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College merger the way forward for councillors

The NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway, one of the colleges earmarked to merge into one organisation. Photo: Shetland NewsThe NAFC Marine Centre UHI. Photo: Shetland News

THE CHAIRMAN of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee said he is “very pleased” with a decision from councillors to approve the idea of merging Shetland’s tertiary education sector.

George Smith said bringing together Shetland College, NAFC Marine Centre and Train Shetland is “in our own hands now” following the decision at Wednesday’s full council meeting.

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.

It is part of efforts to look at making “effective and sustainable tertiary education, research and training” in the isles.

A report on the options had moved through the council’s various committees earlier in the week before the full council approved the merger as the preferred way forward, with a full business case due to be presented in October.

Speaking after the meeting, Smith said the idea had been in the pipeline for six or seven years.

He said “it’s really up to us now – if we don’t succeed then we’ve nobody to blame but ourselves”.

“I’m very pleased with the decision today, because this now allows to take forward the detailed business case in terms of an integrated Shetland College, Train Shetland and NAFC Marine Centre, and really we cannot afford not to have tertiary education here in Shetland.” Smith said.

“We owe that to our young learners, we owe that to the folk returning to learning, that they have opportunities in Shetland to gain the skills they need in order to hold down good jobs into the future.”

The idea has the backing of the Scottish Funding Council, although the plans would have to be approved by the Scottish Government.

Westside councillor Catherine Hughson said at Wednesday’s meeting that she wouldn’t want to see an independent education organisation put out to the third sector, because it is an “easy target” for cuts.

North Mainland member Alastair Cooper also expressed concern that speciality research areas in the fisheries college could be lost in a merger.

But he was reassured by college board chairman Peter Campbell that those behind the college will “not allow us to forget” about their services going forward.

Campbell proposed that the council approve the merger as the preferred way forward, with Smith seconding.