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Education / Jobs are to go as UHI Shetland strives to balance the books

The UHI Shetland Lerwick campus. Photo: Shetland News

JUST TWO years after the merger of Shetland College, NAFC Marine Centre and Train Shetland into one local branch of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), the new organisation is forced to make redundancies and cut services.

Chair of UHI Shetland, councillor Davie Sandison, has confirmed that the organisation is looking to make savings of around £1.2 million which could translate into shedding about 10 per cent of its 140 staff by the end of this academic year.

But unions representing staff at UHI Shetland said proposals presented to employees during a meeting last Friday were going much further than what Sandison was prepared to admit in public.

According to Andrew Anderson of the EIS-FELA union as many as 25 staff could lose their jobs over the next 18 months.

Sandison said: “Despite the fact that things are already happening in terms of restructuring (…), we still have an outstanding deficit beyond what is sustainable.”

Chair of UHI Shetland Davie Sandison.

“The total deficit at the moment is around £2 million; we have put in place measures that will bring that down, but we still face a gap of around £1.2 million.

“The proposal that we are putting before staff is to restructure again (…) which will inevitably mean that we are delivering less in certain areas.

“The restructuring will, potentially, reduce the number of sections that we have within the organisation.”

Sandison said it was not clear yet how many jobs were to go as this also was dependent on the results of the consultation process with staff.

But a reduction in the number of staff employed by UHI Shetland of around 10 per cent was realistic, he said.

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Sandison added that work on reducing costs while increasing income was ongoing. For example, the college continues to lobby government and the Scottish Funding Council to provide around £300,000 in distance islands allowance annually, a payment UHI Shetland lost when they stopped being aligned with Shetland Islands Council.

The news of job losses will come as a major blow to those employed by the university and its growing number of full-time and part-time students.

Anderson said during Friday’s meeting management advised staff of proposals to reduce nearly 20 full-time equivalent academic posts from the college in the financial year 23-24. There are plans for a further six to seven jobs to be cut in the 24-25 financial year.

“These job cuts planned would result in between a quarter and a third of academic posts being lost to the college,” Anderson said.

“The proposals include reducing the academic sections from five to four with the community learning and business section being removed altogether.

“Staff have been asked to come forward with alternative proposals by the end of November, with the board considering any ‘appropriate’ counter proposals in December. Staff due to lose their jobs will then be advised in January 2024.”

He said the impact of the proposals on the Shetland economy and society would be significant as it would reduce opportunities to train and re-skill and would hit those with a more difficult background hardest.

When the three organisations started operating as UHI Shetland in August 2021, following a long and often convoluted divorce process from the local authority, the move was hailed as a new era in tertiary education in Shetland.

It was described as an ambition to “simplify the landscape” and to offer enhanced and more varied education and training opportunities on the local level.

At the time a number of jobs were lost as part of the process of merging three organisations into one.

Meanwhile, a redevelopment of the UHI Shetland campus is one of the projects that is part of a package due to receive up the £3 million under the UK and Scottish governments’ islands growth deal.

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