Media Release: Debate to ask what the Highlands and Islands should look like in 2020

A DEBATE in Inverness next week is to ask ‘what do we want the Highlands and Islands to look like in 2020 and how can we use European funding to achieve this?’

The Highlands and Islands 2020 event has been organised at a crucial time in the development of European Union budgets for 2014 – 2020.

As well as introductory presentations by leading experts, the event will include a panel discussion with key figures from Scottish and EU bodies.

Speakers include deputy director of European structural funds at the Scottish Government, the head of Scotland Europa’s Brussels office and the advisor to the commissioner for agriculture and rural development at the European Commission.

Organised by the University of the Highlands and Islands and funded by the European Commission Representation in the UK, the Highlands and Islands 2020 debate is free and open to anyone with an interest in how EU support can be used in the development of the region.

Speaking about the event, University of the Highlands and Islands director of European and international development Linda Stewart, said: “We’re delighted that the European Commission UK office is supporting this event and that we have secured so many excellent speakers.

“They will provide an invaluable insight into new EU policies and funding programmes.

“EU funding has made such a difference to economic and social development across the Highlands and Islands over the past 20 years. We now have an opportunity to build on this towards 2020 and this debate should mark the start of this process.”

James Fraser, University of the Highlands and Islands principal and vice-chancellor, said:  “European engagement has played a vital role in the university’s development.

“Much of our research and innovation, estates and infrastructure, curriculum development and wider access work has been funded by EU programmes and we’ve learned a lot about higher education provision in other remote, sparsely populated areas from working with partners across the EU.

“Looking towards the next programming period, we want to put something back – sharing the lessons we have learned about EU support and looking at how we can work collaboratively in new areas, particularly to develop research capacity in the region.”

Dirk Ahner, adviser to the commissioner for agriculture and rural development at the European Commission, is travelling from Brussels to speak at the event.

He added: “People in the Highlands and Islands can be proud of what they’ve achieved with EU support in terms of development in Scotland.

“The forthcoming programming period for EU funds offers new exciting opportunities – don’t miss them!”

The Highlands and Islands 2020 event takes place from 1 to 4pm on Monday 18 March at the University of the Highlands and Islands executive office, Ness Walk, Inverness.

For more information or to book your free place, contact Charlotte Lever on 01856 569 249 or at


List of speakers

  • Dirk Ahner, former director general for regional policy and current adviser to Dacian Ciolos, commissioner for agriculture and rural development at the European Commission
  • Ciaran Dearle, from the regional dimension of innovation at the directorate general research and innovation, European Commission
  • Sarah English, head of Brussels office, Scotland Europa
  • Moray Gilland, head of unit operational efficiency at the directorate general for regional and urban policy, European Commission
  • Laurent Sens, policy officer at the directorate general for employment, social affairs and inclusion, European Commission
  • Shane Rankin, deputy director of European structural funds, Scottish Government
  • Dr Andrew Copus, social, economic and geographical sciences group, James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen

Notes to editors

The University of the Highlands and Islands comprises thirteen further and higher education colleges, specialist colleges and research institutions, distributed throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. They are bound together through constitutional, management and academic structures, and co-ordinated through an executive office. Collectively, this is referred to as the UHI partnership.

There are currently over 7,000 students studying on undergraduate and postgraduate courses or undertaking postgraduate research with the University.

The University of the Highlands and Islands is the only university with campuses and headquarters based in the Highlands and Islands. Its mission is to strengthen and develop the social, economic and cultural prospects of the region. It uses a blend of learning methods, including traditional classroom face-to-face teaching, video-conferencing tutorials and lectures and virtual learning environments and other IT media.

The University of the Highlands and Islands is a limited company registered in Scotland No. 148203. Scottish charity No. SC022228. Registered office: 12B, Ness Walk, Inverness, IV3 5SQ.

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Contact: Susan Szymborski
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