University of the Highlands and Islands publishes islands strategy

The University of the Highlands and Islands has reaffirmed its commitment to island communities with the publication of its first ever islands strategy. The document sets out the university’s plans to enhance its activity across Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

Objectives include increasing island-based research activity, enhancing strategies for attracting and retaining talent, continuing to support the culture, languages and heritage of the islands and further engagement with industry to continue to build a skilled workforce in line with changing opportunities and needs.

The publication follows the recent announcement that the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland will receive £100 million investment from the Scottish and UK governments as part of the Islands Growth Deal. The university’s strategy aims to support this deal, as well as the ambitions of the Scottish Government’s National Islands Plan and Islands Act.

Professor Crichton Lang, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands, explains:

“This is an exciting time for Scotland’s islands, with the development of several national initiatives to strengthen island communities. However, issues such as climate change, population decline and COVID-19 also present many challenges.  

“As the only university with a physical base within each of Scotland’s main island groupings, the University of the Highlands and Islands has an important contribution to make to the sustainable development of our islands.

“Our new plan sets out how we will work with others and use our strengths in further education, higher education and research to have a beneficial impact across the islands and in the communities which are home to our staff and students.”

Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, said:

“The University of the Highlands and Islands has a key role to play in supporting our island communities to thrive and I welcome the publication of its first ever Islands Strategy. Its initial focus is on the three Islands Council areas and has the potential to make a significant contribution to the future sustainable growth of islands, particularly to provide opportunities for people to pursue skills and qualifications and to maintain and create quality jobs.

“It is more important than ever that we support communities across all of Scotland’s inhabited islands. The Scottish Government established the first National Islands Plan last year and we are pleased to see many of the key themes in the University’s Islands Strategy align with our own ambitions for the islands. We have also recently committed investment of up to £50 million as part of the Islands Growth Deal to help unlock investment and drive inclusive growth across Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides and deliver real benefits for individuals, businesses and communities.

“I look forward to working alongside the University of the Highlands and Islands to improve the quality of life for people currently living and who want to live on our islands.”

Professor Edward Abbott-Halpin, Principal of Orkney College UHI, said:

“I welcome the launch of the islands forum and the opportunities that it provides for working in partnership locally in Orkney with key stakeholders and across the islands with our colleagues from partner colleges, which will allow us to maximise our response to the economic, social, and cultural needs of our communities.”

Sue Macfarlane, Interim Principal of Lews Castle College UHI, commented:

"This important strategy outlines a number of exciting opportunities for working collectively to strengthen our communities and business across all our Islands. Lews Castle College UHI looks forward to playing a key role in this collaboration, working even more closely with our partner colleges and our partners and stakeholders across the Western Isles and beyond.”

Professor Jane Lewis, Principal of Shetland College UHI, added:

“As we work to create a new college for Shetland we are pleased to welcome the university’s islands strategy which provides an excellent framework to assist us in working effectively together with other partner colleges across our Islands. In these challenging times, this will be particularly important to allow us to deliver maximum benefit for the recovery and renewal of the economic, social and cultural prosperity of Shetland.”

The publication islands strategy will be discussed at the university’s next islands forum meeting on Tuesday 29 September. The virtual meeting will include representatives from Shetland College UHI, NAFC Marine Centre UHI, Lews Castle College UHI, Orkney College UHI, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland, Shetland Islands Council, Orkney Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

To view the University of the Highlands and Islands’ islands strategy, visit