​Job cuts shock at UHI Stornoway campus

A meeting was held at the Stornoway campus last week.A meeting was held at the Stornoway campus last week.
A meeting was held at the Stornoway campus last week.
​Staff at the UHI centre in Stornoway have been left reeling after being told that a number of them face losing their jobs under a cost-cutting drive by managers.

The shock revelation, which came in a meeting between managers and staff last week, comes just a few months after Lews Castle College was formally merged with a number of other UHI centres – North Highland (Thurso) and West Highland (Fort William) – to form UHI North, West and Hebrides.

At the time the merger plan was described as a step forward that would “better meet the needs of its local communities, enhance the student experience, provide equity of opportunity, and drive economic growth in the region”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Senior managers of the new, merged institution told staff in a meeting last week that £1.4 million of savings are required over the next few months. There is no official figure at this stage as to what that will mean in terms of job cuts, but inside sources suggest somewhere between 30 and 50 will be required.

Speaking after last week’s meeting, a union member of the Educational Institute of Scotland and Further Education Lecturers Association, who did not wish to be named, told the Gazette: “It’s horrendous. Even if your own job is OK, you’re looking at the loss of long-term colleagues and a major cut in local services.”

After being approached by the Gazette, UHI issued a formal statement yesterday (Wednesday).

Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive of UHI North, West and Hebrides, said: “We are working in partnership with our staff, students and trade unions to take forward the proposals we consulted on extensively in our merger business case to build our college of scale and impact, which better serves the needs of our rural and islands communities, enhances the student experience by widening access and connecting our learners, and can better respond to the once-in-a-generation economic opportunities in our region.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We do not underestimate the work involved to fully realise our merger ambitions or the impact of change on our staff.

"Despite the significant challenges facing our sector, we have already made substantial progress towards becoming a more sustainable, integrated, and effective college.

"We will do all we can to support our staff throughout this restructuring process and minimise any disruption to students.”

She said that colleges and universities right across the country are operating in an extremely challenging financial environment, which has worsened since the merger process began just a few months ago, with the college sector seeing a 8.5% real term reduction in funding between 2021 and 2023, and a further 4.7 % cut for the 2024-2025 academic year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ms Rohmer added: “We remain more sustainable as a merged college and have the combined capacity, resource, and expertise to deliver and develop distinctive education, training, and research, provide a skills pipeline to meet current and future workforce needs in our region’s key growth sectors, and enhance engagement with our students, employers, and communities.

“Students are at the heart of everything we do, and we remain well placed to deliver high quality learning, teaching, and research, support our students, and play a transformative role in the lives of people who choose to live, work and study in our region.”

Staff in the Stornoway centre were already concerned over the future direction after the recent withdrawal of study provision for National Five and Higher exams.

Normally delivered in schools, it was seen as being hugely important for school leavers looking to gain qualifications for further education courses. That provision is still available online, but without in-person classroom back-up there is concern over its overall effectiveness.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The merger plan was sanctioned by the Scottish Government back in August and officially launched in September, with a visit to Stornoway by the then education secretary Graeme Day.

At the time it was argued that the move will see all three of the individual institutions “become more sustainable at a time when colleges are being challenged to do more with less in a difficult financial environment.”

All of the respective boards, including Lews Castle College, as it was previously known, approved the move.

There is further concern over the lack of island representation on the board of directors of the new merged institution.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In their formal statement yeterday, UHI said the college has already achieved £1.9 million annualised savings this year and is “working with its trade unions and staff to reduce costs by a further £1.4 million through the restructure”.

It said that they are “aiming to achieve these savings through vacancy management, a voluntary severance scheme and non-staff savings, in line with Fair Work principles”.