College gears up to fight for its powers
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North Highland College (NHC) bosses are to fight any move to dilute the current powers they have to run their own affairs.
They are concerned further education students and employers in their area would suffer were the new University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) to pursue a centralised agenda.
NHC, which operates campuses at Thurso, Wick, Dornoch and Alness, has aligned itself with college counterparts who are campaigning for a devolved management regime.
NHC is one of 13 colleges or research centres which make up the newly created Inverness-based university. The UHI has commissioned a consultant to look at ways of managing the network.
Speaking at the latest meeting of NHC’s board of management, chairman Niall Smith said it is vital its concerns are fed into the process.
"There are voices from the UHI that favour a centralised, unified model going forward," he said. "We have to make clear that we think one structure for the Highlands would be a disaster."
College principal Gordon Jenkins said he is aware UHI principal James Fraser favours a centralised structure.
"His model would produce a unified UHI with the colleges being subsumed within UHI’s governance," he explained. Three other models involve a more federal approach.
Former board chairman Bill Bruce said there is long-standing opposition from UHI colleges to a centralised set-up.
He said: "We want the best for the north Highlands and we don’t want to lose our identity with something that is Inverness-based; that would have no rapport with people in our area and lose the links we have built up with local businesses."
He stated he is aware of similar concerns voiced by college representatives in Moray, Perth and the Western Isles.
NHC’s stance will be reflected when Mr Smith speaks to consultants Capita later this month.
A UHI spokesman yesterday said discussions about the future governance of the university are at a very early stage.
"It’s very much at the debating stage," he said.
"There are at least four models that I’ve seen put forward and there’s not one that I’m aware that has been specifically favoured by Mr Fraser."
The final decision will be taken by the university court though the spokesman said no timetable has yet been set out.
He added that it is not true that the UHI is centred in Inverness.
"This is not the base for the UHI – it is just its office."