University of the Highland & Islands Publishes Ambitious Islands Strategy

  • Increasing island-based research activity
  • enhancing strategies for attracting and retaining talent
  • continuing to support the culture, languages and heritage of the islands
  • further engagement with industry to continue to build a skilled workforce 

These are just some of the main commitments the University of the Highlands and Islands have published in their Islands Strategy 2020.

Download: UHI Islands Strategy 2020

The document sets out the university’s plans to enhance its activity across Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

Orkney College

UHI Orkney College Campus

UHI aims to support the recently announced Islands Growth Deal, the National Islands Plan and the Islands Act with the strategy which lays out not just its commitment to the area but how it will collaborate with partners to do so.

Professor Crichton Lang, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands, said:

“This is an exciting time for Scotland’s islands, with the development of several national initiatives to strengthen island communities. However, issues such as climate change, population decline and COVID-19 also present many challenges.

“As the only university with a physical base within each of Scotland’s main island groupings, the University of the Highlands and Islands has an important contribution to make to the sustainable development of our islands.

“Our new plan sets out how we will work with others and use our strengths in further education, higher education and research to have a beneficial impact across the islands and in the communities which are home to our staff and students.”

The key themes in the document are:

  • Skills, workforce development, entrepreneurial support and talent attraction
  • Producing a short course pan-islands prospectus offering provision in culture, heritage, archaeology and creative industries
  • Profiling postgraduate online provision in culture, heritage, archaeology, marine sciences and creative industries
  • Strengthening research activity in the islands
  • Increasing pan-islands academic activity associated with University of the Highlands and Islands institutes, centres and departments
  • Supporting our islands’ languages, including Gaelic language, island dialects and Nordic cultures
  • Attracting new activity and people to the islands and to be based in the islands

Paul WheelhousePaul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands in the Scottish Government , said:

“The University of the Highlands and Islands has a key role to play in supporting our island communities to thrive and I welcome the publication of its first ever Islands Strategy.

“Its initial focus is on the three Islands Council areas and has the potential to make a significant contribution to the future sustainable growth of islands, particularly to provide opportunities for people to pursue skills and qualifications and to maintain and create quality jobs.

“It is more important than ever that we support communities across all of Scotland’s inhabited islands. The Scottish Government established the first National Islands Plan last year and we are pleased to see many of the key themes in the University’s Islands Strategy align with our own ambitions for the islands.

“We have also recently committed investment of up to £50 million as part of the Islands Growth Deal to help unlock investment and drive inclusive growth across Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides and deliver real benefits for individuals, businesses and communities.

“I look forward to working alongside the University of the Highlands and Islands to improve the quality of life for people currently living and who want to live on our islands.”

There are many routes to access  further learning opportunities and   UHI provides courses which enable learners , at whatever stage they are at, to do this.

The university is the only institution in Scotland to deliver the family of Foundation, Modern and Graduate apprenticeships, ensuring that learners can benefit from work-based learning from the senior phase of school through to honours degree. Islands Strategy 2020

Professor Edward Abbott-Halpin, Principal of Orkney College UHI, said:

“I welcome the launch of the islands forum and the opportunities that it provides for working in partnership locally in Orkney with key stakeholders and across the islands with our colleagues from partner colleges, which will allow us to maximise our response to the economic, social, and cultural needs of our communities.”

UHI has key strengths in several areas of study, notably in northern studies, heritage, archaeology, marine planning, marine industries and creative industries.   It intends to build a series of short courses around these which it hopes will attract ‘educational tourists’ to the islands.

There are particular opportunities in Orkney to build on emerging new Arctic and northern trade and cultural opportunities Islands Strategy 2020

The university works across the 3 islands authorities and the Highlands collaborating within its own institutions and departments but it has also built up effective partnerships. Collaboration is key and has enabled  working with partners and links beyond Scotland.

Sue Macfarlane, Interim Principal of Lews Castle College UHI, commented:

“This important strategy outlines a number of exciting opportunities for working collectively to strengthen our communities and business across all our Islands.

“Lews Castle College UHI looks forward to playing a key role in this collaboration, working even more closely with our partner colleges and our partners and stakeholders across the Western Isles and beyond.”

Attracting funding, as in all institutions, will underpin the research which UHI will engage in. The Islands Strategy lists the areas of growth which it aims to deliver and the positive implications for this on creating and retaining sustainable communities.

  • Growth of student numbers, across further and higher education, especially emphasising work-based learning
  • Growth of research and knowledge exchange income
  • Growth of student numbers directly attached to public sector employment in each local authority areas
  • Increase in the qualification level in the islands’ populations

Professor Jane Lewis, Principal of Shetland College UHI, added:

“As we work to create a new college for Shetland we are pleased to welcome the university’s islands strategy which provides an excellent framework to assist us in working effectively together with other partner colleges across our Islands.

“In these challenging times, this will be particularly important to allow us to deliver maximum benefit for the recovery and renewal of the economic, social and cultural prosperity of Shetland.”

To view the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Islands Strategy, visit


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