Jobs and courses are at risk at UHI Perth, Moray and Shetland, with the entire University of the Highlands and Islands system coming under scrutiny.

Staff at the three UHI campuses have already been notified of ongoing financial reviews that are putting lecturers, support staff and possibly courses at risk.

UHI Perth began a consultation last May, when they estimated 50 jobs could be cut to save £3 million. 

Management at UHI Perth said that no specific proposals have been put to unions yet, but lecturers told The Herald that they are concerned that the review is not putting student and staff needs first.

This comes after UHI Moray announced that as many as 45 teaching and support staff positions are on the line as the institution looks to cut costs quickly.

UHI Inverness denied rumours that it is planning similar cuts and said that the Inverness campus is in a strong financial situation.

‘No collaboration, no thought of student choice’

Speaking out against the plans, a group of lecturers called UHI’s administrative system into question.

They claim that individual campuses are paying the price for UHI’s “massively top-heavy structure”, which employs principals and senior management teams at all 11 of its partner organisations.

“This is massive duplication. It is ridiculous for one university and is clearly unsustainable.”

They also said that the individual reviews and potential cuts at each campus are not part of a coordinated strategy.

Read more: Colleges in Scotland face strikes after union vote

Rather than considering what course options are available, and how each community will be impacted, lecturers worry that decisions are being made strictly based on profitability.

“UHI Perth are undertaking their review independently from UHI and all the other partner colleges.

“There is no joined-up thinking, no collaboration, no thought of student choice, and no consideration of the wider economy.

“If courses are making a loss at a local level, they will be cut, and lecturers will be targeted for redundancy.”

Government eying the situation

Lecturers hope the Scottish Government can bring stability and sustainability to the UHI system.

“What we need is the Scottish government, or an independent unbiased body to step in to conduct a review of the UHI and all the partner colleges.

“The duplication of management and services across all the partner colleges is a massive drain on resources and if this is not addressed will lead to the reckless cutting of courses at all the colleges.”

The situation at UHI is already on the government’s radar, and significant changes might be in the works.  

Read more: Four Scottish colleges are facing 'significant cashflow issues'

The Scottish Government’s minister for higher and further education Graeme Dey recently told the Scottish Parliament’s Education, Children and Young People Committee about an ongoing restructure for UHI.

“The UHI is doing a substantial piece of work internally to consider what that would look like.

“That piece of work recognises that, even within the UHI, the cost base of delivering in some localities—for example, in island settings—will be higher than in others.”

He called for more collaboration between individual campuses, “in recognition of the fact that they might not be able to deliver every discipline in every specific locality”.

Still, he warned that no campus will be able to continue if it is not financially stable.

Reviews part of ‘significant’ challenges to colleges

Vicki Nairn, UHI Interim Principal and Vice-Chancellor, said that the system is not immune to the significant financial challenges that other colleges and universities are facing.

“In real terms, these challenging economic factors have meant a significant reduction in our funding and like many publicly funded organisations we are now reshaping our workforce to meet the challenges of the current economic climate.”

A spokesperson for UHI Perth said that it is “examining all options” available to strike a balanced budget.

Read more: Glasgow Advanced Higher Hub to close amid government and council cuts

They added that UHI Perth has not yet identified any specific courses or jobs targeted for savings.

“UHI is a partnership of individual academic institutions, individually responsible for their own finances, who contribute to the running costs of the university.”

“We have kept our staff informed of the college’s financial position, however at this point we have no proposals on the table for consultation with our trade unions.

“We await the output from our workstreams to see if we can achieve our savings target, at which point we will bring forward proposals for consultation.”

No concerns at UHI Inverness

UHI Inverness’s Principal and Chief Executive Professor Chris O’Neil denied claims that his campus would soon be facing a similar review.

“We have no plans to make changes to our staffing numbers because we are a strong and financially stable institution.

“As part of the UHI partnership, UHI Inverness is recognised nationally as a high-performing institution and as a result has strong links with employers and communities across the Highlands. Our student numbers are strong, our apprenticeship numbers are growing, and our research is linked to the needs of the Highlands.

“Our focus is to continually refresh our curriculum to keep it relevant, attractive and exciting. To do this we are dependent on our skilled and talented staff, and we have no plans to make changes to our staff numbers.”

In response to the calls from lecturers to intervene, a Scottish Government spokesperson said that it is up to individual colleges and universities to determine staffing and course provision.

“While this is the most challenging budget to be delivered under devolution, the 24-25 Budget still allocates nearly £2 billion to universities and colleges – supporting their delivery of high quality education, training and research.

“Operational decisions on staffing matters and course provision are the responsibility of individual colleges and universities.

"The Minister for Higher and Further Education has made clear his expectation that the principles of Fair Work should be central to all decisions on staffing, and that every effort should be made to protect jobs.”