THE COMPLEX merger of Shetland’s two colleges and its training service into one single organisation with two campuses should be completed by the summer of 2016.
Councillors have backed plans to form a new project board to bring together Lerwick’s Shetland College, Scalloway’s NAFC Marine Centre and Train Shetland.
Managers say that it would take 36 months to resolve the complexities of combining the three distinctly different entities.
As part of the process the council intends to reduce its contribution to further and higher education in Shetland by one third, from £3 million to £2 million.
However Shetland College staff fear such savings can only be achieved by cutting courses, leading to job losses and a reduction in central funding from the Scottish Funding Council.
On Tuesday Shetland Islands Council agreed to look at ways of involving staff in the process, following a motion from education and families committee vice chairman George Smith.
Brian Nugent, secretary of the Shetland College branch of the lecturers’ union EIS FELA, said that staff had been excluded from any involvement in the proposed changes, which were set in motion four months ago.
“We have been kept in the dark for quite a long time and fed so little information that everybody is getting a bit irritated,” Nugent said.
“If you are going to save money by merging two colleges that do completely different things you will only save it on staff costs.
“If we start cutting courses then there will be less external funding coming in and there is only one way that will go, and that is to cut more courses.”
The union wants the council’s education department to start paying for the vocational training Shetland College provides for S3 and S4 pupils, which have been offered for free for the past six years.
They also believe the fishing, aquaculture and shipping industries should make a bigger contribution towards the funding of the NAFC Marine Centre, whose remit is to provide training and research for them.
The merger is being overseen by a strategy group chaired by SIC chief executive Mark Boden, with three representatives from the two college boards, which will appoint a project board on 5 November containing senior managers from the council and the colleges.
Education consultant Bob Cree Hay has been appointed as project manager who will maintain lines of communication with the various stakeholders, including the University of the Highlands and Islands and the Scottish Funding Council.
On Tuesday Councillor Smith was given an assurance that the current reviews of tertiary and secondary education would be complement each other.
Boden said that there would be “a seamless link” between secondary education and the further and higher education colleges in Shetland.
SIC development director Neil Grant said that there would be “a significant ask” for a greater financial input from industry towards tertiary education and training in the isles, while acknowledging the service provided would have to meet their needs.