College merger could save millions

Shetland College's main Gremista campus.

MERGING Shetland’s tertiary education, research and training sector into one new body could save more than £12 million over five years.

But the proposal could see the number of employees in the sector reduce from 113 to 99 full-time equivalent posts.

A full business case for merging Shetland College UHI, Train Shetland and NAFC Marine Centre UHI will be discussed by councillors next week.

The report says the recommended option would be to create a new single independent tertiary education, research and training centre which would bring together the three organisations as part of the UHI network.

It adds that the building currently occupied by Train Shetland at Gremista in Lerwick would not form part of a new college estate, although its services would continue to run from elsewhere.

Councillors will be told the option would secure savings of £12.2 million over a five-year period through “streamlining and maximising the efficiency of the college structure and curriculum, whilst improving outcomes delivered for students and staff”.

The report says that the three education bodies have an estimated combined funding gap of over £2 million in 2018/19, and it warns that the status quo is not “financially sustainable”.

The college merger, which has been talked about for years, should be easier now that Shetland Islands Council bought Shetland Leasing and Property Developments Ltd (SLAP) from Shetland Charitable Trust a few months ago.

With many college buildings owned by SLAP, the SIC – which oversees the college and Train Shetland – was crippled by high rent payments.

The proposed merger would reduce the financial commitment required by the council by £1.8 million a year, the report said.

It also warns that the uncertainty of the merger over the years has had a detrimental effect on the sector’s workforce.

“Given that this process has gone through various iterations over a number of years, staff morale has suffered considerably as a result of ongoing uncertainty,” it says.

“The failure of yet another attempt to resolve this issue will lead to a loss of confidence, further impact on morale and lead to even more uncertainty.”

The business case also says that the “core reason for creating a new college is to ensure that every learner has access to the right programme at the right place and time”.