SIC - Orkney & Shetland valuation joint board

New student bed block planned for Lerwick

Shetland College should be able to house students from outwith the isles soon when a new residential block is built. Photo Promote Shetland

PLANS to build an 80 bed hall of residence in Lerwick for students at Shetland College and the NAFC Marine Centre have been tabled by the University of the Highlands and Islands.

This week UHI announced they had agreed a £44 million deal with specialist developers Cityheart to build and operate student residences across the highlands and islands over the next two years.

Work starts next week on a 40 bed unit in Fort William near West Highland College and a 150 bed facility near Inverness College, with a combined cost of £10 million and scheduled to open 12 months from now.

Shetland is part of the £34 million second phase to provide a further 470 beds across the region by September 2017.

Shetland College board chairman Peter Campbell

A study completed three years ago by consultant Douglas Yule recommended an 80 bed unit be built in Lerwick for students at Shetland’s two colleges, as well as staff employed by Police Scotland and NHS Shetland.

Further consultation will refine the proposal and attempt to identify a suitable site for the building.

The move has been welcomed in the isles, where a shortage of student accommodation has long been recognised as a drag on developing further and higher education in Shetland.

Shetland College board chairman and UHI court member Peter Campbell said the college had lost considerable income because students could not find anywhere to stay in the isles.

Shetland College acting principal Irene Peterson

“A significant number of applicants over the years have been offered places from outwith Shetland, but couldn’t find affordable accommodation so had to withdraw, with a significant loss of income to the college,” he said.

College acting principal Irene Peterson added that a residential hall would make it easier for students from Shetland’s smaller isles to attend courses.

“The accommodation project is really exciting if we want to expand our profile and attract students from outside Shetland,” she said.

NAFC interim principal Willie Shannon

“But it will also increase the number of students from remote areas who find it quite difficult to travel up and down on a day to day basis.”

When Princess Anne opened the college extension last year she had voiced amazement at one student from Yell who told her how far she had to travel to study every day.

NAFC interim principal Willie Shannon also welcomed the news, saying the centre’s 28 bed facility was too small for the number of cadets wanting to train in Scalloway.

“It’s not enough and it’s been a barrier to us developing,” he said.

He added that Lerwick would be the best site for a new student block as it would be closer to the best leisure facilities, and it could allow the NAFC to convert the existing accommodation into a learning space.

One suggestion for the new residential hall would be that it could be made available for special summer courses.