Point and Sandwick Trust has created a fund for MSc students in partnership with Lews Castle College UHI, contributing an initial £10,000, with the equivalent amount invested by the college.
The community wind farm charity will commit £2,500 each to four students and intends that the funding will become a revolving grant, once the first £10,000 is exhausted.
The fund is for research projects that are aligned with the objectives of Point and Sandwick Trust, which runs the wholly-community-owned Beinn Ghrideag wind farm near Stornoway.
Suitable research projects would not be limited to renewables but could encompass a wide range of topics, as long as they fit within Point and Sandwick Trust’s founding principle, which is to promote the social, educational, cultural and environmental wellbeing of the people of the Western Isles.
Fees for MSc projects are £5,000 for the one year, full-time course and £2,500 per year for the two-year, part-time course.
The MSc fund is the latest collaboration between Lews Castle College UHI and Point and Sandwick Trust, which last year invested £20,000 in the expansion of the Innovation Centre, based at the college.
Innovation Centre founder Dr Chris Macleod, an engineering lecturer, has been closely involved in setting up the MSc research fund at the college.
He is delighted the money has been committed for four projects, with more hopefully to come later on, and called it “a win-win situation for everyone”.
Dr Macleod said there were several reasons why the fund was “a really good idea”.
Firstly, it will allow research to develop in the college – and research at university level can often spin out into the development of companies, helping the economy.
Secondly, it will allow students to continue their studies beyond undergraduate degrees. Thirdly, there can be research into topics which will benefit the community.
He stressed that, although PhD projects have been available, there has not been a huge take-up.
The MSc posts, by contrast, make it easier to continue studies after graduation and should, he said, hopefully “attract students from further afield to come and study here” too, as well as islanders, which would be “good for the college and good for the island”.
He stressed that potential topics went beyond renewables and “could be anything which aligns with PST’s objectives for the community”.
He cited research into Gaelic – be that dialects, stories, folklore or song – and added: “It might be about sustainable development or the environment or renewable energy. It’s about community development and doing research both into the past and the future of the community.”
Dr Macleod said there were a couple of steps that had to be taken before the fund can become fully operational. Some staff training is required for those who will be supervising the MScs and it will also be necessary to form a committee, with representatives from all the college faculties as well as Point and Sandwick Trust, in order to make decisions on proposed projects.
Potential MSc projects can be proposed by students themselves, by supervisors or from the outside. “As long as they are good quality and align with the PST mission,” stressed Chris.
He said that ideas would not be accepted “for the sake of it” but must be high quality.
He added: “We hope it won’t just be science and technology. Any really good project that’s going to benefit the island would be suitable.
“Everybody wins. The college wins, Point and Sandwick Trust wins and the community wins. There is no downside to this, that I can think of.”
MScs are reports that are critically analysed – peer reviewed, essentially, by someone considered an expert in their field.
Norman Mackenzie, Point and Sandwick Trust chair, said: “Point and Sandwick Trust believe this is a really worthwhile project which underpins educational provision on the island and encourages students to stay and to develop their careers here. Perhaps some of that talent can be used towards developing renewables projects and wider strategies – and hopefully this will ensure graduate development opportunities on the island.”
College principal Iain Macmillan said the MSc fund “gives students an opportunity to progress here, without having to go to mainland universities and means we can take advantage locally of the skills that are coming through”.
He also said the college wanted to encourage young people to take an interest in the islands’ renewable energy sector and observed that Hebrideans “haven’t quite embraced that here to the same extent as the Swiss and the French students who come to us”.
He said: “They’re coming to us wanting to know about energy and the real opportunities with energy. We really just need to embrace that more ourselves – and the possibilities.”
He cautioned against too much energy being placed on the question of how to export our energy – the interconnector debate, for example – and said “really we need to look at how we use it”.
The college principal said we should be looking at “what opportunities can we create here, rather than just about assuming it’s for export”.
He added: “If you can make use of that energy in location then you have huge opportunities. At some point we will become less reliant on fossil fuels. We need to be developing people who can see that change.”
Pictured, from left to right:
Norman Mackenzie, Point and Sandwick Trust chair; Iain Macmillan, Lews Castle College principal; Ann Murray, assistant principal; Chris Macleod, Lews Castle College lecturer and Innovation Centre founder; Donald John MacSween, Point and Sandwick Trust general manager; and Roddy Ferguson, Lews Castle College head of technology.
Picture by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos (please credit).