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Education / UHI Shetland to lose 13 staff as budget cuts are made

THIRTEEN staff will be leaving UHI Shetland by the end of July as part of an ongoing restructuring process to save around £2 million over two years.

The staff affected are all part of a voluntary severance scheme with no compulsory redundancies.

The savings made as part of the college’s recovery plan amount to around £600,000 in the current academic year and £1.2 million in the next academic year starting on 1 August.

The restructuring will see the merger of the community development and creative industries departments into one with the loss of a number of courses in business, accounting and community learning.

College principal Jane Lewis said a relatively small number of students, around 40, would be affected by the changes.

Professor Lewis added that further work on UHI Shetland’s finances, both on the cost and the income sides, needs to be undertaken, including lobbying for a more favourable funding model of further education.

UHI Shetland is also not being compensated by the Scottish Government for paying its staff distance islands allowance.

Speaking to Shetland News on Thursday, professor Lewis said she was confident regarding the future of the college.

Referring to the latest Education Scotland data which shows course completion rates being well above the Scottish average, she said: “I think we are offering excellent quality; and we are offering new courses.

“There has been a really good job done across the college this year against very, very difficult circumstances, so I am confident about our future.”

Chair of the UHI board Davie Sandison echoed this when he said: “I am happy in so far that we have managed the situation the way we said we would.

“It’s tough decisions we had to take, but we have done what we said we would do.”

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In October last year UHI Shetland hit the local headlines when it emerged that it was embarking on a restructuring process to stay viable. Union and student protest followed, warning of the impact of further and higher education in the islands.

Professor Lewis said: “We will be still in deficit next year and will need to continue a programme of recovery activities.

“I would hope that we can do that through staff vacancy management, through income generation and continue to bear down on operating expenses.”

She added that the UHI continued to be disadvantaged in the way funding for further education (FE) works. This means, in effect, that UHI Shetland provides 25 per cent more further education outcomes than what it is funded for through education credits.

“We have asked for an increase in credit for next year and at this point we have not been allocated that increase in funding,” Professor Lewis said.

“To me the funding model needs to change, it needs to be more responsive. We have huge demand in the isles for FE delivery, for example our full-time FE numbers increased by 65 per cent last year and on top of that we had a further 100 per cent increase in applications for the coming academic year.”

The other area where the college could boost its income, and hence its long-term viability, is lobbying the Scottish Government that UHI Shetland’s funding model needs to be adjusted to include payments for distant islands allowance.

In Scotland, public service employees working in the island communities are entitled to an island allowance payment, which varies in different sectors like NHS and local authorities.

When Shetland College and the NAFC were part of the Shetland Islands Council pay structure all staff received the distant islands allowance, but since the merger to become UHI Shetland in 2021, these payments are no longer funded.

Professor Lewis said the budget deficit created by the change is just shy of £300,000 annually.

Sandison added that he was disappointed when first minister John Swinney’s plane was unable to land at Sumburgh a few weeks ago as it prevented him from making the direct ask to resolve the distant islands allowance issue.

“It needs a senior level political solution; it’s not going to be dealt with by civil servants,” he said.

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