by Sue Varley
An important achievement for higher education in the Highlands and Islands was realised this week when the UHI Millennium Institute was confirmed by the Privy Council as the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).
Scotland’s newest university was designated as a higher education institution in April 2001, and the body has been working towards gaining full university status throughout the decade, being granted taught degree awarding powers in August 2008 and finally applying for university title in May 2010 supported by the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Strathclyde.
Application for university title is made to the Privy Council, who then forward the submission on the government minister with responsibility for Education. For Scottish applications, this is the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Michael Russell MSP. He in turn contacts the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) for advice. QAAs role is to safeguard quality and standards in higher eduction across the UK.
On receipt of application for title, QAA appoint an independent panel of academics to scrutinise the application.
Subsequent to the May application, in December 2010 QAA advised the Scottish Government that UHI fully met the necessary quality, standards and requirements for university title. University title was finally confirmed by the Privy Council on Wednesday 2nd February.
Chair of the UHI Board of Governors Professor Matthew MacIver CBE announced the achievement, saying: “This is a defining moment in the history of the Highlands and Islands. For centuries we have been exporting intellectual talent to all corners of the globe. We are now at a point where that flow can be reversed. The new University of the Highlands and Islands will be a powerhouse for the economic, social and cultural development of the region.”
From Dunoon in Argyll to Scalloway on Shetland UHI uses information technology to bring together staff and students in its 13 main colleges and its many satellite institutions across the whole region. Offering over 100 courses to 8,000 students, UHI covers the arts, sciences and social sciences subjects including marine science, sustainable rural development, Gaelic studies, child and youth studies, archaeology, theology, business leadership and management; all tailored for the needs of the region and beyond. New courses for this year include a BA in tourism and hospitality practice, a postgraduate certificate in enterprise and e-marketing, and an MLitt in the history of the Highlands and Islands.
Politicians from all parties have welcomed the institution’s progression to university status.
On behalf of the Scottish government, Michael Russell says: “Today marks a fantastic achievement not only for all staff, students, and supporters but also for the Highlands and Islands. However, university title does not mark the end of the road for UHI. Rather it heralds the start of a process which will see this innovative model for delivering higher education developing further. I look forward to seeing all stakeholders working with the new university and playing their fullest part in taking UHI to the next level, so that it may serve the people and the economy of the Highlands and Islands.”
Treasury Chief Secretary and Inverness and Nairn MP Danny Alexander says it is “a very important step forward for a project which is already helping to transform the economy of our region”.
Local MSPs including Dave Thompson (SNP), Mary Scanlon (Conservative) and Peter Peacock (Labour) are united both in welcoming the good news, and in their hopes that the new university will have a positive impact for the whole of the highlands and islands. With young people from the region now having the opportunity to stay here to study and the anticipation of students from outwith the area coming in, coupled with the Scottish government’s investment in renewable technology, the realisation of the long held ambition for the region to have its own university should now support economic development and to help sustain rural and island communities.