal (Research, Enterprise, and Development) at Lews Castle College UHI, explains: “The degree was created to fill a gap in the market for a course which combined content on socio-economics and the environment. It seemed like a natural fit for the institution, which, itself, aimed to have a positive impact on the prospects of the Highlands and Islands region.

“The programme was initially delivered by Lews Castle College UHI, Moray College UHI, Perth College UHI and Inverness College UHI and was validated by the University of Aberdeen. Its launch pre-dated our use of online technology, but we adapted it in 1995 to become our first online degree.”

The university’s BSc (Hons) sustainable development and BSc (Hons) sustainable rural development are still going strong, available to students across the world through the university’s virtual learning environment.

The course’s milestone anniversary was celebrated on Friday 30 November, when staff, students and alumni gathered at Lews Castle College UHI to mark the occasion.  Attendees included the first student to graduate in 1996, as well as other alumni, representatives from local community land trusts and Lews Castle College UHI’s board of management and senior management team.

Dr Calum Macleod, Policy Director for Community Land Scotland, and current external examiner for the degree programme, spoke to attendees about the importance of communities being empowered to manage their own development and emphasised the importance of the course in training the next generation to interpret and critique what sustainable rural development means.

Dr Eilidh MacPhail, programme leader of the degree, said: “We revise the degree skills set regularly in order for our students to operate effectively when they are working with community and environmental initiatives. There are more opportunities now, than ever before, to assist exciting initiatives in the rural areas of Scotland and beyond.”