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Education / Merged college name not proving too popular

Council says the name Shetland Institute UHI should be reconsidered

Shetland College's main Gremista campus.Shetland College.

FRESH question marks have been placed over the suggested name of the proposed new merged college in Shetland.

A recent online survey on plans to bring together Shetland College, NAFC Marine Centre and Train Shetland showed that more than half of respondents did not like the proposed name Shetland Institute UHI.

Feedback from local stakeholder meetings also showed a similar response.

In response to a consultation on the merger, Shetland Islands Council (SIC) said the proposed name should be reconsidered.

“It is important for the title to include ‘Shetland’, however, consultation responses and feedback from consultation meetings suggests that the word ‘institute’ has negative connotations locally and therefore should be avoided,” it said.

Feedback from stakeholders – such as staff and those in the public and third sector – suggested a number of alternative names.

They included Shetland College, Shetland UHI, New College Shetland, North Atlantic College, UHI Shetland, Shetland Islands College UHI and Hjaltland College.

The idea of merging the three education organisations under the UHI umbrella was agreed by councillors back in 2018.

It is expected to see Shetland Islands Council, which currently operates the college and Train Shetland, save a sizeable chunk of money in the process.

In its consultation response, which was shown to members of the full council on Wednesday, the SIC also said it wished to work closely with the new college on developing student accommodation.

“The merger proposal has made clear how work will continue to improve the student experience and student journey,” it said.

“However, an issue closely associated with the merger is affordable student accommodation.

“Affordable accommodation is a significant challenge for young people, whether students or apprentices or those in employment.

“There is potential for the new college to be more visionary in its development with regards to campus accommodation and we would like to see environmental sustainability supported by future developments.”

The council added that the islands deal – a £100 million government funding package for Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles confirmed on Wednesday by the UK and Scottish governments – “includes projects with cross-cutting themes including The Shetland Campus Project”.

The SIC also said it would “encourage the new college to explore how the carbon footprint could be reduced whilst also tackling island rurality challenges by taking advantage of ongoing improvements in connectivity”.

“During the next twelve months, staff need to be supported with adequate resources to ensure successful transition and implementation of merger,” it added.

“Furthermore, this must not be at the expense of the resources needed to ensure the tertiary education sector can respond flexibly to Covid-19 and contribute effectively to the evolving economic recovery.”

The council more generally showed support for the merger and stressed the importance of the project being prioritised.

The merger has already been delayed and the estimated vesting date, which is when the new organisation is to come into effect, has slipped to August 2021.

A business case for the merger has been approved locally and consultations are ongoing. The Scottish Government will have the final say on the project.

In the online survey and stakeholder meetings, meanwhile, the majority of respondents said they supported the merger.

Councillors were also told on Wednesday that the number of businesses and local employers engaging in the consultation was low.

“This was considered to be as a result of a degree of consultation fatigue and also the impact of Covid-19,” corporate services director Christine Ferguson wrote in a report.

“There are plans to ensure employer engagement during transition to the new college.”

Highlands and Islands Enterprise also showed support for the project in its consultation response, saying the merger should create a “more sustainable future” for the sector in Shetland.

Highlands and Islands regional MSP Rhoda Grant also responded to the consultation to express her concern that the new college plans to be unincorporated in its governance.