Frequently Asked Questions
Q) Why is the merger being explored?
This is a once in a generation opportunity to build a new college of scale and impact within UHI, supporting around 9000 students and 600 staff across 19 rural and islands campuses and learning centres in the Highlands, Skye and Wester Ross.
Despite our collective successes, our colleges are small, we are facing flat funding for a number of years, unprecedented running costs and are operating across dispersed communities with small, declining populations. By coming together, we will create a more positive, resilient, efficient and financially sustainable organisation which will allow us to continue to serve our local communities in the way we do now, but with combined capacity to grow and seize the social, cultural, and economic opportunities that exist in our region. Merging is about doing more, not less.
Q) Who will decide on merger?
Our boards of management at all three college will be asked to consider the merger proposal and business case in November 2022. If all three decide to approve the merger proposal and business case, it will be submitted to the Scottish Government. Government approval proceeses include further consultation and a ministerial review. If the case is approved by ministers, the decision will be laid in the Scottish Parliament for 40 days before we receive final confirmation of merger in June 2023.
Q) What will the new college be called if you decide to merge?
Following feedback from our initial consultation, we are currently exploring a single, unified identity that connects all three colleges, recognises the importance of place and our dispersed geography, and sets the tone for our ambitions as a new college if we decide to merge.
Q) How will you avoid centralisation through merger?
While we will have a single principal, executive management team and board, there will be no centralisation. Our executive management team and board will be distributed across our existing college areas. We are committed to ensuring we have local management in place, continued presence in our communities and relationships with local stakeholders are maintained. It is our intention to form local advisory committees across our existing college areas to ensure local needs are met. These local advisory committee will work alongside a transition board, which will oversee the implementation of the new college and eventually become the new college board.
Q) When will an executive management team be in place for a new college?
A principal designate will be appointed in November 2022 to lead the implementation of a new college, including establishing an executive management team and organisational structure. We expect an executive management team to be in place early in the 2023/24 academic year with transition arrangements in place until then.
Q) When will teams merge and how will it work?
The principal designate will be appointed in November 2022 and will lead on implementation planning, including establishing an executive management team and organisational structure early in the 2023/24 academic year. Once this takes place, the executive management team will be responsible for overseeing the merger of teams and timelines. No positions or teams will be restructured prior to a vesting date in August 2023, however, teams will be aligned to ensure services of the new college can be delivered from the vesting date. Work has taken place to identify priorities for day one, year one, year two etc. Any changes will be made in full consultation with staff and trade unions with terms and conditions for staff transferring into the new college, protected via TUPE regulations.
Q) How will merger improve the student experience?
Merger will improve the student experience by providing a wider, more flexible learning offer to our students. This will include more online provision, enhancing access to skills and qualifications, but also capacity to provide more face-to-face opportunities across our rural and island communities. The student association will be able to combine resource to increase the student voice. We will also be able to combine best practice with capacity to ensure a more consistent student experience across all three colleges. Through efficiencies, we aim to increase investment in technology, our centres and campuses, and student accommodation.
Q) How can efficiencies be made without redundancies?
We have committed to no compulsory redundancies as a direct result of merger. It is our intention to launch a voluntary severance scheme post vesting date. Merger will create efficiencies at senior management and board level. We also expect to achieve efficiencies by reducing duplication and aligning core business systems (e.g. human resources and finance). This will help free up staff to focus on specific projects, opportunities or areas of the organisation that require support. This merger is about creating capacity to do more, to enable growth.
Q) What are you doing to support staff wellbeing?
We acknowledge the impact change can have on staff wellbeing. As part of implementation planning, wellbeing will be a priority for our people and culture workstream. It is also important we ensure staff are fully involved in the implementation of a new college and have a role in shaping its future.
Q) Are UHI supportive of merger?
Yes, UHI are very supportive of the merger project. The merger proposal and business case is endorsed by UHI Court, as the Regional Strategic Body.
Q) Will three colleges merge into one?
We will adopt a ‘fusion’ model, which means one college becomes the legal vehicle to create the new college, but it will have all the characteristics of a brand new college. A legal and practical assessment of each of the three colleges took place, resulting in UHI North Highland being identified as the legal vehicle. This is for practical reasons only – it is more cost-efficient and quicker than dissolving all three colleges and starting from scratch. No one college will be lead – this is a merger of equals under a new college name. This ‘fusion’ model is supported by the Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council.
Q) What is the financial case for merger?
The financial plan demonstrates that by coming together we will become more financially resilient, reverse a collective deficit and be able to invest in the future.
Q) Will staff have to reapply for their jobs?
Any restructure post vesting will be made in full consultation with staff and trade unions. This will include consulting on any plans for restructuring teams, the process for restructuring and conversations on where roles may be ringfenced or individuals need to enter a protected recruitment exercise. There will be no compulsory redundancies as a direct result of merger and the transferring staff terms and conditions will be fully protected under TUPE.
Q) What is Plan B if merger doesn’t go ahead?
We are working closely with all our stakeholders to minimise the risks of this happening. This includes UHI, the Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council, who are fully involved in the merger process. If merger should not go ahead then the individual colleges will need to review their strategic and operational plans alongside financial plans to review actions to be taken forwards in absence of merger.
Q) Will you look to close smaller learning centres?
Merger is about creating capacity to do more in our communities. Our spread of 19 learning centres and campuses, dispersed over a vast rural and island area, makes us who we are. There are no plans within our merger proposal and business case to close learning centres. Merger does however provide us with an opportunity to reconsider our estate - to look at where we need to invest and consider how we better use our estate for student and community benefit.
Q) How will this affect the ongoing UHI curriculum review?
Post-vesting it is our intention to conduct a review of our own curriculum, which will align with and reflect outputs of the wider UHI curriculum review.
Q) Why do we have to merge to work more collaboratively?
There’s lots of really good examples of colleagues collaborating across our three colleges but we don’t have a formal structure that supports this, meaning it can be difficult to sustain and often depends on the commitment of the individual involved. By becoming one single organisation, we will have a structure that supports collaboration to pursue (and win) and the opportunities we know exist. Additionally, hidden costs exist when sharing roles across the colleges, such as VAT payments.
Q) Are we being made to merge because of the financial challenges?
No, we’re not. This has been our decision. We want to ensure our financial sustainability in the years ahead and do more. By coming together, we continue to serve our local communities in the way we do now, but with combined capacity to grow and deliver the learning needs and ambitions of our communities and future workforce, particularly around the land and marine based sectors, net-zero, engineering and advanced manufacturing, and the space industry.