The long-delayed isles college merger has taken a step closer to completion after the council approved its business case.
This final business case was given the go ahead by councillors at a virtual meeting on Wednesday, despite protests earlier in the week from college lecturers.
The merger has raised concerns among lecturers union EIS-FELA and its members from Shetland College, Train Shetland and the NAFC Marine Centre, who have been protesting details of the merger process and the business model to be adopted by the proposed college.
Council corporate services director Christine Ferguson labelled the decision to approve the business case a “key milestone”, which should not be delayed further. There had been a “collaborative approach” taken by both the council and tertiary education organisations involved, she said.
Shetland College principal Jane Lewis said this was about “securing the future of tertiary education in the islands”. The new organisation, which she will head up, would “very much” work for Shetland and be sustainable, she said.
There was widespread praise from councillors for the time that had gone into making the business case, including from college board chairman Peter Campbell and education and families committee chairman George Smith.
Mr Campbell said the organisations involved had “worked together for the good of Shetland”, while Mr Smith pointed out that they “should not underestimate the amount of work” that went into the report.
Commenting following the council’s approval, EIS-FELA branch secretary Andrew Anderson said he was disappointed “a number of councillors have no great feeling on the college being non-incorporated”, with members “happy to leave that decision to the Scottish government”.
He said councillors had made the decision without taking into account the “strength of feeling” amongst staff and students.
Mr Anderson stressed that the union branch had been “constructive” and was in favour of a merger, but wanted to ensure scrutiny and accountability over the coming years.
The meeting on Wednesday was effectively the final decision made on the council’s behalf on “whether to merger or not”.
Councillors however reiterated that while it was the recommendation of the business case that the newly merged college should be non-incorporated, the final decision rested with Scottish education minister John Swinney and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC).
With responsibility for the merger shifting to the government, Mr Anderson said they would shift their focus to a national level.
Mr Anderson said their efforts would continue and that this was “just the start”.
The union will “start consultation with the Scottish government,” he said.