THE PROPOSED merger of Shetland’s tertiary education, research and training sector has overcome its final hurdle after the operator of the NAFC Marine Centre backed the plans.
Shetland Fisheries Training Centre Trust members met on Monday to support the merger, which had already been approved by Shetland Islands Council.
The plan is to merge Scalloway’s NAFC Marine Centre with the council-operated Shetland College and Train Shetland to form a new independent college within the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) network.
Councillors previously heard that the three education bodies have an estimated combined funding gap of over £2 million in 2018/19, with a warning that the status quo is not “financially sustainable”.
It is said the merger would save around £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 local arm of Scotland’s lecturers’ union EIS FELA, however, expressed concern over the financial plan, which includes an anticipated reduction in full-time equivalent jobs from 113 to 99.
Shetland Fisheries Training Centre Trust chairman councillor Davie Sandison, who did not take part in any council discussions on the matter, said: “We have reached an important milestone with this decision to merge into a new, single body for the delivery of Shetland’s needs in further and higher education, training and research.
“This is a crucial phase in creating a strong, single voice for Shetland within the University of the Highlands and Islands. This offers the opportunity to grow and plan for new business in the sector, delivering on the needs of the Shetland community and our present and future students and staff.”
Chairman of the Shetland College board Peter Campbell added that he was “very pleased” to see the merger get the go-ahead.
“This provides a great opportunity to develop sustainable tertiary education in Shetland,” he said.
“The new college will be responsive to the changing needs of the local community, delivering high quality education and training courses to its students and contributing to achieving the aspirations of the Shetland Partnership Plan.”
The latest development has also ben welcomed by the University of the Highlands and Islands and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC).
In a joint statement both organisations said: “The university and SFC fully support the full business case to create a new merged college from NAFC Marine Centre, Shetland College, and Train Shetland.
“The proposed merger will allow for improved provision of education, training and research in Shetland.
“It will also give Shetland a stronger voice in the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership, and the ability to tap into regional developments and opportunities more effectively.”