THE DIFFICULTIES of sustaining a student community when your students are spread over half of Scotland and based on 15 different campuses was highlighted at the recent UHI Millennium Institute annual lecture.
Among the exhibition and displays provided by staff and students at the event was one hosted by the University of the Highlands and Islands Student Association, which has the unenviable task of pulling together students from vastly different backgrounds and parts of the country to form a coherent student body.
"If other institutions have more than one campus, they'll be big campuses, so they'll have two or three large groups of students who all signed up for a normal university experience, who are all roughly the same age and relatively commitment-free in terms of their personal lives, which is quite different from what we have got," says Amy Allan, the UHISA president, based at Orkney College.
At the UHI Millennium Institute most of the students are part-time, older than 30 and do not study in the conventional sense. Many students at UHI will never have seen their classmates, with lectures frequently delivered via video- conferencing or through virtual learning environments.
However, given students are already used to modern methods of communication, Amy feels that is the key to getting them engaged. "Basically, we have to tap into a lot of the technology that the lecturers and the programme leaders are already using," she says.
Amy would like to introduce a discussion forum on the student association website, and see the clubs and societies that form in different colleges using technology to link up.
Face-to-face meetings have been known to take place, however. Cultural exchanges between students on Orkney and Shetland have been organised by the association to give students a sense of being part of something bigger. And in November, there is a battle of the bands event for the four colleges offering music. In the future, the association hopes to set up a student council.