Fine art students at UHI Moray School of Art worry that their degrees are in jeopardy following an announcement that their courses will be “paused” next year.

Last week, UHI Moray School of Art confirmed that it was working on a “financial recovery plan” that involves “adjustments to art provision”.

The Herald can now reveal that Fine Art students at the school have been told that all four years of their programme could be “paused” next year.

In a letter sent to students in the BA (Hons) Fine Art programme, UHI Moray leadership described UHI Moray’s curriculum and staffing review for the 2024/25 academic year.

“The original proposal detailed in our draft financial recovery plan was to pause year one student recruitment for the BA (Hons) Fine Art for the next academic year 2024-25 starting in September 2024.

“Following a financial sustainability review of the programme, we are now reviewing a proposal to pause all four years of the programme in academic year 2024-25 to allow us to work on a financially sustainable solution going forward.”

The college is carrying out a staff consultation and will consult with students as the next step.

Read more: Budget cuts threaten degrees at Moray School of Art

Students in the BA (Hons) Fine Art programme at UHI Moray have told The Herald that, despite talks of consultations with staff and students, they don’t know what this means for their degree.

Claire Gordon, 35, is a second-year BA (Hons) Fine Art student. She said that she and her family moved from Skye to Inverness when she enrolled at UHI Moray School of Art.

She said that all of the challenges that came with that move – a new mortgage, a new job for her husband and new surroundings for their two young children – were accepted with the understanding that she would earn a four-year degree.

"Although I could have studied a version of the degree remotely from Skye via the UHI North, Western and Hebrides, I chose to study out of Moray School of Art for the immersion of studying offered from such an institution, where studio-based practice is at its forefront.  

"MSoA is the only school of art I can attend whilst still being able to live within the Highland region.

"Not only is this having an impact on my ability to focus on my current studies but my whole family is in flux about what the future may hold, and where we may have to move to if I were to continue on a degree with comparative merit."

According to a group of concerned UHI lecturers, Ms Gordon's situation is not unique. Pausing courses – especially as part of a financial review – puts students' and lecturers’ futures at risk, they said.

“Some of the UHI degree courses are ‘top-up’ degrees, meaning students that complete a Higher National Diploma (HND) can then progress to the third year of a degree. 

“If these top-up degrees are paused students who are completing an HND will be unable to progress to the degree, despite being told that they would be able to.

“If the pause of courses is implemented for academic session 24-25, it is unknown what this will mean for students who have already been offered a place on a course, or for students who are already engaged in a course of study.

“The deadline for applying for college and university courses has now passed, so there is a risk that students who have been accepted onto a course will now have nowhere to study for the next academic session.”

The lecturers also worry that pausing courses will force students to move to other universities outside of the region and cause lasting damage to UHI’s reputation.

They said that making changes to courses after students have been offered a place at the college and the window to transfer or apply elsewhere has closed is “fundamentally unfair and unethical.”

“We understand that savings are required, but we believe that pausing courses – resulting in reduced student choice and the loss of front-line teaching staff – is not the way to achieve these savings.”

The Herald: UHI Perth is another of the UHI campuses where leaders are having to make difficult financial decisions.UHI Perth is another of the UHI campuses where leaders are having to make difficult financial decisions. (Image: UHI Perth)

Referencing ongoing financial reviews at UHI Perth, UHI Moray and other campuses, the lecturers questioned whether UHI should look to trim its administrative overhead rather than teaching jobs and courses.

Read more: UHI scrutiny puts jobs and courses at risk

“It is not surprising that the UHI requires to make savings, with the massive duplication of senior managers, middle managers, and services across the network.  

“We urge the Scottish Government to intervene and sort out the structure of the UHI before it is too late and managers at each partner college start pausing and cutting courses, resulting in reduced student choice, the loss of front-line lecturing staff, damage to the reputation of the UHI, and further population decline in the Highlands and Islands region.”

A spokesperson for UHI Moray said that students impacted by the consultation and decision to pause the Fine Art degree should contact the student services team for advice.

"There has been a proposal within the consultation to pause the Fine Arts degree programme and we are currently reviewing feedback on this and other plans which once reviewed will then form the basis of any decisions going forward.

"Any students affected by any decisions as a result of the consultation process will be individually and fully supported to find alternative provision."

A spokesperson for the UHI executive office said that senior leadership is aware of the financial review at UHI Moray. 

"We continue to work towards improving the experience for our students, who are at the heart of everything we do, and this involves working actively with UHI Moray and partners to identify and evaluate collaborative solutions that can maintain provision and even enhance student experience and access.

"We recognise the importance of arts provision to people across the regions we serve and the vital contribution to our shared culture, history, lives and communities.   

"The current economic climate is very challenging for all colleges and universities, and many publicly funded organisations are now responding to the significant reductions in funding and inflationary pressures which have become apparent in the last 12 months. "