Motion: UHI Appointment of Gaelic Research Professor Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin

Motion Number: S4M-09537
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 28/03/2014

Title: UHI Appointment of Gaelic Research Professor Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the appointment of Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin as Gaelic Research Professor at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and director of Soillse, the national research network for the maintenance and revitalisation of Gaelic language and culture, which is effective from April 2014; understands that Dr Ó Giollagáin has an international reputation in language planning and minority language culture and sociology; further understands that, as director of Soillse, Dr Ó Giollagáin will lead a team of four research fellows, one lecturer and 10 PhD students in their research; notes that his research will cover the intergenerational transmission of Gaelic practice and policy in Gaelic medium education and the assessment of government policies on the revitalisation of the language; considers this appointment to demonstrate the commitment of UHI to Gaelic language and culture and the growing reputation of UHI as a centre of academic excellence; further considers the work of academics, the Scottish Government and other partners in supporting Gaelic language and culture to be of paramount importance to the Highlands and Islands and to Scotland, and looks forward to working with Dr Ó Giollagáin and others in support of the Gaelic language and culture.

BLOG: Position on College Funding

There’s been a lot of press coverage recently for NUS Scotland’s “Fund Scotland’s Future” campaign on the issue of college funding. As an organisation, the NUS does a lot of excellent advocacy for students the length and breadth of the country, attempting to secure the best possible deal for our young people. Their steadfast advocacy for an education system free of up-front or back-end fees was just one campaign I was privileged enough to support and to continue to support. However, I’m afraid that I cannot support their most recent campaign around college funding, and I wanted to state my reasons for this publicly.

Scotland’s budget is under extreme pressure. As well as the overall budget for Scotland being shrunk by more than 11 per cent between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the UK Government is cutting its own Further Education budget by £1.1bn over the same period, which affects the Barnett consequentials for Scotland.

In the face of these unavoidable cuts, the Scottish Government is doing what it can to invest in, and help, Scotland’s further education sector. The extra £11.4m allocated to student support in last year’s budget, as well as the Scottish Government funding for over 116,000 full time equivalent (FTE) students in 2013/14, will help colleges preserve wide access at a time of significant challenge.

In particular, due to my experiences as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands board, I strongly support the reforms being made in college regionalisation. The process of regionalisation will help to target resources where they are most needed, breaking down institutional silos and improving the learning experience for students. While support for this process is not universal in the sector, it has been welcomed by many principals and will undoubtedly lead to long-term benefits for students and colleges alike.

Although it is disappointing that more money cannot be found for colleges at this time, I fully believe that the money that has been invested in future years will help to shield the further education sector from the cuts being imposed by UK Government decisions. I’m also wary that, due to the restraints on the Scottish Parliament’s financial powers and the severe cuts being made to its budget, extra money for further education would result in cuts elsewhere, reflecting the incredibly difficult decisions that must be made by the Scottish Government in maximising the impact of the money available within these constraints. Reversing a £34.6 million cut in colleges would just mean £34.6 million worth of cuts elsewhere, a Sophie’s Choice that none of the other parties have proposed a solution to. All that we can do with the current powers available to Scotland are re-arrange the deckchairs on the Coalition’s Titanic.

Having said all of that, I’m still very open to meeting with students and student leaders from across the sector to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing our young people. It’s vital that the energy and engagement these issues develop in our young people is harnessed and encouraged, and that no citizen is ever made to feel disconnected or discouraged from taking part in the political process.

Media Coverage: Shetland News Article, July 18th

Centralisation fears unfounded

Wednesday, 18 July 2012 | Written by Iwan McBride |

ISLANDERS have nothing to fear from the Scottish government’s plans to centralise colleges, police and fire services, according to SNP MSP Jean Urquhart.

The highlands and islands list MSP said claims that control over Shetland College would be taken away from the local community were groundless, and the government’s aim was to make better use of resources.

Referring to the reform of police and fire services in Scotland, she added that both would become more democratic under the new set up, having to report to local councils.

Earlier this month it emerged that the local authority run Shetland College could become part of “multi-college region” governed by a regional board answerable to the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).

A government civil servant has since assured islanders that Shetland College would not be affected by the proposals, but islanders, including Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, remain “utterly sceptical”.

While on a visit to Shetland this week, Mrs Urquhart tried to squash these fears.

“Shetland College, unlike other colleges in the highlands and islands area, is linked with the local authority. Other colleges elsewhere have independent boards, they don’t have any obligation to have councillors on their boards.

“All and each of these colleges have a particular set of circumstances, and that’s what the minister is looking at. The fear of some heavy hand coming from somewhere else, I think, certainly is as yet unfounded,” Mrs Urquhart said.

“Everything that is done should be to the benefit of colleges, not against their ambition and the courses they deliver locally.

“Whatever discussion that takes place should be about what’s best for the college, and how it is run now.

“All these colleges are part of the UHI network, they want to deliver higher as well as further education, and they all want to get involved in research, and there are benefits for Shetland as being part of UHI.”

Press Release: Jean Urquhart Welcomes Continued Investment in UHI (June 27th)

Jean Urquhart MSP has described the announcement by Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney of £100 million of nationwide capital investment, which includes significant funding for the Highlands and Islands, as a demonstration of the Scottish Government’s economic competency.

Ms Urquhart, one of three region-wide SNP MSPs and a former member of the board of the University of the Highlands and Islands, particularly welcomed the confirmation of a £6 million investment in its Inverness campus.

Commenting, Ms Urquhart said:

“As a Member of the Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee and a supporter of the establishment of the University of the Highlands and Islands, I was certainly pleased at the £6 million boost to the Inverness campus, as well as the £1.5 million infrastructure funding for West Highland College in Fort William.

“This funding has demonstrated the commitment of the Scottish Government to institutions both old and new, and at a time of economic difficulty is very welcome.

“Despite Westminster’s cuts continuing to harm communities across the Highlands and Islands, the Cabinet Secretary’s sound management of Scotland’s budget has created the conditions for additional investment where it is most needed.

 “This programme of investment further shows that Scotland will only function at its best when it has all the economic levers for investment under its own control.”

Press Release: Jean Urquhart Welcomes New UHI Course (June 26th)

ean Urquhart MSP welcomed the announcement of a new postgraduate course offered by the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The MLitt in Highlands and Islands Culture, which can also be studied as a PgCert or PgDip, is thought to be the first of its kind. Complementing a course already offered in Highlands and Islands Literature, the course will examine various aspects of Highland life, including its customs, history, literature, music and geography.

The delivery of the course through video conference seminars and online distance learning has also marked out the course as a unique opportunity to learn more about the Highlands and Islands.

Ms Urquhart, a Highlands and Islands list MSP, commented:

“As a local MSP, former councillor and member of the Education & Culture Committee, watching UHI go from strength to strength and helping to bring vibrancy to the region has been a particular pleasure.

“As part of their development, I am therefore delighted to see the UHI offer such an innovative and flexible course pertaining to the local area.

 “As the course is offered on both a full time and part time basis, as well as being accessible in a distance learning format, it will enable as many people as possible to explore our past and present, maximising the appreciation of our rich and vibrant local culture.

“I welcome the extra attention this course has brought our part of the world, and look forward to people across the globe learning more about the journey the Highlands and Islands has taken and continues to take.”