College board approves next stage of merger

Shetland College Board has approved a local stakeholder consultation which asked people what they thought of the college merger.

Councillors met remotely on Tuesday morning to consider the consultation report on the new college.

Shetland College, Train Shetland and the NAFC Marine Centre are due to be merged into the provisionally named Shetland Institute UHI.

Council corporate services director Christine Ferguson called it the “first part” of the local consultation, which merging colleges are required to undertake – this includes consulting with the SIC.

The consultation had been carried out in a number of ways, according to Ms Ferguson, including an online questionnaire and meetings with staff and students.

There were 153 responses to the online questionnaire and 28 meetings in total.

Shetland College principal Jane Lewis was unable to attend the meeting. Jacqui Birnie, who also helped draft the report, introduced it instead.

Ms Birnie said the “many benefits” identified in the consultation were an “incredibly positive place to start”.

First and foremost was the benefit to student experience, according to Ms Birnie, and broadened opportunities for learning in Shetland as well as encouraging more students to come in.

What had also “come through very strongly” from the consultation was the benefit of “Shetland having a single voice”.

There had been a certain amount of disagreement over the proposed name of the new college, admitted Ms Birnie.

Shetland Institute UHI was supported by only 38 per cent of questionnaire respondents, according to the report, with 62 per cent not liking it and a range of alternative suggestions given.

There will be a short follow up survey for staff and students, after which a final decision will be made.

The college’s governance arrangements and legal status had attracted “a lot of feedback from staff” and comments. 

Lecturers union EIS-FELA and its members have protested the non-incorporated model set to be adopted by the new college.

There were no questions or debate during the meeting, and one comment from councillor George Smith.

Mr Smith called it a “good piece of work in terms of pulling together the consultation responses” but added that the positive points raised needed to be backed up by “good practical examples” and evidenced in the business case.

The South Mainland councillor gave the example of “enhancing student experience” and asked: “What does that mean in real terms?”

Mr Smith added that areas of concern similarly needed to be thought through.

The final business case for the merger was given the go ahead by councillors at a virtual meeting back in April, paving the way for it to proceed.

The College Merger Transition Board will now be asked to note findings of the consultation and create a response, ready to be submitted to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) before 12th August.


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