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Education / Could Shetland afford not to have community learning? Protesters don’t think so

Around 60 students and lecturers gathered at the Lerwick campus at Wednesday lunchtime. Photo: Dave Donaldson

AROUND 60 students across a range of subjects gathered along with college lecturers and others at lunchtime today (Wednesday) at the UHI Shetland’s Gremista facility to raise their collective voices against proposed £1.2m budget cuts, writes Davie Gardner.

Concerns are that the proposed cuts will have significant impact on current staffing levels and course provision at the college in the very near future.

The protest was timed to coincide with the AGM of the UHI Shetland board of management.

The proposed budget cuts and associated job losses – which could see at least 10 per cent of the current 140 staff lose their jobs over the next 18 months – come just two years after the merger of Shetland College and Train Shetland in Lerwick with the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway to become UHI Shetland’s integrated local campus.

HISA president William Campbell.

Unions, however, fear the true picture could be much worse, predicting as many as 25 jobs could be lost with the resulting impact on service delivery in general and the range of courses currently being offered – courses, they believe, critical to inclusion and supporting and diversifying Shetland’s economy.

Local concern has been increasing, with Labour councillor Tom Morton saying it amounted to an “appalling situation” and that, through this, “the very future of Shetland is at stake”.

The atmosphere outside the college itself was frosty, not only due to the winter temperature but also with student and union anger as the board prepared for their AGM.

The overriding message from those gathered was that “college cuts kill communities”, with regional president for the Highland and Islands Student Association (HISA) William Campbell claiming the proposed cuts would have significant impact on the local economy, opportunities provided to Shetlanders and ‘inclusion’ in general, particularly for those with additional support needs (ASN).

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There was particular concern over the future of community learning

Along with others he called on the Scottish Government, the Scottish Funding Council and the local authority to intervene with improved funding to negate the need for, and impact of, such cuts, particularly for island communities and their economies.

Fourth year art student Ami Robb echoed the views of many regarding inclusion when she said that not all Shetlanders could afford to travel outwith the islands for further and higher education and that the proposed cuts would deny many locals the opportunity for this.

She also raised concerns regarding the loss of specific courses that could directly benefit a local economy like Shetland’s, such as those currently offered through the college relating to art and culture.

Branch secretary of the EIS-FELA union, Andrew Anderson, said they shared the students concern in this respect.

He said those in authority continued to talk about what could be afforded without alternatively asking themselves could they afford not to have community learning in skills such as construction, accountancy, business, the creative industries, hospitality, health and care and so on.

He called for investment rather than cuts and for the Scottish Government and other funders to “consider their priorities” when dealing with issues such as inclusion, accessibility, poverty and inequalities.

See also:

Students angry and worried as they join UHI Shetland protest

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