Media Release: Launch of West Highland College UHI brings new opportunity for students

TODAY (Tuesday) sees a significant change in the educational landscape across one of the most stunning areas in Europe.

West Highland College UHI, formed by the merger of Lochaber College UHI and Skye and Wester Ross College, will be formally launched today at a gathering in Gairloch, Wester Ross, creating benefits for students across the region.

The main driver for creating this new college – which is a partner in UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands – has been to provide more opportunities for further and higher education in the West Highlands.

Increased access to further and higher education by students who do not have to leave the region is recognised as a way of invigorating the economic, social and cultural prospect of these communities.

Since 2007, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has sought to redress a historical trend of lower participation in tertiary education in this area of Scotland by its allocation of an increasing budget – through North Highland College UHI – to enable delivery of more further education in these rural areas.  West Highland College UHI will build on those steps.

Professor Norman Gillies, chair of the shadow board, believes the new college will deliver significant benefits arising from the merger.

He said: “The principal benefit here is the ability to deliver a wider curriculum for more students in more locations.

“We will increase the number of learning centres and upgrade many of those we already have; by doing so, we’ll develop greater access to education and opportunity across our patch.’’

He went on: “Wester Ross will be the focus of particular expansion, with the aim of bringing that area closer to the level of other parts in terms of access and delivery. Through these investments and improvements, we will offer our people more opportunities to participate in lifelong learning.”

SFC is a key partner in supporting the merger and the increased delivery of further education in the West Highlands.

John McClelland, SFC’s chair, added: “We welcome the development which has resulted in the merger of the two colleges. This is good news for existing and potential students who will benefit from access to a greater range of further and higher education courses.”

The college will work closely with other partners in the area, including Highland Council as the provider of secondary and community education.

Councillor Michael Foxley, leader of Highland Council Administration and past chair of Lochaber College said: “The Council is delighted to see this development happen.

“It will be the key driving force for greater opportunities across the West Highlands with direct links to our High Schools to ensure that our pupils benefit from the full range of tertiary education – taster sessions, further and higher education.

“We also intend to create opportunities to focus on the specialisms of our area, such as marine renewables, for the future.”

As part of the UHI network, there are significant opportunities envisaged from this merger for future development.

James Fraser, the principal of UHI, said: “This will create more access through progression from Further Education to Higher Education. It will also enable West Highland College UHI to develop its highly acclaimed Adventure Tourism Management programme and to increase its research capacity.

“We also believe the number of UHI hosted students will increase throughout the area, and the estates developments in Skye and Wester Ross will facilitate this.”

The college’s board of directors is also pleased to announce the appointment of principal, Donald Leitch, who will lead the new college through merger implementation and prepare for Fundable Body status.

Donald Leitch’s main experience as a college principal stems from the eight years he spent in the role at Glasgow College of Food Technology (GCFT) between 1997 and 2005.

He also spent a 12-month period as acting principal at Inverness College UHI and, more recently, undertook the role of Interim Principal at Perth College UHI.


For more details or to attend the launch event on Tuesday 31st August please contact: Barry McPherson at the BIG Partnership – 0131 555 5522/ 07824 638 457

Notes to Editors:

The partners:

Lochaber College UHI has been an enthusiastic academic partner of UHI MI since 1998. Established as the Lochaber Opportunities Centre in 1995, there is the main campus in Fort William with four rural centres located across Lochaber. The Fort William campus was recently expanded to provide more teaching and student support facilities.

Skye & Wester Ross College was based on a network of learning centres, which has expanded from Skye and Lochalsh to include Wester Ross. Their facilities are severely constrained in light of the increase in delivery described below.

The merger partners have already demonstrated their ability to increase delivery of high quality educational provision, from 1,615 SUMs in 2007/2008 to just under three times that in 09-10.

Scottish Funding Council

A fundable body is a further or higher education institution which is eligible for funding by the Scottish Funding Council, as listed in Schedule 2 of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005.

The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (SFC) is responsible for allocating £1.7 billion of public funds each year to colleges and universities in support of Scottish Government priorities.

The Council’s funding contributes towards the costs of learning and teaching, skills development, research, innovation and other costs such as staff, buildings and equipment in Scotland’s 20 universities and Higher Education institutions and 43 further education colleges.

Board of directors

The board of directors comprises:

Alaistar Nicolson, North Skye

Ann Lloyd, Lochalsh, Wester Ross

Anthony Shepherd, Locheil, Lochaber

Donald Leitch, Principal

Douglas MacDiarmid, Ballachulish, Lochaber

Gordon Bushnell, South Skye

James Stewart, Fort William, Lochaber

Jean Urquhart, Ullapool, Wester Ross

Karen MacGregor, Ardnamurchan, Lochaber

Dr Michael Foxley, Achaphubuil, Lochaber

Professor Norman N N Gillies, Sleat, Skye

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