RESPECTED Scottish writer and historian Professor James Hunter is calling for an internationally renowned college on the Isle of Skye to become Scotland’s first Gaelic University.

The move, which would require the backing of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (SFC), would give Sabhal Mòr Ostaig its own university degree-awarding powers for the first time.

It comes as ministers warned of a crisis in a bid to keep Gaelic alive because of a dramatic shortage of teachers.

Based in the Sleat peninsula, in the south of Skye, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture, is currently a currently a college delivering both Further and Higher Education, and an independent academic partner of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).

With the unique distinction of having Scottish Gaelic as the sole language of instruction on its courses, the college is regarded as having played a crucial role in the linguistic and cultural renaissance of the Gaelic language in Scotland.

Prof Hunter, author of 14 books about the Highlands and Islands and the region’s world-wide diaspora and the first director of UHI’s Centre for History, will make his call when he delivers Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s annual lecture today.

He will tell the audience that, while the pursuit of university status would involve “no end of difficulty,” the college could follow in the footsteps of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, in Glasgow, which in 1993, became the first Higher Education establishment of its kind to be granted its own degree-awarding powers.

Video: A day in the life of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the national centre for Gaelic language and culture in Skye.

Prof Hunter said: “Already there’s a precedent for such recognition in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which is firmly inside the Scottish higher education sector, but with its own cash allocation and its own degree-awarding powers in areas like music, film, dance, drama and arts production.

“In the sphere of Gaelic language – Gaelic culture, history, heritage in the widest sense - Sabhal Mòr Ostaig occupies a role analogous to that of the Conservatoire and surely merits the same treatment.

“Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, to speak plainly, needs to be seen, needs to be funded, as Scotland’s first Gaelic University.”

Founded in 1973 in the old farm steadings at Ostaig, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig promotes the revitalisation of the Gaelic language and culture through education, research, training and economic opportunities.

The college enjoys an international reputation for the study of the history and literature of the Gàidhealtachd, past and present; for research into political, educational, and community aspects of minority language maintenance and revitalisation; and for its engagement with Gaelic creative arts, as well as with broadcast and online media.

Research capacity is underpinned by the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Library with its internationally important collections of material related to Gaelic and to the Highlands.

Today, the public higher education college situated in the Sleat peninsula in the south of the Isle of Skye is the biggest employer of Scottish Gaelic speakers in the world.

It comes as concerns were raised that over the next five years, Scotland will need 420 primary Gaelic teachers and 229 in secondaries just to meet the needs of existing or planned provision.

There needs to be a minimum of 135 new primary teachers and 90 in secondary coming onstream.

But the numbers graduating from universities this year alone to potentially teach Gaelic amount to just four in secondary and 21 in primary. And there are no guarantees they will even become teachers.

It has led to serious concerns that this will hit the bid to prevent Gaelic from dying.

The Scottish Government has made a commitment to ensure the long-term growth of Gaelic and Scots, the Middle English-derived language which was more popular in the lowlands of Scotland.

The 2011 census indicated that 57,375 people spoke Gaelic and 87,100 said they had some Gaelic skills and over 1.5 million people identified themselves as Scots speakers.

Prof Hunter added: “I hope that Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, this transformative institution, continues to amaze, with a larger student body, bigger staff, a growing campus and a new status.

“That status will, I trust, maintain some linkage to the University of the Highlands and Islands, but embody recognition of the remit and the purposes that makes Sabhal Mòr Ostaig so distinctive.”