Lews Castle College's part in the University of the Highlands and Islands will ensure young people will not have to leave the Western Isles to carry on their education. It will also provide second-chance learning, particularly for women with families, Brian Duffield, chief executive of the UHI, said at the end of a two-day visit this week.
Callum Iain Macmillan, a member of the senior management team at the college, said Lews Castle was the first in the UHI partnership to offer a degree course in rural development. A Pounds 10 million extension would not have been possible without the development of the UHI.
It was hoped to have a BSc in computer studies and a video conferencing network would be ready by the end of March.
Professor Duffield, who has been a regular visitor to Barra over the years, said the new institution would be a multi-campus university, linked by high technology.
He added: "I have been very impressed by the commitment, vision and foresight of the senior management at the Castle. The Western Isles Council and Western Isles Enterprise have supported this development. They have made substantial contributions and they are doing it out of vested self-interest because it will be of social and economic benefit for the community."
Professor Duffield hoped for a Gaelic-related degree some time in the future since it was accepted curriculum development should be rooted in the culture of the Highlands and Islands.
Mr Macmillan said there would be an FE base in the Uists in the next two years and a learning centre in Barra. Students would be able to complete all of their degree studies at the college, or part of them, an opportunity previously denied to them. The cost of attending universities and colleges on the mainland was rising all the time, he said.