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Positive spin on the UHI

BAD news sells more papers, we know, but give us a break. The front page item (TESS, June 16) on the University of the Highlands and Islands project was a masterpiece of negative spin. To read it one would never suspect that:

the UHI project colleges now offer dozens of higher education courses, including many innovative degrees

hundreds of staff teach, assess, design and produce materials for these courses

thousands of students have enrolled on these courses

large numbers of staff are involved in an ambitious programme of staff development

ICT facilities for learning across this vast territory are now excellent - the UHI project is believed to be the largest academic user of video-conferencing technology in the UK

in 1998 the UHI project was accredited to teach degrees following a rigorous audit by the Open University validation service

in 1999 there was an even tougher evaluation by the Quality Assurance Agency, as a result of which it is believed that UHIP was recommended for designation (the report hasn't been published yet, but if you've really got a samizdat copy, you'll be able to check. The usual tenner awaits if we're wrong).

These achievements have taken years of hard work. They represent real gains for everyone concerned about developing beter access to higher education opportunities across this huge area of Scotland.

Those of us who have been involved in this exciting project for some time may be forgiven for seeing as half-full the glass others see as half-empty.

Not as interesting as the fights behind the bike shed, granted, but these are the things the project is really about.

Of course the UHI has had and still has its problems - did anyone seriously imagine it was going to be easy to get ready agreement and smooth co-operation between 14 institutions, each with its own head and its own community? Most of us share Sir Graham Hills's enthusiasm and believe in his grand vision for the UHI, while taking a pragmatic line on how to get to it in the shortest possible time.

We're not sure exactly who your "leading insider" is leading, by the way. Perhaps he or she has misled you? Please continue to write about this wonderful and exasperating project, but cast your net a little more widely in the future.

Mike Webster

Principal, Perth College

David Green

Principal, Lews Castle College

Gordon Dargie

Principal, Shetland College

Norman Gillies

Principal, Sabhal Mor Ostaig

Graham Shimmield

Director, Scottish Association for Marine Science

Dunstaffnage

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