A lack of places for students to live in central Shetland is holding back NAFC Marine Centre from taking on dozens more marine cadets every year.
Director of the college professor David Gray told councillors today that an extra 12 cadets were being taken on this year. But that is “only a drop in the ocean” compared to the additional 50 cadets big companies such as Clyde Marine would like to see being schooled in Scalloway.
The prospect of expanding the scheme was a “fantastic opportunity”, Mr Gray said, but finding residences for more students was a problem faced by both the NAFC and Shetland College, which is striving to attract international students.
Saying he would “probably get shot for suggesting this”, North Isles member Robert Henderson wondered out loud whether there was any merit in looking at adapting the empty parts of Scalloway School into student digs. Head of development Neil Grant said the school was one of a number of buildings which could be used to house students, but like other sites it might be costly to convert.
Development committee chairman Alastair Cooper suggested talking to universities and colleges on the mainland which have had similar troubles finding places for students to live.
At the suggestion of Allan Wishart, who sees “huge commercial potential” if the college can expand the number of cadet places, members agreed to investigate what can be done to eliminate the dearth of accommodation.
Councillor Frank Robertson suggested the vacant Bruce Hostel in Lerwick could be thrown into the mix as possible lodgings.
The committee approved the NAFC’s slimmed-down application for £1.73 million funding towards its running costs in 2012/13. Of that, £1 million will come from a surplus on Shetland Development Trust’s accounts dating back to 2009/10.
Mr Gray promised the NAFC was doing everything it could to attract more funding from outside Shetland as it seeks to reduce its reliance on council money year-on-year.
Mr Robertson said some of the research the marine centre had carried out had been “absolutely invaluable” to the industry in informing decisions on shellfish stocks.