College merger gathers support before consultation

Principal Lydia Rhomer with the new UHI West Highland branding in Fort William. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, The Write Image/alba.photos.

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The first phase of consultation around the proposed merger of UHI
North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland has
concluded.

The majority of respondents were supportive of the rationale for the merger and the
overall direction and vision for the proposed new college.

The governing bodies of UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West
Highland are exploring an exciting new strategic development, which would see
them merge into one single organisation.

Consistent themes around protecting job security, avoiding centralisation, enhancing
the student experience, and protecting and enhancing the Gaelic language emerged
during the initial consultation period, which included a series of stakeholder events
and online surveys.

The feedback will inform development of the full business case for merger which will
be considered by the boards of management at each college next month. This will be
followed by a 10-week period of public consultation, which will now commence in
August.

In a joint statement, the three principals, Debbie Murray, Sue Macfarlane and Lydia
Rohmer, said: ‘We set ourselves an ambitious timeline for this project but it’s important we take the time to ensure the merger proposal and business case is robust and the strategy and vision for the new college reflects the ambitions of our communities.

‘By moving the next stage of consultation to after the summer we can ensure that everyone’s views are heard, and that feedback is fully considered as part of a final business case which has the support of our boards of management and the communities we serve.

‘By coming together as a single organisation, we can ensure a positive and more sustainable future for our colleges and have the resilience, resources, talent and expertise to help lead the economic and social renewal of our region.’

All three colleges experience similar challenges in their remote coastal and island
contexts, including real-term funding cuts and a declining demographic.

The new strategic partnership would create an anchor institution of scale and impact
within UHI supporting 9000 students and 600 staff in 20 remote, rural and island
campus locations.

The three colleges have already confirmed there will be no compulsory redundancies
as a direct result of the merger. All savings resulting from the merger will be
reinvested to strengthen teams and centralisation will be avoided through the
introduction of local advisory committees.

Following the 10-week consultation, the full merger proposal and business case will
be submitted to each of the three colleges boards of management for approval.
Thereafter, the business case would require Scottish Government approval.

The project is working towards a proposed vesting date of August 2023 for the new
college.

A link to the initial consultation report is available at www.rural-islands-merger.uhi.ac.uk/t4-media/one-web/rural-islands-merger/230322-Report-on-Initial-Consultation.pdf