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College merger plans gain steam

The NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway, one of the colleges earmarked to merge into one organisation. Photo: Shetland NewsThe NAFC Marine Centre will become part of a new college body. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND Islands Council’s policy and resources committee has given its support to the long-mooted merger of Shetland College, NAFC Marine Centre and Train Shetland.

The backing on Tuesday came a day after the education and families committee also approved the idea.

Two options have been recommended as part of the proposal to create a single independent education and research centre within the UHI network.

One would see NAFC Marine Centre operator Shetland Fisheries Training Centre Trust act as the “host” and widen its services, while the other option is to form an entirely new college body.

College board chairman Peter Campbell told Tuesday’s meeting that merging tertiary education would benefit the whole community and could boost Shetland’s chances of keeping young people in the isles.

“This is a time for moving forward, not a time for entrenchment,” he said in support of a merger.

Education and families committee chairman George Smith echoed Campbell’s views and said the move could have economic and social benefits.

“This is probably one of the most important pieces of work that the council will take forward,” he said.

Lerwick North member Stephen Leask said there were “huge positives” to take out of a merger.

Westside councillor Theo Smith noted that there had been some criticism previously levelled against the authorities for not pushing the idea forward quickly enough over the last number of years.

He admitted the idea had been at the stage where it “ran into a brick wall”, but he said it has moved forward and “any criticism which is still out there should be removed”.

North Mainland member Alastair Cooper, however, raised concern that speciality areas in the fisheries college could be lost in a merger.

Council leader Steven Coutts said the plans were “crucially important to us going forward, for the council and the wider community”.

The report on the plans will also be heard by the Shetland College Board and full Shetland Islands Council on Wednesday.

If the merger is approved, a full business case for the preferred of the two options will be presented in October.