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) How can I get involved and have my say?
As part of the consultation, there's lots of different ways to get involved. Find out more here: https://www.rural-islands-merger.uhi.ac.uk/consultation-events/
Q) What will the new college be called?
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. We hope to be able to formally consult on name(s) shortly.
Q) How will merger impact on shared services individual colleges may have with other UHI partners?
These will remain in place for now. Shared serviced with other UHI partners will be reviewed as part of the implementation planning.
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 replace existing college boards and 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 is ongoing currently 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) UHI Outer Hebrides staff working in the Western Isles currently receive the Distant Islands Allowance. Will this continue?
Staff terms and conditions are protected via TUPE regulations and all current terms and conditions will transfer with staff into the merged college on vesting date. This will include the Distant Islands Allowance.
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
Q) What about staff wellbeing during change?
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. We urge staff to share any concerns with their line managers or anonymously via our consultation survey so we can ensure we address these.
Q) Are UHI supportive of merger?
Yes, UHI are very supportive of the merger project.
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 status quo of remaining as three individual colleges is not financially sustainable in the long term. Two of the colleges are operating at a deficit this financial year. 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 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 and individuals needs 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. All staff will be supported in every step of the process.
Q) How will this impact staff’ terms and conditions?
TUPE protects the terms and conditions of all current staff transferring into the new merged college. In addition, we are working proactively with trade union colleagues to ensure terms and conditions are not only protected, but enhanced. The new college will have incorporated status, which ensures access to public sector terms and conditions, as well as pension continuity. We are also committed to national pay bargaining, implementing job evaluation for the college sector as the process develops and fair working practices.
Q) Will length of service be transferred over?
Staff terms and conditions are protected via TUPE regulations and all current terms and conditions will transfer with staff into the merged college on vesting date. This will include length of service.
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) Have the risks of merging been identified?
The merger proposal and business case (executive summary) outline the risks and challenges facing all three colleges and the impact if we remain as individual colleges or merge. In addition, section 1.4 highlights the challenges of merger, particularly in relation to our geographic spread, distinct cultures and the demands on staff during the merger process. The updated financial plan will include projections for the three partners should merger not go ahead.
Q) Is the voluntary severance scheme mentioned in the business case linked to the voluntary severance scheme at UHI Outer Hebrides?
No, the recent voluntary severance scheme at Outer Hebrides was focused on savings that were required in the immediate future for the college, it is in no way related to merger. Any new voluntary severance scheme post 1 August 2023 will be separate and offered across the three merger partners.
Q) Are the staff involved in the working groups going to be part of any new structure in the new organisation?
The working groups are a fundamental part of our exploration of how merger could strengthen our delivery. As such they have been formed collectively by our three college principals to ensure a wide spread of expertise and experience and are drawn from staff across all three colleges. Whilst they will play a major role in shaping the future of the organisation, they are in no way indicative of any future structure or reporting lines.
Q) Will any of the existing college estate be closed?
The merger will provide opportunities to reconsider our estate – invest where we need to and where there is benefit – help us re-engage with our communities. It will also allow us to put proper infrastructure behind our research output, to help grow it, attract funding, as above, linked to our natural capital and skills and specialisms that exist within our staff base. Providing even greater equity of opportunities for those who live in remote, rural and island communities in which we are rooted is also a fundamental aim of the project and we will ensure those considerations key in our decision making.
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.