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The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) has today (Thursday May 16) published its second Islands Strategy (2024-2029), reaffirming its commitment to island communities.

The document sets out how UHI will work with partners to extend and strengthen its activities across Orkney, Shetland, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Bute and Arran. 

Earlier this month a full meeting of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar asked officers to prepare a report on the possible impacts to the islands if UHI North, West and Hebrides moved to a fully online model of teaching following a motion which was put forward on supposed future changes at the former Lews Castle College by Councillor Frances Murray, with Councillor Susan Thomson seconding her, and which won unanimous support.

Councillor Murray proposed: “That the Comhairle agree that a report be submitted to the next series of meetings detailing the impacts to our economy and tertiary education provision following the proposals being considered by UHI North, West and Hebrides to move to a largely online model of tuition.”

However, in a statement issued on Thursday May 2 UHI North, West and Hebrides said: “We are not moving to a ‘largely online model of tuition.’  Over 80% of our further education qualifications and courses will be taught face to face on campus, in school, or outdoors next year.”

“We have safeguarded provision across our subject areas and qualification levels in the 2024-2025 academic year.

“We continue to deliver practical courses on our campuses, while widening access to learning opportunities across our rural and island communities through digital technology. We have done this at a time when many colleges and universities have been forced to reduce their offer because of the serious financial challenges across our sector."

Now UHI has laid out its key objectives for the Islands Strategy include supporting the creation and retention of a highly skilled workforce across the islands; increasing postgraduate and research provision; contributing to the delivery of the both the Islands Growth Deals and the Argyll and Bute Growth Deal; supporting our islands’ languages and dialects, including Gaelic; and attracting new activity and people to the islands and to be based in the islands.

The outcomes will be impactful, working with local communities to drive sustainable development and transition to net zero. The strategy aims to secure and attract funding to support local businesses and to stimulate demand in key areas that will help attract new talent and create opportunities, reducing the need for people to move away, particularly for education and training. 

To achieve these goals, UHI will progress significant, purposeful and ongoing engagement with key stakeholders, including the Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council, as well as local councils and economic development agencies. 

Professor Neil Simco, Deputy Principal Academic and Research at UHI, said: “This is an exciting and energising time for Scotland’s islands but there are significant challenges too. As the only university with a physical base and delivering a tertiary educational offer within each of the island groupings, UHI is inspired to deepen its engagement in the islands, to make an incisive contribution to the sustainable and inclusive development of the islands in new and innovative ways.”

Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive of UHI North, West and Hebrides said: “The Islands Strategy fully aligns to our purpose as a new college representing the Outer Hebrides, North and West Highlands. It reaffirms our commitment to our island communities and the strong desire we have to strengthen our engagement and to support economic development through impactful learning and teaching, research, and knowledge exchange. The strategy also addresses key issues facing island communities, while recognising the significant opportunities open to our communities through renewable energy investment and the Islands Growth Deal.”

Islands Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “I welcome the publication of this strategy and the leadership shown by UHI in providing the skills and knowledge required to strengthen resilience and economic growth on our islands. UHI will be an important partner as the Scottish Government commences work on the development of a second National Islands Plan, which will assist our continued pursuit of improving wellbeing and sustainability for our island communities.”
To view the UHI Islands Strategy, visit