Rural and Islands College Merger proposal: consultation

We are seeking views on a proposal put forward by the boards of management of North Highland College (UHI North Highland), West Highland College (UHI West Highland) and Lews Castle College (UHI Outer Hebrides) to merge into a single, incorporated college.

Consultation Paper

The information provided in this section has been taken from the Proposed Merger of UHI North Highland, West Highland and Lews Castle Colleges Consultation Summary provided by the Boards of Management of North Highland College, West Highland College and Lews Castle College. The information and views expressed below are therefore those of the proposed merging parties; not the Scottish Government.

A copy of the full merger proposal document can be found at:

Merger proposal - Rural and Islands College Merger Project (

Merger Proposal Summary

Why Are The Colleges Exploring Merger?

In early 2021, the boards of management at UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland commissioned a review into their long-term strategic future. The merging parties note that all three colleges face similar challenges in their rural and island contexts, including:

  • Student recruitment
  • Real-term funding cuts
  • A small, declining youth demographic
  • Curriculums that can overlap or compete with each other
  • Lack of capacity to respond to regional opportunities
  • Requirement for estates investment

These challenges have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and cost of living crisis. A Partnership Board was formed in September 2021 to formally explore the option of merger. An initial consultation took place with staff, students, and the public in early 2022. The merging parties advise that feedback from the initial consultation has supported the development of the full merger proposal and business case, published 8 August 2022.

The Colleges

UHI North Highland

UHI North Highland has campuses in Thurso, Halkirk, Dornoch and Alness. Thurso is home to the Engineering, Technology and Energy Centre, the largest and best equipped facility of its kind in the North of Scotland. Its courses in equine studies, gamekeeping and land management, and golf management, attract a high number of students from outwith the region. World class research is led through its Environmental Research Institute, which focusses on environmental issues affecting the region and the sustainable use of natural resources.

UHI North Highland currently employs 253 staff and serves 2147 further education students, 388 higher education students and 90 postgraduate students (2020/21).

UHI Outer Hebrides (Lews Castle College)

UHI Outer Hebrides has campuses in Stornoway, North Uist, South Uist, Barra and Benbecula. It has highly regarded specialisms and research in areas including digital pedagogy, energy engineering, archaeology and sustainable development, and plays a strong role in supporting creative industries, including Gaelic music, language and culture. Its Centre for Online Research and Education supports education research and enhancement in learning and teaching practice, while its Innovation Centre facilitates small business innovation and graduate business start-up.

UHI Outer Hebrides currently employs 139 staff and serves 875 further education students, 350 higher education students and 270 postgraduate students (2020/21).

UHI West Highland

UHI West Highland has 10 campuses and learning centres across Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross including Fort William, Ullapool, Gairloch, Auchtertyre, Broadford, Portree, Mallaig, Kilchoan, Strontian and Kinlochleven. Its unique specialisms are in outdoor adventure and marine tourism through its School of Adventure Studies and its Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research. Its Advancing Manufacturing Centre provides support to small and medium sized business in the region, while its 'Virtual School' offer is widening access to senior phase courses for pupils at secondary schools throughout the region.

It currently employs 190 staff and serves 2484 further education students, 666 higher education students and 4 postgraduate students (2020/21).

The Colleges' Vision For The Future

The merging parties are of the view that merging will create an anchor institution of scale and impact within the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), and the region, supporting 9000 students and 600 staff across 19 rural and island campuses and learning centres in the Highlands, Skye, and Western Isles. Coming together presents an exciting opportunity to do things better – to thrive, not just survive. The merging parties have set out that the proposed merger will:

  • Combine their collective talent, expertise, and resources to create a stronger, more resilient and efficient staffing structure, which expands opportunities for professional development and protects local jobs.
  • Become more financially resilient, with a robust strategy which is better placed to respond to the immediate and future changes and challenges in the financial environment.
  • Develop their tertiary curriculum to provide a wider learning offer for students, aligned with the priorities of the Scottish Government and the future skills needs of the region's economy.
  • Grow research and innovation collaboratively to create greater impact across the region.
  • Focus their collective strengths on pursuing key commercial and business development growth opportunities, particularly in the blue and green economies.
  • Enhance the student experience by providing a more consistent, high-quality experience across learning and teaching and support, including improved access to technology, facilities and social opportunities.
  • Create efficiencies which allow the merged college to reinvest savings directly into the college and staff, ensuring the aspirations within the business case for merger are met.

Vision, Mission And Values

The merging parties have set out their vision, mission and values for the merger as below.


To be an anchor institution for the region – a connected, flexible, and sustainable learning organisation, opening doors to a world of opportunity.


We will connect rural and island Scotland, pioneering distinctive education and research opportunities to enable our students and communities to shape their future in a changing world.


Successful students

Thriving communities

Sustainable organisations



We take pride in what we do. We are highly trusted by our students, our staff and our partners. Recognised for our leadership and dedication to deliver more for all whom we serve.


We take responsibility for all that we do, assuring transparency and accountability. We ensure people are at the heart of everything we do and that our organisation operates in collaboration and openness, with an ethos of dignity and respect for everyone.


We are ambitious for our learners, our staff, our college and our communities. We drive innovation, aim to be sector leaders, and benchmark our performance on national and international standards.


Be bold

We are confident in our ability to transform tertiary education for our region, connecting individuals and communities to learning and education.

Be agile

We encourage new ways of thinking, supporting our people to explore new ways of thinking and doing things and responding and adapting quickly through research and innovation.

Be collaborative

People working together are at the heart of everything we do. We value our ability to collaborate through a diverse workforce, where every voice matters.

Key strategies and plans

Learning & teaching strategy

To include curriculum plan, Learning, teaching and digital skills strategy.

Student experiences & engagement strategy

To include student engagement plan, student experience plan, HISA engagement plan

Research strategy

To include research strategy and knowledge exchange plan.

Gaelic language strategy

Business development & growth

To include business development, stakeholder engagement plan and internationalisation plan.

Underpinning strategies and plans

Estates & ICT Strategy

To include estates plan, digital plan, sustainability plan

People, Organisation & Culture strategy

To include equality and diversity plan, human resources and organisational development plan, communities plan, culture development programme.

Finance strategy

Guiding Principles And Commitments

The merging parties have set out three guiding principles:

1. Building for a better future

Creating capacity and enhancing management and leadership to focus on growth and investment

2. Doing more, not less

Enabling more innovation, curriculum, research and commercial growth to benefit staff, students and communities.

3. Remaining local

Becoming a college with scale and impact, which benefits from a single board of management, executive team, and strategy, whilst ensuring local management and operations, a strong local presence in communities, and continued local stakeholder relations.

As part of the merger process, the colleges are committed to:

  • No compulsory redundancies as a direct result of merger.
  • To work proactively and collaboratively with staff, students, external stakeholders and trade unions throughout the process.
  • Incorporated status for a new, merged college, ensuring staff have access to public sector terms and conditions, including pension schemes.
  • National pay negotiations, national bargaining, and fair working conditions.
  • Reinvesting any savings identified from the proposed merger into curriculum, staff or estate.
  • Maintaining local perspectives and needs in all that they do through appointing local advisory committees across the region who feed into the main college board of management.

Key Themes

The merging parties believe that merging provides an opportunity to fully embrace their role as a tertiary institution.

Together, the colleges intend to provide one aligned curriculum plan, a joined-up, coherent delivery service, and a consistent approach to learning and teaching and research. The merging parties believe the merged college will have a stronger, more coordinated voice, which enhances their reputation and relationship with stakeholders and connects rural and island communities to fully support access to 'lifelong learning' without the need to leave the region.

The merging parties have set out the following themes to drive the merged colleges' aims and aspirations:

  • An anchor institution for the region: the merged college will play a key role in driving economic renewal and transformational change through education, research, upskilling, and reskilling.
  • Collaboration for resilience and sustainability: by pooling resources, building collective teams/services and the sharing of expertise, the merged college will become a more resilient and financially sustainable organisation.
  • Innovative tertiary education: the merged will deliver an accessible and coherent tertiary curriculum to support the development of skills across the region, demonstrating positive student outcomes and maximising accessibility and value for money.
  • Excellent student experience, invested in place: the merged college will align with the diverse needs of current and future students and employers ensuring it enhances the models of face to face learning, blended learning, and online learning.
  • Thriving communities and place: the merged college will develop and implement a regional estates strategy that will continue to invest in state-of-the-art facilities, tailored for community use and the changing needs of the student body.
  • Enhanced research activity, connections, and knowledge exchange: the merged college will increase and strengthen its research culture and impact this has on the region, with greater opportunities for staff and students to become research active through strengthening current specialisms and coordinating teaching effectively.
  • Impactful economic investment: the merged college will collaboratively develop and maintain a portfolio of commercial and consultancy offers that are relevant and responsive to the needs of both private and public organisations in key economic sectors across the region.
  • Enabling the region's culture through Gaelic language, regional dialects, and Nordic cultures: the merged college will continue to work with national Gaelic agencies to take a stronger role in supporting the development of Gaelic teacher education and through development of online and blended delivery programmes ranging from short courses to full online degree.

Key Benefits Of Merger

The merging parties have set out a number of key benefits for students, staff and communities as noted below.

For students:

  • A wider, more reliable learning offer for students to choose from, providing clear progression pathways and routes into employment or further study.
  • More opportunities for students to study speciality programmes unique to each college, including adventure tourism, golf, land management, sustainability, and archaeology.
  • A more consistent student experience across the 19 learning centres and campuses through the sharing of good practice in learning and teaching and student support.
  • Enhanced online course content ensuring consistent, high-quality learning, wherever you choose to study. A stronger student voice and social offer through creating a stronger local HISA team to support students locally and compliment the regional offerings that already exist.
  • A more streamlined, equitable learning journey – from enquiry through to application, to induction, learning, and graduation - through shared knowledge, skills, resources and processes.
  • Investment in technology, student support and estate – including student accommodation.

For staff:

  • Increased opportunities for staff to work collaboratively, share knowledge and experience, enhance best practice, and develop new approaches.
  • Increased personal and professional development opportunities including progression, secondments and specialisms.
  • Improved job satisfaction, staff morale, and flexibility through the creation of stronger, larger and more resilient teams.
  • Improved job security through the creation of a more financially sustainable organisation.
  • Increased capacity to do more, not less, including curriculum development, collaborations, research, innovation and enterprise.
  • Increased access to specialist advice and support, whether academic, professional or personal.
  • Access to public sector terms and conditions, including pension schemes, and a commitment to national pay negotiations, national bargaining and fair working conditions.

For communities:

  • Investment in estates to support local communities through face-to-face learning opportunities.
  • Investment in specialist infrastructure, widening access to support online and digital capability.
  • Creation of a unified organisation with one voice. A single point of contact for partners and stakeholders. Capacity to strengthen existing relationships and develop new partnerships which continue to support the economic, social and cultural growth of communities.
  • Increase the learning offer for students, aligned to the needs of local employers, and regional and national priorities, helping to encourage/attract people to stay and live in local communities.
  • Create a more financially sustainable organisation which maintains locally-based, high quality jobs, helping to encourage/attract people to stay and live in local communities.
  • Proactively focusing on culture, tradition and language to support the retainment of local identities across the Highlands, Skye and Western Isles, including a commitment to drive forward the revitalisation of Gaelic.

Leadership And Governance

A Partnership Board was established in September 2021 to ensure effective governance arrangements in working towards the creation of a merged college, with delegated authority from the Boards of Management at UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides and UHI West Highland.

The Partnership Board will oversee the appointment of a Principal Designate, Transition Board and Local Advisory Committees. The merging parties believe this process will ensure both strategic and local leadership is in place as the merger progresses, reflecting best practice in corporate governance.

The merging parties believe that Local Advisory Committees will ensure:

  • A strong link to local communities, ensuring the local voice is heard in all decisions.
  • Local oversight during planning and implementation.
  • A new college delivers on its ambitions for local communities and is responsive to strategic opportunities, projects and partnerships.

Membership of the Transition Board and Local Advisory Committees will be drawn primarily from current college board members, with opportunities for new members to be recruited. Each Local Advisory Committee will have a chair and vice chair, who are members of the Transition Board.

The Transition Board will become the new college's Board of Management on vesting date and will oversee key functions including learning and teaching, finance and audit, estates management, human resources and organisational development.



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