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Education / College staff exploring student accommodation options

Shetland College's main Gremista campus.Shetland College.

A WORKING group of staff from Shetland College and NAFC Marine Centre has been formed to explore developing student accommodation in the isles.

Members of the Shetland college board heard on Wednesday that there is a “clear desire” across the isles’ tertiary education sector for dedicated student accommodation serving both the college and the fisheries college, which are both under the banner of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).

Plans for a 80-room UHI student hostel on the old HNP Engineers site on Lerwick’s Commercial Road previously fell through.

Having student accommodation in the redeveloped Knab site, where the old Anderson High School is located, has also been suggested.

NAFC students have been housed in the 25-room Port Arthur House in Scalloway since 2000, although a structural issue forced its closure last summer.

It does not look like an UHI-funded student residence will be forthcoming in Shetland anymore following the collapse of the Commercial Road plans.

Interim joint principal Willie Shannon wrote in a report considered by the meeting that “if we are to realise the potential for growth in the sector in Shetland, an alternative approach to UHI has to be found”.

It comes against a backdrop of Shetland College, NAFC Marine Centre and Train Shetland getting set to merge into one organisation within the UHI network, with hopes that the process will be concluded in August 2020.

College board chairman Peter Campbell said having accommodation was “significant for the sustainability” of the new merged college.

“I think it’s important that this gets to the forefront,” he added, saying the lack of designated accommodation has had an adverse effect on student numbers.

North mainland councillor Emma Macdonald welcomed the initiative, but added she was “struggling to see where the money is going to come from”.

Shannon said he expected a strategic business case on the issue, which could be completed later this month, would look at all possible funding streams.

Shetland Islands Council development director Neil Grant said the business case would examine “all the options” for digs, which could include using existing buildings and accommodation provided by the private rental sector.