It is now two and a half months since senior management at UHI Shetland announced to all staff, that due to budgetary shortfalls, they plan to axe nearly one third of all lecturing jobs.

This announcement has been utterly devastating for staff, many of whom have dedicated a large proportion of their working lives to ensuring there is a rich diversity of learning and opportunities for our communities, employers and the population of Shetland and beyond.

The academic section to bear the biggest brunt is Community Learning and Business with management intent on deleting this section entirely, and in the process, cutting over 9 FTE posts from this area. Culture and Creative Industries is the other section to bear the brunt of lecturer cuts and the rationale given for this is that these areas do not ‘financially contribute’ to the College in the same way that other sections do. Community Learning and Business offers courses to students with additional support needs in the form of Lifeskills and Access to Core Skills classes.

The section also provides courses in Core Skills, employability, ESOL, Access to Education, Hospitality, Professional Cookery, Business and Accounting, supporting emotionally, psychologically, physically and financially vulnerable students. Culture and Creative Industries offers courses in Art & Design, Fine Art, Textiles, Music and Film-making.

The local EIS-FELA branch has been leading the campaign to oppose these cuts, which are purely and solely based on financial figures that have been challenged, with no consideration given to the educational, social and community benefits of courses that will be cut – these negative impacts will be particularly acute in a rural island community, such as Shetland.

The campaign has clearly highlighted the importance of the college to Shetland and it has been really heartening to see how involved the students have been in supporting staff. This was clearly evident at the joint student and lecturers’ demonstration opposing the cuts to jobs and courses, which was held outside the college on the 13th December – the same day as the UHI Shetland Board of Directors AGM.

There is a social media campaign with #collegecutskillcommunities being used as the campaign slogan. Template letters were written for staff, students and others to use for sending to their local councillors and MSPs – the Further and Higher Education Minister Graeme Dey has replied to many letters over the past couple of months. Two local MSPs have been very supportive, raising concerns in parliament and directly to the Further and Higher Education Minister.

An online petition was launched in the middle of November and to date has secured approaching 3,000 signatures. The petition asks for engagement with the Scottish Funding Council and the Minister for Further and Higher Education, about additional funding for UHI Shetland.

The EIS Area Officer wrote to all UHI Shetland Board members, local councillors and the local council’s education committee representatives to invite them to a joint briefing organised by the EIS and EIS FELA members across Shetland. The briefing highlighted concerns and aspirations for the future of education in Shetland, and provided information and testimonies from EIS and EIS-FELA members on why proper investment in education is crucial for Shetland and how it will enable UHI Shetland and the local council to meet many of their charitable and strategic objectives. The EIS teacher members presented results from a local survey relating to additional support needs in schools, and the need for further resources for this area to ensure long-term benefits for Shetland.

the diverse range of inclusive and accessible courses we offer, is crucial to the local community

One of the most successful, and visual, campaign events was a stall at the local shopping centre in Lerwick just before Christmas. It provided the opportunity to have many thought provoking and supportive discussions with ex-students, teachers, local councillors, board members and general members of the public – we also obtained well over 200 signatures for the petition – this support galvanised members and clearly showed how important the college is to Shetland, and why the diverse range of inclusive and accessible courses we offer, is crucial to the local community.

Finally, it is worth highlighting that one of the most encouraging aspects of the campaign has been the huge amount of support from both current and ex-students, with many of them taking the time to produce testimonies and details of how they have benefited from courses attended – and lecturer support – over a long number of years. It is clear that the social and emotional benefits to students are as important as the educational benefit they receive.

We are now into 2024 and the campaign will continue with further events planned, including the presentation of the petition to the SFC and the Minister for Further and Higher Education. Fighting for the future of accessible and inclusive further education in Shetland, and across Scotland, will continue – we need the Scottish Government to recognise the benefits it provides to communities and employers, particularly in more fragile rural island communities and provide additional funding for the sector – before it’s too late.