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Education / New merged college name approved but no firm start date yet

Merged college principal Jane Lewis on Thursday. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

SHETLAND’s new merged college now has a name – but the date when the organisation will formally kick into action has yet to be confirmed.

The name Shetland Institute has been picked for the new body, which will bring together Shetland College, NAFC Marine Centre and Train Shetland under the UHI banner and use the existing buildings.

Newly appointed principal for the merged college Professor Jane Lewis, however, said the organisation’s previous vesting date of the beginning of January has been moved to later down the line.

Shetland College.

Lewis – who was a professor of marine phycology at the University of Westminster – started her post on 1 October and she has spent her first few weeks liaising with staff as well as principals from other colleges.

At the moment the ministerial business case for the new institution is being formed.

“The projected vesting date was the beginning of January,” Lewis said.

“We will be having a look at that, partly because the development of the business case I think needs a little bit more time. That’s really going well and I really do want to get all of our staff input into that.”

Lewis said “early next year” is the timeframe the team is now aiming for.

A number of names, meanwhile, were floated for the new merged college, but Shetland Institute, UHI has now been approved as the formal title.

Shetland Institute for Research, Education and Training was mooted but Shetland Institute was deemed to be more suitable – and snappier.

“The name was decided by the shadow board,” Lewis said.

“The UHI were content with that. It had to go to the government to check whether or not it needed some more formal approval process, but they are content with the name.”

Port Arthur House. Photo: PeterJohnson/Shetland NewsPort Arthur House in Scalloway. Photo: PeterJohnson/Shetland News

Another factor in the future prosperity of the college sector is accommodation, with Lewis confirming it is a “very high priority” going forward.

The shadow board agreed recently to explore different options, including an enhanced approach to attracting private providers and developing an unused or underused public sector building.

The college team will also keep an eye on what may happen with the old Anderson High School site at the Knab – with a new purpose-built hostel a possible option.

Port Arthur House in Scalloway, which had been used by NAFC students, has been out of action since last year due to a structural issue, but Lewis said refurbishing the building is a “good option”.

She said it has been deemed “structurally okay”, with its refurbishment included in the merged college’s business case.

Under a merged college Port Arthur House would also open up for students outwith the marine centre.

“We need to have some good accommodation options for potential students,” Lewis said.

“We frankly have been losing students because we haven’t got that. I think there’s a way forward with the accommodation at NAFC – I hope to see that realised as quickly as possible.”

An issue which reared its head recently is the status of the new college, which is set to be unincorporated.

Teaching union EIS criticised this move and said this meant the college would sit outside of governance arrangements for Scotland’s public sector further education colleges.

Lewis, however, backed the decision by the shadow board to go down the unincorporated route.

“I’m sure having seen the shadow board work, they will have looked at that really, really carefully and they will have come to a careful decision, so I’m very happy that they’ve made the correct decision for the new institution,” she said.

“I think we will still be accountable to many, many masters. I think the sector is extremely tightly regulated. We would be able to seek funding from some different areas that maybe we wouldn’t be able to seek if we were incorporated. That will be really important because obviously the bottom line is the college is the thing that we’re all concerned about.”

Lewis, meanwhile, believes a key benefit of a merged college is bringing together the strengths of each of the three institutions.

The new principal also stressed her desire to see a wider programme of activities for students which would go beyond just picking up a qualification.

“I’m looking to strengthen the student engagement with the college,” Lewis said.

“You don’t just want students to come here and get their HNC or whatever it is, they should have also had a trip abroad, they should have done some volunteering. There should be a wider suite of things going on. I think bringing it all together into one will be helpful for that.”

General Election - 12 December 2019