It's a question of are you being served?

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
If anybody is likely to notice the impact of the University of the Highlands and Islands project, it should be the 20,000 people served by Lochaber College.

The newest member to the UHI was admitted as an associate institute in August 1999, the 14th partner in the enterprise which covers an area 400 miles north to south and 200 miles east to west.

The college runs courses directly and also acts as a broker for training and learning opportunities offered by others. It has spawned community campuses in Mallaig, Kinlochleven and Ardnamurchan and its Fort William headquarters houses community education staff, Age Concern, the education business partnership and the local centre for "tourism excellence." There are 45 students on six courses.

The main building is also home to the Lochaber campus of Inverness College where there have been turf wars between the two. Sceptics doubt there is room for both and the issue of who is to be custodian of lifelong learning in the area is believed to have landed on Peter Peacock's desk when he was deputy Education Minister.

The local consensus appears to be that neither institution has yet made a significant impact on the post-school scene. One observer suggests they need "to provide a greater range of courses for youngsters who leave school and don't want to leave Lochaber."

Lochaber College's mission is to hel individuals, businesses and communities "grow", but youngsters wanting to learn a trade still have to go to college in Inverness.

Dan Macleod, the UHI dean of the faculty of arts, culture and heritage, has also been appointed as the new general manager of Lochaber College. He has promised "to make sure that what we offer in the college is relevant, progressive and enhances the quality of life and employment prospects of the maximum number of people in the area."

Graham Clark, the principal of Inverness College, says the disputes "are all behind us now." He added: "We can only operate financially if we have a reasonable curriculum to offer."

Agreement has been reached that Inverness will offer courses in computing, IT, business studies, hospitality and caring on the further education side. In higher education, the college will concentrate on the social sciences, business studies and outdoor pursuits.

Dr Clark said: "This gives us a good curriculum core, allowing us to put staff down there on a permanent basis." There is a core staff of four full-timers which he envisages will double within a few years, backed by peripatetic staff from Inverness.

"If we can't crack further education in Fort William, the second town in the Highlands, it doesn't augur well for making provision in smaller towns or remoter centres," Dr Clark commented.

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