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North College UHI merger consultation to get under way next week

By Calum MacLeod

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North Highland College UHI's campus at Alness Business Point. Picture: Alison White.
North Highland College UHI's campus at Alness Business Point. Picture: Alison White.

Students, staff and other stakeholders will have the opportunity to have their say on plans to merge North Highland College UHI.

The series of open public consultation meetings is seeking views on the proposals which would bring together North Highland College UHI with fellow University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) colleges Lews Castle UHI in the Wester Isles and West Highland College UHI, which has no central campus, to form a new institution by January 2023.

The public meeting phase of the consultation will be led by the principals and senior representatives from each college and staged on Tuesday, January 18, Wednesday January 26 and Monday, February 7. Meeting booking details are available at Rural and Islands Merger Project Events on Eventbrite.

Last month, a consultation proposal document titled Building a Better Future Together, was shared with stakeholders which set out the vision for the merger and the document will form the basis of discussion and comment at each of the meetings.

A dedicated website was also launched in December at www.rural-islands-merger.uhi.ac.uk

The North Highland College UHI, Thurso.
The North Highland College UHI, Thurso.

In a joint statement, the three principals, Lydia Rohmer of West Highland College UHI, North Highland College UHI's Debbie Murray and Sue Macfarlane from Lews Castle College UHI, said: “We are entering a really important stage. We have all been clear that the views of our staff and students as well as the wider public and stakeholders, are absolutely key to help us deliver our ambitious plans.

“It is our belief the merger will bring together our three organisations to form a new college based on a partnership of equals.

“In additional to public meetings, we will also be holding consultation sessions with staff and students to gain their views.

“We are confident this proposal is the best way forward to benefit our students, our staff, our partnerships and our communities, and by building a better future together, we can deliver on our ambition to support local, regional, national and international opportunities.”

The merger plans, which could involve 9000 students and around 600 staff, follow a detailed options appraisal earlier this year.

The consultation document sets out the ambition and guiding principles for the merger, and explains why merger is seen as the right way forward for the three colleges and the communities and region they serve; the impact on stakeholders, including businesses and local employers; and how to give feedback on the proposal.

The new college will remain within the UHI network which has 12 institutions across the Highlands and Islands.

Merger partnership board chairman Dr Michael Foxley added: “This is a very positive and exciting merger of Colleges serving a huge area of remote rural and island communities. It will strengthen the resilience for College staff, whilst providing an enhanced curriculum for students.

“We want as many people as possible to get in touch, either via the dedicated website or indeed by participating in the consultation meetings and provide us with their thoughts on the proposals and share any concerns they may have around the project.

“We are committed to making the right decisions for the future of the three colleges and that process can only be strengthened by the participation of as many staff, students and stakeholders as possible.”

The merger partnership board has already confirmed the proposals would not result in any direct job losses, the colleges would retain their local identities, and any savings identified would be reinvested to strengthen teams at all levels to enable innovation and leadership.

Staff consultation meetings will take place on: Tuesday, January 11; Wednesday January 12 and Tuesday, January 18.

Public consultation meetings will be held on: Tuesday, January 18; Wednesday, January 26 and Monday, February 7.

Student consultation meetings will be held on: Friday, February 4 and Wednesday, February 9.

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