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Education / Students angry and worried as they join UHI Shetland protest

A LARGE crowd of students and staff gathered outside UHI Shetland’s Lerwick campus this lunchtime (Wednesday) in protest of proposed cuts to courses and impending redundancies among lecturers.

Students are worried about their future and angry about how little has been communicated to them about the likely cuts to UHI Shetland’s services.

The college, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands network, is seeking to cut the number and choice of courses on offer as part of a restructuring process in a bid to reduce a budget deficit of £1.2 million.

UHI Shetland’s board of management is meeting later today to consider all proposals on the table and agree a way forward.

There have been calls from political parties, the EIS-Fela union and the student association for the Scottish Government to take note and make additional money available for the special case that is UHI Shetland.

Speaking for many, full-time student Joe Dennis said UHI Shetland played a vital role in the community.

She said once courses on offer were removed, island-based learners had little alternative left.

Her concerns were echoed by Andrew Anderson of the EIS-FELA union, who said the main worry among staff, apart from concerns for their own jobs, was what is going to be lost for Shetland if some of the proposals were to become a reality.

Dennis said: “We just don’t want to lose our courses and our lecturers. It is not that we could go to another college, our next college is a 12-hours ferry journey away in Scotland.

“If you can’t access a computer course here, then there is nothing else on the islands.”

She said one of the services under threat is the New Directions course, which has been designed for people with no or few qualifications. She said she started on that course, had done her Highers and was now doing an admin and business course.

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“There is no other New Directions course in Shetland,” Dennis said. “This course is for all sorts of people – I was in it, some were in the 70s, some were 40 and others younger; it was a mixture and we all helped each other.

“Some don’t do well at school, and later in life they go back into education to better themselves. If that course goes, what are people going to do then?”

She also said that none of the proposed cuts and changes to UHI Shetland had been communicated to its students, and they were horrified when they found out about in the local media and on social media at the end of October.

“We weren’t informed at all, so we had to arrange our own meeting with the principal,” she said.

“When we met with our principal, she basically told us that the equivalent of eight full time staff from a total of 12 in our department will be cut.

“So, we will be left with just four full time staff in our department, and obviously courses will be cut.”

Anderson meanwhile said the proposals to cut services and staffing levels were purely done on the basis of financial pressures without consideration for the educational impact.

“We are concerned there has not been consultation with appropriate stakeholders / groups on these proposals, and that there has been absolutely no conversation about the educational rationale for the proposed restructure, and no risk analysis of a reduction of courses for the most vulnerable students,” he said.

“Furthermore, the refusal by the board and senior management to carry out the legally required Island Communities Impact Assessment is very concerning.”

UHI Shetland’s proposed way forward to save £1.2 million in the 2023/24 financial year includes the loss of 20 full-time equivalent academic posts from the college.

The proposals include reducing the academic sections from five to four with the Community Learning and Business section being removed altogether.

Speaking in November, the principal of UHI Shetland called for a different funding model for island colleges.

Professor Jane Lewis said the current model for the university and colleges sector in Scotland disadvantages smaller rural and island colleges.

She added that UHI Shetland had been working on a number of avenues to reduce the budget deficit, which also included “changing the conversation with the Scottish Funding Council” and negotiating a better deal within the UHI network.

An online petition calling the Scottish Funding Council and the Scottish Government to stop job cuts at UHI Shetland has so far gathered almost 2,300 signatures here.

See also:

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

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