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Column: UHI Moray principal asks 'Is there really no such thing as bad publicity?'

By David Patterson

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There’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Or so they say.

UHI Moray is set to drop art courses, taught at the Moray School of Art, from their curriculum...Picture: Daniel Forsyth..
UHI Moray is set to drop art courses, taught at the Moray School of Art, from their curriculum...Picture: Daniel Forsyth..

Not that it’s felt that way over the past few weeks with UHI Moray featuring in local, regional and national media.

We’ve had a volume of press coverage that you’d normally pay a fortune for, though not always with the kind of messaging we might have wished.

It’s been good though, to see how much people care about what’s going on here.

Much of the chatter has revolved around Moray School of Art and the Beechtree Restaurant, both highly visible and important parts of our contribution to community life here.

We mustn’t ignore though the myriad of other provision here that also engages and empowers our students to help them create a better future.

What we are facing here is not unique to Moray, nor even to the UHI regions.

The latest Scottish government budget heralds another year of real-terms funding cuts for colleges and universities across Scotland.

I can’t portray the quantum of staffing reductions we and others are having to make as a ‘good plan’ that we are happy to carry out.

What we are having to do is damaging both to our colleges and to our communities.

I do believe though that the principles behind our Moray plan offer the best way forward currently open to us.

We deliver more ‘college’ further education places than we are currently funded for, so we’re reducing programmes while still keeping each of our current vocational routes available in some form for our students and senior phase school pupils.

The demand for our ‘university’ higher education HN and degree programmes has declined significantly since Covid, though that decline has flattened out now.

We’re reducing our portfolio to focus on those programmes that are most in demand in Moray, and most able to attract new students into Moray.

These principles might be the best way forward, but the detail of the plan still needs to be shaped further by our staff, students and other stakeholders. We will continue to try to have those difficult but constructive conversations.

Food for thought: David Patterson, UHI Moray's principal.
Food for thought: David Patterson, UHI Moray's principal.

It’s exactly four years since I wrote my first monthly column for this paper.

We had just closed the college down because of Covid, and I wrote a piece on U2’s “Stuck in a moment…” song, writing that when you’re stuck in a moment, the trick is both to deal with the current moment, but also to plan for the future.

Our attention is focussed right now on the survival of our provision here.

Survival though, is not enough.

Our mission, our purpose, as both a college and a university, is transformation: in individual lives, and in our community here in Moray.

In this most difficult of moments, we also have to pay attention to the future. For us, a key part of that future is the Moray Growth Deal. We have been a key player in its development and must remain a key player at the heart of its delivery.

In the meantime, we’ll be finalising confirmation of next year’s curriculum very soon. Then it’ll be up to all our community to decide to use it, or to lose it.

n David Patterson is the principal of UHI Moray, based in Elgin, one of the partner colleges in the University of the Highlands and Islands.

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