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Education / Lack of student accommodation affects new college

Shetland College's main Gremista campus.
The Shetland College part of Shetland UHI.

HIGH demand for accommodation has resulted in some prospective students choosing not to study at the islands’ newly-merged further education institution, members of Shetland College Board heard on Wednesday.

Construction of the Viking Energy wind farm and other industrial activity has resulted in a dearth of available accommodation as well as rises in both rents and property prices.

Shetland UHI principal Jane Lewis said it was a “very critical point” affecting a range of courses at the new college.

“It is disappointingly difficult for students at the moment, with all the other activities on the isles, to get reasonably-priced accommodation and that is impacting on our recruitment,” she said.

Lewis said the new Shetland UHI board had recognised the issue and plans are afoot to address the problem through the new Islands Deal with the Scottish Government.

The college is also encouraging Shetland Islands Council to include possible student residences within its plans to redevelop the Knab site in Lerwick.

“It is a high priority for us but, as I’m sure members here will appreciate, not one that can be turned around overnight, unfortunately.”

College board chairman Peter Campbell described it as an “ongoing problem”.

Meanwhile, while the merger of Shetland College and the NAFC Marine Centre went ahead earlier this month, the college board is set to continue meeting into the 2021/22 academic year.

Shetland Islands Council corporate services director Christine Ferguson said she felt it was important for the local authority to monitor progress now that the merger has gone through.

She said board members’ experiences would also be “invaluable” when it came to a “lessons learned” report about the long-drawn-out experience of stitching the two colleges together – a process that was a decade in the making.

The council’s project team will remain in place so it is “readily available to answer any queries that may come from Shetland UHI”, Ferguson told board members.

She said the council was fully committed to working with the new college and described the scope for “close joint working” as “really quite exciting”.

Campbell and other board members expressed thanks to staff within the council and the two colleges for their work.

Lewis acknowledged it had been a “complicated and difficult process” and thanked staff across the various organisations for the “enormous amount of work” that had gone into reaching the 1 August milestone.