SCOTLAND'S youngest university is being run in an "unduly inefficient and ineffective" way, according to a consultants' report which has raised fears of job losses at the institution.

The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), a partnership of 13 colleges and 13 research centres, was given university status last year after a 20-year campaign.

However, a report by Capita Consulting, commissioned by UHI, said the bodies that make up the university distrust its hierarchy and fear the long-term aim is the creation of a University of Inverness.

The report says some independent stakeholders argue that a single tertiary institution would lead to "gains in efficiency and effectiveness". But it adds: "It is feared local delivery [of courses] will be compromised and that jobs in partners [colleges] will be put at risk through centralisation in Inverness. Underlying some of the concern is a distrust of the university hierarchy and, in particular, that the formation of an institution encompassing currently independent partners will inevitably lead to the growth of a University of Inverness – not of the Highlands and Islands.

"A single institution is not what the partners signed up for and is contrary to the founding principles of the university."

The report criticises the lack of a shared vision in the UHI, saying: "If the academic partners do not radically change the basis of their working relationships between themselves and within the UHI, not only the future of the university but many of the partners themselves may be jeopardised."

David Belsey, national official with the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the report was no surprise. He claimed members at the UHI were poorly paid com-pared to staff at other universities and felt ignored by decision- making processes. He added: "The EIS has had long-standing concerns regarding the nature of UHI-wide governance structures, and the consequences this has had on staff engagement, morale and development. The EIS sup-ported the formation of the university, but its members are becoming disillusioned by, and excluded from, the UHI-wide struc- ture. This has led to staff feeling isolated within their colleges."

The most recent campaign to establish a Highland university began more than 20 years ago and the embryonic UHI was designated as a higher education institution in April 2001. The cam- paigners' vision was not to repeat the unsuccessful 1960s bid for an Inverness University, but to win a university for the whole of the Highlands and Islands with a real presence in the different parts of the region, and not just the city.

The report, however, says that establishing a single tertiary institution has its attractions. It adds: "This is the perspective of many independent stakeholders and commentators who are anxious for the UHI to develop into a more effective, efficient and responsive institution."

The report proposes a major transformation programme to "put in place the many building blocks necessary to the university's future success". A UHI spokes- woman said the "building blocks" approach had been accepted by the University Court as the basis for change. She added: "This is now being taken forward by the university in the context of the wider changes to further and higher education in Scotland."

Since 2005, Highlands and Islands Enterprise has invested £43 million in UHI, its partner colleges and the research institutes which form UHI. This funding has enabled research, curriculum and infrastructure projects in communities across the Highlands and Islands.