All posts by University Communications Team

The University of the Highlands and Islands Communications team run a blog with guest contributors from staff and students.

Is Clearing for me?

Still considering your study options for September 2020? Clearing could be open to you…read on to find out more.

What is Clearing?

Clearing is a service where universities and colleges (like us) fill any places they still have on their courses for the next academic year.

From July 2020, you can apply for a course using Clearing if you’re not already holding an offer from a university or college, and the course still has places.

Do I need to use the Clearing system?

The Clearing system is your route to find a suitable course at university or college if:

  • you are not holding any offers from universities or colleges you have applied to
  • you didn’t meet the conditions of your offer
  • you are applying after 30 June. While Clearing is usually associated with school leavers looking for a place after exam results, from the end of June, it is the pathway into university for everyone including mature and late applicants.

Clearing is not necessary if you have used the UCAS application system to apply before the 30 June; have been made an active offer from a university or college and have met the conditions made in the offer and you wish to accept it. Remember to check the acceptance process to make sure that your place is secured.

Want more information? Speak to one of our dedicated Course Information Line team on 01463 279190 or message us.

UCAS also offer a Clearing advice line to candidates: 0371 368 0468 (UK callers) or +44 330 333 0230 (if you are calling from outside the UK).

How do I find out which courses have places available?

Whether you know exactly what you’d like to do or you’re still unsure, there is help available to support you to find the right course.

Do some research. Find courses that interest you.

You can:

  • use the UCAS search tool to find live vacancies
  • view our courses at the University of the Highland and Islands
  • talk to universities and colleges directly to find out if they have places and if they will make you an offer
  • find out about open days. Come and see us
  • ask for help and information about which of our courses are available and what qualifications are needed for entry. Contact our dedicated Course Information Line Team on 01463 279190 or send us a message
  • read more about Clearing on our ‘What is Clearing’ guide.

More info about us:

The University of the Highlands and Islands, the only university within our region with our partnership of colleges and research institutions, want to let you know WE’RE HERE FOR YOU and we are ready to help you find your own unique learner journey.

We continue to offer a full range of courses for school leavers right through to adult learners, whatever your entry point. You can start where you need to and pause or exit with a qualification when the time is right for you.

By putting you in control of your journey and enabling you to study from wherever you are, you can fit learning around other interests and commitments. Whether you can join us on campus, online or a combination of both, you won’t feel alone as our staff will support you every step of the way.

Our students are at the heart of all we do. Our blended learning approach has connected our student community here and across the world for over 20 years, and we can connect you to fellow students, lecturers, and support services through our:

  • video conferencing and online technologies
  • face-to-face teaching and support (when and where it is safe to do so)

Visit our website for more information.

Why mentoring and building relationships could be more important than ever?

By Alana MacLeod, Curriculum Development and Employer Engagement Officer
University of the Highlands and Islands

So…what is mentoring, and what are the benefits?

The term has ancient Greek origin! However, it has been adopted by the English language as the term for someone who imparts Alana MacLeodwisdom and shares knowledge to aid another’s development.  Finding ways to stay connected and supported is essential, especially in times like these when faced with uncertainty and change, from the way we study and the nature of employment, to the way we socialise and interact.

We all need champions, role models, and a supportive network to motivate us and to provide opportunities for further growth and development – these are valuable, positive, and powerful influences that can boost confidence, mental well-being and help prepare for future paths.

Why choose to join a business mentoring programme?

Iain Eisner, Careers Manager at the university, shares his view on what makes mentoring programmes so valuable to students.

From a career development perspective, one of the biggest benefits our students receive from mentoring is the sense of encouragement.  Often, we can find ourselves stuck and unsure how to move forward. This can often be a confidence issue.

Having a mentor can help to advise on options to remove barriers, providing personalised support, encouragement, advice and can offer a different perspective. All of this makes confident decision making a lot easier and less daunting.

The benefits gained can be wide-ranging for students (and business mentors) that take part in mentoring arrangements and programmes, including:

  • access to in-depth information on trends, developments, and visibility of current or emerging jobs in the sector you want to work in
  • advice on how to transition from university to the workplace and gain valuable CV and interview advice, hints, and tips
  • exploring how to find employment, gain work experience, or get a placement in your sector of interest
  • enhancing and developing transferrable skills, whilst building a professional network
  • increasing your confidence and self-esteem – giving you a real sense of personal development

mentoring picture 2

The first mentoring class of 2020

Despite the onset of Covid-19 challenges, students and business mentors completed this year’s three-month programme in April. Dr Iain Morrison, Dean of Students reflects on its success.

The group adapted remarkably and have emerged positively from the challenges that were presented by the introduction of lockdown half-way through the programme.

Our programme attracts employers and industry leaders from across the region from a range of very different organisations and sectors.  Everyone found it a beneficial experience, both as a mentee and a mentor, remarking on how much they had learned and that it had been a powerful development experience.

Most significantly, students had gained further developed personal confidence to recognise their skills, had structured opportunities for personal reflection and growth to become clearer about what they want from their post-degree careers, and imagine their future no matter what hurdles are presented.

What did the student mentees say?

“This experience has allowed me to see that careers are not always linear and that every experience is valuable and can add to your career. In addition, I have gained valuable guidance on how to apply my skills in the third sector, as well as obtaining key contacts within the industry.”  Natalie Dunbar, BA (Hons) Business Management with Marketing

“By being part of the programme, I now have more confidence and it made me feel comfortable and at ease in approaching people for advice.  Being able to talk to and learn from an expert in the events industry was really valuable, as I know I am being guided in the right direction, by a person who already works in the sector I want to be in.” Kelly Muffet, BA (Hons) Event Management

“Listening to my mentor discussing his career path and how he got to where he is, was hugely impactful. I also gained new knowledge and specific information about the third sector, including practical signposts and resources on how to find employment opportunities.” BA (Hons) Business Management student

Buisness mentoring programme 3

Why employers are helping to shape their skills pipeline?

Student are the workforce of the future. Our business mentors are passionate and actively get involved in the programme, giving their mentees an opportunity to openly discuss career aspirations, employability prospects and opportunities, and developments or trends in their areas of interest.

Mentors can often help you to re-imagine the roles and opportunities awaiting and help to identify work experience or employment opportunities.  They can give you insights into their career path and experiences – how they got to where they are today and how to navigate through unexpected challenges.

One of this year’s mentors, David Bryan Hub Manager for the Highlands and Islands Social Enterprise Academy is one of the many businesses that recognise the importance of mentoring.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to provide some mentoring support to the university’s students over the last few months. I have been in this sector for a few decades now, but not that long that I can’t remember how utterly ‘stuck’ I was on completing university.

“How to get that first job? Where to be looking? Who to be speaking to? What to expect?  Nothing like this was around 30 years ago. I hope I was able to share my own learning, as well as my commitment to a sector that is capable of changing the world.

How can I apply for a place on the University of the Highlands and Islands business mentoring programme?

Our students are at the heart of what we do. This means making sure that they have the tools and support needed to complete their qualifications and helping them to make plans to start, or continue, their education in the autumn, when we start the next academic year as planned.

The Business Mentoring Programme aligns with the university’s mission and the reasons for which we were established – yes, we provide international-class education and research, but we are also focused on meeting the needs of employers in our region and helping our students develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they need to build successful careers.

Applications for the 2020 business mentoring programme for mentors and mentees will open towards the end of the year – so keep an eye on the website and follow us (@UHICareers) more information. For help with your application, you can contact or schedule an appointment using FutureMe.

The economic situation surrounding Covid-19 and the path to recovery will create a whole new set of opportunities in many sectors and industries. As a result, the nature of employment may change, but the university partnership stands ready to play a vital role in supporting the recovery of our region.  We will continue to combine academic excellence with vocational training to equip our students with the skills that employers are looking for.

This programme is just one of the ways that we can encourage committed, passionate, and motivated students that can learn from employers, make important contacts, and find their opportunity to thrive in a 21st century workplace, with the confidence to excel.

Alana MacLeod is part of the Curriculum Development Employer Engagement team at the University of the Highlands and Islands and works closely with the employers and businesses across region.  You can find out more about studying at the university by visiting the website.

Buisness mentoring programme 4


Being human is more important than ever: my experience of delivering learning and teaching remotely for the past 15 years

Alice_MongielloAs colleges and universities across the UK braced themselves for the suspension of face to face teaching due to the Covid-19 pandemic, at Inverness College UHI we knew we were in a better position than most to adapt to this ‘new’ normal. After all, it is just what we do. Our staff have been delivering higher education courses to students across the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership through a blended approach to teaching for over 20 years, connecting learners across a vast geographical area though a combination of video conferencing, remote learning technologies and face to face teaching. This innovative approach to learning and teaching is engrained in our culture and a key part of what makes our tertiary partnership of 13 colleges and research institutions so unique.

As programme leader for the BA (Hons) Childhood Practice and Graduate Apprenticeship in Early Learning and Childcare, my ‘old’ normal is the ‘new’ normal for so many educators as both courses are, and have always been, offered fully online.  I am also responsible for delivering a Master’s module on the Theory and Practice of eLearning – my doctoral research and more recent projects focus on the experience of online learning and the nature of online authentic practice.  I have also written and presented numerous papers on the subject of online learning and teaching across the world.

Distance learning onlineOver the past 15 years, I have often found myself in discussion with colleagues who believe they need to develop a new skillset to deliver learning and teaching remotely.  However, from my experience, the technology is not the master that determines our success but rather it is the human connection within the online space and how we interact with our learners that matters. Often what is actually required is a change of mindset: the online context is just a different classroom space.  Yes, of course, we do need to have an understanding of technology and the tools available, but our focus should be on creating a space that fosters connections and enables positive learning experiences.

I have coined the phrases ‘humanising the machine’ and ‘becoming more human’.  Ultimately the key for delivering successfully online lies in an educator’s ability to build relationships and make connections: skills that lie at the heart of the learning and teaching process regardless of the context.  It is human connections rather than the technology that promotes potential transformative learning experiences; the technology merely offers the platform in which these experiences take place.

Fort William Cityheart Living Accommodation, February 2018More recently I have been considering the concept of ‘love-led practice’: where educators value their learners as fellow human beings, with their own unique characteristics, their own challenges and their own lives.  Each learner comes with their own lived biographies.  Our role as online educators is to acknowledge this and recognise the ways in which this affects the overall learning process for our students.  It is therefore important that educators present a human online persona that aligns with who they are.  This fosters an environment which is based on trust, creates a space that is warm, caring, and compassionate, and where learners feel safe to engage, learn and interact.  Whether face-to-face or online, the experience of learning may cause discomfort for our students, it may push them out of their comfort zone.  As an online educator you need support students to embrace the discomfort in an online space where they feel safe and secure to experience new things.

Computer_DogHow you do this in a practical sense is down to you as an individual, but, there are simple things you can do like using your students’ names during your interactions online, getting to know them and regularly checking in – although you are not big brother, your role is not to ‘police’ the online space. Show your own personality – my cat and dogs regularly make an appearance –  make your sessions fun, show humour, create a social environment for students, share content that resonates, ensure you stay connected, and above all, communicate how you feel and what you think. The online space is not a place to hide but rather to be present, open and recognise that as humans we are far from perfect.  Being vulnerable makes us human and helps to break down the barriers students often face when they enter the online space.  As an online educator, you should also never underestimate the impact the written word can have on learners.

In a world where people feel less connected to their friends, families and colleagues, becoming more human online is even more important as we navigate through this crisis.


Dr Alice Mongiello

Programme leader for the BA (Hons) Childhood Practice and Graduate Apprenticeship in Early Learning and Childcare

Inverness College UHI

University of the Highlands and Islands

Connected education: Reflections on an online journey

F_Rennie1When I got my first email address at Aberdeen University in 1977 we thought it was SO cool. We actually said, “This is great, but what can we use it for?” We finally used it to keep in touch with student parties – the earliest online social media?

When I returned to Lewis in 1982, I began to work with Rurtel, a text-based online conferencing system developed by the University of Guelph in Canada. My introduction to it was through my involvement with the Arkleton Trust for rural development and I still remember the excitement in the house when we first saw the messages coming in on our international conference.

Delivering our first online courses

When I delivered the first online course from Lews Castle College UHI in 1993, it was Rurtel that we used. That EU-funded course was on ‘tourism and heritage for rural development’ and the participants were (specifically) young women drawn from every area of the Highlands and Islands. We thought that we were very advanced (and so we were), but the online connectivity that we have today is like comparing NASA with stone-age technology. Nevertheless, it was a successful proof of concept and though the University of the Highlands and Islands did not exist in its present form, it helped to establish the subsequent thinking for the developing network of colleges.

2011 prospectusVery soon after this, when the word wide web became publicly accessible, we began to develop digital resources for the university’s first networked degree, our undergraduate programme in rural development studies. Those first online modules were uploaded straight onto the new web, with no ‘Blackboard’ or ‘Brightspace’ and no password protection required! The web resources and navigation were rudimentary (remember Netscape?), but essentially it did most of what we do today, although not quite as smoothly.

Two things happened very quickly: local students began working from home (or the college library) and attendance at lectures became pretty relaxed and optional. Secondly, we began to get requests for places on the course from further and further afield. Fortunately, as the embryo University of the Highlands and Islands was flexible and innovative on scant resources, this move online was regarded as an institutional opportunity, rather than a threat. The rest is the detail of history.

Coronavirus – adjusting to the new normal

In the late Spring of 2020, as we sit at home trying to work online, it has become a different environment entirely. Suddenly there are fewer options for learning and teaching. Suddenly, even colleagues who have been reticent to put anything online are seeing the advantages of being able to use educational technology to communicate in a semi-normal way with students and other staff members.

HomeThe massive changes and challenges of responses to COVID-19 are facing millions of individuals, businesses and organisations, but, unlike most, the University of the Highlands and Islands has a long history of adapting to the culture-change that is required for online design. This is a crucial issue, for surprisingly the technological matters are relatively easy to resolve, but the ability (and willingness) of many people to make the cultural adaptions to new ways of thinking is notoriously more difficult.

As I move into my eleventh week of working from home, I have made several key observations. Firstly, most of my workload continues as normal (without the commute and chats in corridors) as much of what I normally do is online anyway. All my teaching is through our virtual learning environment, Brightspace and most tutorial discussions with research students are by video conference, as are most of my network meetings and committees. The frequency of video conference meetings has stepped up a notch, because there are few other options, but the flexibility and the brevity of (most) meetings is better and more focussed. There are occasional ‘catch-up’ meetings with colleagues in the university and other institutions that would normally rarely happen, as many people are reaching out to colleagues to check how they are and to replicate in some form the randomness of chats over the group printer or the office kettle.

There are three BIG changes that have happened over the last couple of months, almost without us noticing them (unless they affect you directly!)

Online learning is becoming mainstream  

VC videoconference class in progress, archaeology, Orkney, NovemFirstly, tutor online learning communications with students, between the students themselves and among groups of education professionals has (almost) become normalised. From being an ‘alternative’, it has become mainstream and some of the anticipated demons and obstacles have faded or disappeared. True, there are individual technology glitches and online design issues that remain to be resolved, but the sting has been taken out of the tail. Every week we see universities across the globe rushing to consider moving their work online. Some will manage this successfully, others will crash and burn because they are not prepared, culturally or technologically, for such a move.

The University of the Highlands and Islands has the advantage that many colleagues have been embracing online delivery for many years. We have seen the future and we know that it can be a very effective, worthwhile and enjoyable experience, both for students and staff members (and not just academic teaching staff). Radically, students are setting up their own networks and even inviting their own guest lectures. The prospects for personal development and heutagogy (self-determined learning) have never been better.

News opportunities for connection and collaboration 

earth-2254769_1920Secondly, the shift online means that I am now even MORE connected with the wider world of academia than I was previously. Colleagues in many disciplines have opened up their seminars, shared their guest lecturers (both internal and external to the University of the Highlands and Islands) and encouraged interdisciplinary contributions in a way that has rarely happened before on such a networked platform. In the past month I have sat in on a dozen interesting sessions on topics that are not my mainstream discipline and, in most of them, I have received (and contributed) knowledge in ways that have inspired me.

There is now a realisation that this interchange of ideas does not need to end with the cessation of lockdown. We have the technology, we have the will and now we have the cultural capacity to engage in new ways of thinking and working that can be both specialist and interdisciplinary. With some careful planning and an open attitude, the University of the Highlands and Islands may be able to take academic networking within the Highlands and Islands (and beyond) to unprecedented levels of accomplishment.

Online meetings support geographical inclusivity

Thirdly, there have been several discussions on social media which note ruefully that the road from south to north seems longer than the same road from north to south – similarly from west to east. The geographic argument of population numbers and transport links that make Inverness, Edinburgh, and Glasgow (to name but three cities) venues of convenience for meetings of physical networks and committees, is now destabilised.

iStockphoto ImagesWhile colleagues in the Central Belt, London or even Inverness, can ‘pop into’ meeting rooms to benefit from collegial meetings, those of us who live in the islands and the decentralised mainland are effectively handicapped by high fares and high time costs. (I am often surprised that colleagues who are so empathetic to equality issues in other ways are so blind to geographical exclusivity). Most full-day meetings on the mainland require at least one overnight (adding to the cost) and need to be considered carefully for the cost/benefit ratio. Although many mainland venues may have the video conference facilities, they only rarely prioritise this option for access (and frequently have such poor awareness of video-conferencing training that any benefit is ruined).

Now many are on the fast-track to learning the new online etiquette as universities, small businesses, third sector organisations and even governments are being compelled to use this means of communication if their members are going to meet at all. Many are finding it incredibly efficient and cost-effective. Whether this revelation becomes sufficiently embedded to survive and thrive beyond the immediate lockdown will be interesting to observe.

For my part, as an early convert, I would prefer not to regress to old ways.


UHI Learning and Teaching Conference 2020, Inverness Campus, Jan

Professor Frank Rennie

Professor of Sustainable Rural Development

Lews Castle College UHI

Twitter: @frankrennie



Careers – Eights ideas to make yourself ‘future-fit’

For now, what was once ordinary is now extraordinary. We have found ourselves entering into a world where our daily routine has been disrupted and we’re discovering new definitions for the meaning of normality.

arm-1284248_1920So, what do we do with our time now that we are forced to stay at home? Although the future remains very uncertain, there are some things you can do right now to help you prepare for life after university or college. We recognise that students will be adapting to new ways of working and dealing with the pressures that brings, but this situation also presents some opportunities.

Why not capitalise on this unique place we find ourselves, embrace this downtime, use the extra time constructively and emerge from the other side of it motivated, prepared and ready for whatever our new normal may be? For once, we actually have the time to reflect on what fuels us, how we want to make our mark on the world and how we can best become ‘future-fit’.

“Future-fit is being ready and prepared for whatever challenges you may face and never giving up in the face of adversity. It’s about being strong, confident, focused and determined to succeed” – University of the Highlands and Islands student

“I can become future-fit by understanding my own needs and how I can best express them in the world, without being compromised or compromising the needs of others” – University of the Highlands and Islands student

Iain and Helen from the university careers team offer a range of support, information and guidance which is available to all students through the FutureMe service. To help you navigate this unusual situation, they have also put together a list of eight ways you can maximise your time during lockdown.

1. Identify your incentive and recognise your skills

Caneo Trip-20What gets you up in the morning? Use this break in your regular routine to think about your future career. If you’re not sure where to start, have a look at the Career Centre website for a range of self-help resources, exercises and activities.

Or why not attend a webinar jointly organised by the careers team and HISA – one will look at ways to make the most of lockdown and the other aims to identify what’s in your virtual ‘skills rucksack’. These webinars might help you recognise what drives you and look at ways you can align your values and beliefs into your future career path and decision making. Find out more about these webinars in the events section of FutureMe.

This could also be a time to reflect on what you are learning about yourself during lockdown and your style and approach to study – do you prefer a structured or unstructured day? Are you spending more or less time on social media or watching TV? How do you feel you dealing with the new normal?

2. Revisit networking

Young female wearing headphones at a laptopSocial distancing doesn’t stop you networking, in fact, it’s more important than ever. We are all reaching out more, not just with family and friends, but with fellow students, old friends and work colleagues.

So, connect, keep in touch and turn the extra time to your advantage by joining virtual groups which you may not have prioritised before.

You could even set up your own group or take part in one of the many virtual careers fairs, conferences and webinars being organised across the world. Ways to network

3. Perfect your CV

This is especially important if you’ve recently been furloughed or had your contract terminated. If you’ve been made redundant, then you might be thinking about making a fresh start and getting yourself ready for applying for new roles. There are things you can do to lay the groundwork now and strengthen your CV. And, if you need a little guidance, you can get some help and feedback by connecting with the university careers team through FutureMe.

4. Practise video interviewing

Coronavirus aside, this is becoming the new norm for interviewing. Familiarising yourself with how this scenario works is good for your confidence so that when your next interview happens over Skype, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, you’ll be in a strong position. Tips for video interview preparation

5. Gain some virtual work experience

Student using mouseWith a high chance for us not being able to resume our normal life for a few months, some of you may need to re-think your plans for the summer.

Consider having a look at virtual internships (more and more organisations are offering these) or draft an email introducing yourself to companies you would like to work for to see what might be on offer.

Or how about some freelance work using some of the skills that you already have, such as online tutoring or editing? Or perhaps you can find an organisation or company to volunteer with – there has never been more demand for it than now and this will give you skills and experience much valued by employers, as well as giving back to your community. Signposting to volunteering opportunities

6. Look into LinkedIn and build your online brand

This is one activity you won’t regret in the enforced downtime, as LinkedIn becomes more popular than ever (currently more than 660 million users). As well as getting your LinkedIn profile up to scratch, remember to connect with the university LinkedIn account.

Use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram to have conversations about your passions and interests. If you enjoy books, share your latest reading. You can always start your own project, share your enthusiasm and show off your expertise online through a blog, podcast or a YouTube channel. This way, you will be developing a highly employable online brand for yourself.

7. Explore post-coronavirus options

Foundation Apprentice Ewan Robertson

No idea about what to do with your life after you complete your studies? Or you know which sector you want to go into, but you lack details about which roles you could perform in it? Do you already know what you want to do, but feel unsure about how to get there?

Career research can help you with all of these, because becoming more knowledgeable about what the labour market has on offer for you will help with your career development.

So, spend some time on the university Career Centre website or book an appointment to speak to Iain or Helen about your next steps. Visit the university alumni LinkedIn site and ask our alumni about their graduate jobs and the sectors they work in.

Drop an email to that company whose projects intrigue and interest you. Inform yourself about what it takes to enter a certain profession and contrast your findings with your own interests, skills and values. Then decide if you want to give it a go by gaining some work experience in that area or simply move to the next job on your list.

8. Adapt to whatever comes next, be resilient


Remember that this list is just a guide and that you don’t need to do all of it to be successful in your career. Your starting point should always be to keep yourself safe and sound, perhaps followed by asking yourself a few questions about your career motivations and priorities to determine which options are more appropriate for the path ahead.

We don’t know what’s going to happen to the job market in the future and we don’t know how this pandemic will affect our careers.

What we do know is that there will still be jobs available for you out there once a sense of normality returns, so maybe the best approach is to steer through this current situation in whatever way feels right for you, not worrying too much about what the future has in store for us, while doing your best to continue to develop skills that may prove to be key. Remember that a bright future awaits you and that by preparing now you will reap the rewards.

“Being Future-Fit means preparing myself to adapt to changes in the workplace, by being motivated to learn new skills, by using new tools and techniques and by being ready for tomorrow.”  – University of the Highlands and Islands student


Career Centre – Still open, online and here for you

There has never been a better time to make use of university Career Centre. We are still open and all our services are available online. We can support you in your career development, help you plan and prepare and, most importantly, we can help you polish your employability skills and guide you while you make sense of your current situation, tailoring our advice and guidance to you and your unique career aspirations. Get in touch today through FutureMe or contact Iain or Helen at


Lessons in lockdown – preparing for the new normal

Thursday 30 April  – 12 noon – 1pm

Webex Teams –

Register on FutureMe

What’s in your rucksack?

Tuesday 5 May – 12 noon to 1pm

Webex Teams –

Register on FutureMe

COVID-19 and rural communities

Sarah-Anne_MuñozDr Sarah-Anne Munoz, a Reader in Rural Health and Wellbeing at the University of the Highlands and Islands, considers some of ways COVID-19 is affecting our rural communities.

Over the last four weeks of lockdown, I have been acutely aware that I am in a very privileged position – an academic who can work from home for a university that was perhaps more prepared than most to shift to totally online working and teaching.

COVID-19 has, however, had major impacts on my day-to-day life. I miss working alongside my team in the Centre for Health Science and the ability to carry out ‘in person’ research – as a qualitative researcher my main tools are interviews, focus groups and participant observation.

Before COVID-19, I took press enquiries about issues such as improving primary care in rural areas and how to facilitate mental wellbeing among the rural population – concerns that are very close to my heart. The last few weeks have seen that shift to being asked to SAMS, Oban shoot, October 2014comment on how rural communities will cope with COVID-19 and what the potential long-term impacts for rural communities and residents will be.

As researchers, my team and I have had to respond to a host of funding calls asking us to put our social science expertise to use in the fight against COVID-19.

This has seen the Division of Rural Health and Wellbeing team spending much of the last four weeks identifying the key concerns for rural residents and communities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have applied for funding (in partnership with the James Hutton Institute, Voluntary Health Scotland, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the National Rural Mental Health Forum) to progress research in some of these areas and we are actively seeking further collaborative work.

We thought it may be useful to share some of our reflections and questions with you – these are the things that we suggest need to be addressed by research and policy.

The mental health and wellbeing of frontline NHS staff in rural areas

The current crisis has potential negative mental health implications for all frontline NHS Jackie Matthew, Advanced Nurse Practitioner / Professional Practstaff and it’s vital that we seek ways to support their mental resilience. Particular attention needs to be paid to those working in rural areas where teams are often small and lone working can be the norm. Rural healthcare staff are often intimately embedded into local communities and will inevitably be providing care for their friends, neighbours and loved ones. It’s important to understand how we can best support these staff through the current crisis and with any longer-term impacts on their mental wellbeing.

People living with long-term conditions in rural areas

We need to understand the current and potential future impacts of COVID-19 on those 012people living with (often multiple) long-term conditions within rural areas, particularly as levels of anxiety and depression are likely to increase. Social isolation may be compounded as levels and durations of formal care are reduced. It will be really important to understand how to reach those living with long-term conditions in rural areas during the lockdown and how best to support them when this is over.

The rural third sector

Third sector and voluntary organisations do a lot to support the social, cultural and economic fabric of rural life. Many of these organisations were already operating ‘on a shoestring’ before the lockdown and the loss of income from sources such as paid for services, grants and donations has the potential to force rural organisations to close. Many rural third sector and voluntary organisations rely heavily on retired and older volunteers – these are some of the people most at risk from COVID-19 and likely to have to remain shielded for the longest time. Third sector and voluntary organisations provide vital services in rural areas – often where there is no private or public alternative – such as transport services. It will be important to capture the impact on the rural third sector and support as many vital organisations to survive as possible.

NHC Dornoch History faculty stock photography, May 2015Rural economic resilience

We are already seeing big impacts on the rural economy. Many rural residents are self-employed or part of small businesses – these are likely to be hardest hit by lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural areas are also heavily reliant on tourism income, which has entirely dried up. A loss of economic resilience within rural communities will have huge implications for residents’ mental health and wellbeing.

The longer-term effects of social distancing

But it’s not all bad. The Rural Services Network has brought together some examples of how rural communities in England are “working together” to mitigate the negative Theresa Bain (right) delivers food to Hope Kitchen, Obanimpacts and we know that similar initiatives are taking place throughout rural Scotland: . We are hearing informal stories about rural residents rediscovering local outdoor spaces that they had previously considered to be ‘just for tourists’; about levels of  volunteerism and neighbourliness increasing; about people ‘meeting’ neighbours over the garden fence or having a conversation through an open window (at an appropriate social distance) for the first time. We hope that capturing and understanding these more ‘positive’ impacts of the current crisis can also from part of our ongoing work.

Research on the impacts of COVID-19 in rural communities is led within the University of the Highlands and Islands Division of Rural Health and Wellbeing by Dr Sarah-Anne Munoz (Reader in Rural Health and Wellbeing), Dr Mark Grindle (Senior Lecturer in Digital Health), Dr Janet Heaton (Research Fellow, Sociology), Dr Sara Bradley (Research Fellow, Social Gerontology), Dr Hannes De Kock (Research Fellow, Psychology) and Dr Ania Zubala (Research Fellow, Arts Therapy).


Looking to the future: Why Scotland is at the forefront of delivering world-class eye care

As the University of the Highlands and Islands prepares to launch Scotland’s first new optometry degree in 50 years, lecturer Judith Banks explains why the profession has so much to offer and why Scotland is leading the way in providing world-class eye care.

I am no longer a particularly young person, but I remember clearly (for the most part) my school days, my time as an undergraduate and the twenty years of my career to-date. It was quite a different proposition to the challenges, opportunities and technological developments that young people and career changers face today.

My field is optometry and I think it’s safe to say that some of the advances made in this area would have been hard for most of us to accurately predict two decades ago.

glassesTraditionally, optometrists would largely be involved in assessing someone’s need for spectacles or contact lenses, providing these and detecting any disease or abnormality, with a view to referring to an eye clinic.

Over time, this role has evolved and optometrists can now offer a wealth of services. More eye conditions can be diagnosed and managed within a community practice setting. Some optometrists have additional qualifications to allow them to prescribe medicines and treatments, rather than referring to a GP or ophthalmologist. There is, in some areas, an opportunity to work in increasingly extended roles.

Technology too has moved forward, with tests like optical coherence tomography, where the layers of the retina (which are structures that are not normally visible) can now be imaged and inspected at your high street optometry practice. This has offered great advances in the care of those diagnosed with certain eye conditions and reduced the need for other, more invasive procedures.

Doctor and patient in ophthalmology clinicAs more of us live longer and more treatments and technologies become available, there will doubtless be increased demand on eyecare services. Hospital departments such as accident and emergency and eye clinics are already overstretched, and optometry is well placed to make a significant contribution towards addressing this issue. We can forge ahead with further evolving and refining the services we can offer and continue to support our patients and our hospital services. While there are challenges, this offers exciting opportunities. Indeed, it has been suggested that optometry practices could become “hubs of care in the community.”

Scotland has led the way with this, taking a big step forward in 2006 when universal, publicly funded eye examinations were made available to the entire population of Scotland, without means testing. In tandem with this, a new contract for delivering these services was negotiated with the Scottish Government. This required all optometrists offering NHS work to undergo additional assessment and required that all practices be equipped to a similar standard, in order to offer even more comprehensive eye health assessments to the public.

NHS Grampian went further, launching the Eye Health Network, which further embedded optometrists as a first port of call for patients with acute eye care needs. This service uses formal agreed protocols to achieve consistency of care, with support for optometrists from a Clinical Decision Unit. Audit of results has shown that it relieves pressure on the hospital eye clinic and on local GP practices. And so, we have already seen practices become the first port of call for many patients who would previously have gone straight to their GP or accident and emergency unit. It showcases what optometry can already offer from a public health perspective.

Doctor and patient in ophthalmology clinicHowever, despite the introduction of comprehensive eye examinations which are free at the point of need, uptake of this service varies. Research undertaken by the University of Aberdeen has shown that less people access eyecare from an optometrist in poorer socio-economic areas. Research by Glasgow Caledonian University has previously shown that access to an optometrist is fairly evenly available across all socio-economic areas. This suggests that another important area for optometry to explore is how to promote uptake of our services in areas where this has not traditionally been the case, identifying possible barriers and working to break them down.

The rate of change and the challenges of predicting how future services will look will probably require all of us to have a flexible approach, hone our problem-solving skills and think creatively. Of course, many optometry professionals do this to a great degree anyway, but nonetheless, it can be challenging to keep pace with change.

Inverness Nursing photoshoot, Centre for Health Science, March 2

Change is also afoot in the realm of optometry education, with the University of the Highlands and Islands developing a new BSc (Hons) optometry degree, due to welcome its first cohort of students in September 2020. There are many strands to the decision to develop this programme, including a dearth of optometrists across the Highlands, widening access to the profession and offering a programme that has a special interest in remote and rural practice.

Optometry is a discipline which has so much to offer; the opportunity to help others, diverse career opportunities, continued learning and development, scientific advances and research opportunities. It is a profession which has taken great strides over the last decades and, in Scotland, it can look forward to continuing to be at the forefront of delivering world class eye care services.


Judith Banks BSc (Hons) MCOptom DipTp (IP)

Lecturer in Optometry

University of the Highlands and Islands



Student survival guide whilst social distancing

Okay, so you are studying from home. How do you stay motivated? How do you find new things to do around your flat or house? Is social distancing affecting your mental health? Getting bored or stressed out? Here are some tips to inspire you during this period of self-isolation!


BREAK UP YOUR DAY. Check in with your friends for a chat, take regular breaks from studying and screen time, eat regular meals and avoid unnecessary snacking – go for a healthier option!

Blue the cat from Arran Video Conferencing into classes at Argyll College UHI
Blue the cat studying from Arran – shared by @argyll.uhi on Instagram

ORGANISE YOUR WORKSPACE. Do whatever you need to do to get into your work mindset, whether that’s having a manageable workspace, study snacks, house plants nearby – whatever prevents you from opening that Netflix tab…

CfH staff meeting online
Lucy Dean chatting to Centre for History colleagues via Video Conference – shared by @UHIHistory on Twitter

PREPARE YOURSELF FOR STUDYING. Try not to feel overwhelmed with your workload and pressure from the unfamiliarity of working from home. Don’t stay in your PJs – treat it like you are going to your lecture and get dressed.

TUNES ON. Check out Spotify’s chill playlists to get you into a good study rhythm and de-stress from current news articles. I recommend lofi hip hop & jazz for good background noise. Pick up your guitar, write some compositions, get inspired by what’s going on in the world around you! Sofa Singers are an online platform to share songs, poems or stories with people around the world through video chat – sing as if no-one’s listening! Up for jig? #CovidCeilidh is a great way to connect with fellow traditional Scottish musicians in creating a virtual ceilidh!

PLAN FOR THE FUTURE. Organise trips for when you are ‘free’ again to spend time with your friends. Browse Instagram travel feeds for where you might visit next. Make a ‘things I want to do’ list for when social distancing has finished. Where’s #1 on your list?

LET’S GET CREATIVE. Daily drawing for wellbeing is offering free online drawing classes to follow along to artist’s guides – get your sketchpad out! Rearrange your bedroom, draw landscapes from your window, write a blog, create a YouTube video, try TikTok, paint, read, write some poetry or try a social distancing inspired haiku. Feeling like you aren’t getting enough culture? Walk through virtual galleries from New York City to Seoul – just pretend you’re on holiday 😉

Susan, Art and Design lecturer from West Highland College UHI Portree campus continuing to support students online
Art lecturer Susan teaching online – shared by @whc.uhi on Instagram

SOCIALISE (DISTANTLY). Connect with fellow students, friends and family on Skype and WhatsApp groups – send virtual hugs!!! Help elderly relatives set up a Skype account or run errands for them. Stay informed by checking NHS Scotland and Scottish Government social media pages. You can also join the online Perth College UHI Book Club every Monday at 4pm and the ESOL Reading Club every Wednesday at 4pm. If you would like to take part, please email who will provide you with a copy of the short stories they are reading.

Online student quiz
MA Art and Social Practice student Charlotte Mountford organised an online quiz for fellow students – shared by @ChippedredNails on Twitter

YES, YOU CAN STILL EXERCISE. The Scottish Government advises you to cycle or go for a walk in your local park once a day alone, or people you live with. Make your home your gym with The Body Coach or with Perth College UHI’s Academy of Sport & Wellbeing daily workout videos. Take occasional 10min breaks from screens and do some yoga to stretch your legs.

SPRING CLEAN. Put on your beauty face mask, let fresh air in, light scented candles, get your laundry done and do some mindfulness. Clear out clothing you don’t need and consider donating them. Nothing feels better than having a clear mind and clean workspace.

FOOD! Share recipes with friends, get adventurous in your cooking and exchange top tips online. Post photos of your smoothies and baking creations! What’s your go-to study snack? Young people cooking

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? When you’re winding down, why not binge Netflix or Amazon? Scroll through their true crime docuseries or fun feel good comedies! Did you know you can download Netflix Party? shutterstock_771067417This allows you to binge watch to your heart’s content whilst live chatting with your friends. Get your snacks ready! Looking to have a virtual house party? Houseparty allows you to connect with friends and play party games. Looking for animal content? Edinburgh Zoo has live camera feeds of their tigers, koalas, pandas and more!

#ShareGoodNews. Find solace in good news stories & share them with us. Stay positive, we’re here for you if you need us!

Katie Masheter Birthday
#ThinkUHI staff member Katie Masheter celebrating her Birthday online with work colleagues. – shared by @KatieMasheter on Twitter


Remember that panic can spread faster than the virus; get the facts, not the rumours and listen to public health experts who can help navigate the path ahead. If you feel overwhelmed, voice your concerns with your course leader, personal academic tutor or local student support team.shutterstock_1317925382The charity Mind have produced resources on coping with stress and advice on making sure you are looking after YOU! Support helplines are also on our website. If you’re worried about your mental health, contact your local student support team OR access counselling through the online counselling service through the green button. Want to read further? Read through our Mental health blog. Stay up to date on current coronavirus information and FAQs.


Tag #ThinkUHI in your social media posts with your #ShareGoodNews stories Instagram, Twitter and Facebook 💜

Written by Sophie Macfarlane, Digital Marketing Assistant and 2019 university graduate













Apprenticeships – fuelling our region’s future workforce

MattTyrerMatt Tyrer, Project Manager for Work-based Learning at the University of the Highlands and Islands, answers common questions about apprenticeships and explains why they are vital in supporting our region’s economy.

‘Apprenticeships are changing’. This has been the tag line used in recent times by Skills Development Scotland, the national skills body for Scotland, in its marketing efforts to raise awareness that apprenticeships today might be quite different to how we remember them from our own personal and, in some cases, slightly out-dated experiences of education and life at the beginning of the career ladder.

Today, there are funded apprenticeships available across a wide range of subject areas and business sectors, open not only to people just starting out their careers, but also to more experienced staff looking to bolster and formalise the skills and experience they have developed ‘on the job’.

So, is getting more involved in apprenticeships something your organisation should be considering?

Why are apprenticeships important?

Apprenticeship programmes are an important part of the Scottish Government’s Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce agenda, helping to ensure that education and training is industry led and fit for purpose, and providing practical solutions to support employers with their workforce planning and business development needs.

For our region in particular, we are facing a disproportionately higher level of aging population in comparison to the rest of Scotland and we continue to struggle to stem the out-migration of young people and talent from our rural communities, which, when combined, reduces the number of working age people available for employers in our region. At the same time, forecasts are showing that our region’s key sectors and industries are going to require a higher number of new staff than will be available, to fill both growth demands and replace workforce leavers (e.g. through retirement or leaving work to care for the family).

Stewart Sloss Lantra image gamekeepingApprenticeships can support us through this challenge by providing the opportunity for employers to attract new talent to their workforce at a relatively early stage in a person’s life and career, raising awareness of the opportunities available locally, without the need to move away. They also enable people already in work to continue to learn, develop, reskill and upskill around their job and other life commitments, supporting the continued development and retention of region’s workforce.

In a world where the nature of work is changing so rapidly, there is an expectation that the workforce will have to continually adapt and flex as technological advances and job demands change and evolve around us. What is really important about apprenticeships is that they ensure that the education and training people receive is grounded in the reality of working life and the needs of the businesses they will be working for. Furthermore, they support the development of a range of skills, sometimes called core-skills or more recently ’meta-skills’, which can be applied across a range of areas and disciplines. These kinds of transferable skills are becoming even more essential.

What do apprenticeships look like today?

In Scotland today there are three main types of apprenticeship covering sectors and job roles including construction, engineering and energy, food and drink, IT and digital, business and administration, healthcare, tourism and hospitality, land-based and maritime.

The most well established is the Modern Apprenticeship programme, which provides opportunities for people in employment to gain accredited, industry recognised qualifications which recognise skills and experience gained in the workplace. There are over 90 different frameworks available across a range of sectors, subject areas and levels of learning.


In more recent times, the Foundation Apprenticeship has become an established part of the school education. These are work-based qualifications which combine the best of academic study with the practical, work-based application of skills together into one qualification. They are at the same level of learning as the Higher and are offered to school pupils in their senior phase (in S5 and S6), usually delivered by colleges or other training providers outside of the school environment.

With Foundation Apprenticeships, employers can provide structured work placement opportunities linked to the completion of an apprentice’s qualification and get involved in other ways such as setting project-based challenges, taking guest speaker slots and hosting visits. Foundation Apprenticeships are a great way for an employer to get a glimpse of their potential future workforce before they’ve even left school. Employers have already been impressed by the capability of our university partnership’s Foundation Apprentices and, in some cases, have been very quick to offer paid employment opportunities when school studies have finished.

Finally, the third and newest apprenticeship within the Scottish family of apprenticeships is the Graduate Apprenticeship. These are work-based degrees – high level and challenging academic programmes, as any degree is, but blended into the student’s employment situation so that workplace time and activity informs learning and assessment, enabling a full-time degree programme to be completed while in work. With more traditional graduate schemes, employers bring in new graduates then invest time in a programme of induction and further training. With Graduate Apprenticeships, the student is embedded in the workplace from day one and, by the time they graduate, will already have up to four years’ experience with an employer, with their academic learning contextualised to your business and broader industry throughout.

What are the benefits to the employer?

At a time when recruitment and retention of our workforces is becoming increasingly challenging and competitive, apprenticeships provide a great solution. They are funded and deliver comprehensive training which is flexible to your needs, helping you to strengthen and upskill your existing staff and future workforce.

craig_duncan029(1)The training is structured and supported by qualified academic staff and assessors, and you are supported every step of the way by your apprenticeship provider.

It is important to understand that while apprenticeships are a great way to fulfil your recruitment and workforce planning needs, they are not about accessing cheap labour. They can be challenging qualifications which require a high level of capability, commitment and motivation from the apprentices, but also effective mentoring and support from the employer. However, when done right, they provide great benefits, including increased productivity and innovation. They are also a fantastic way to invest in young people and your existing staff, and to support your local community in a way that also meets your business need.

What are the benefits to the apprentice?

Foundation Apprentice Ewan RobertsonStudying an apprenticeship provides the opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’ (with the exception of Foundation Apprenticeships in school, of course) and gain new skills and experience alongside experienced colleagues and experts from your chosen industry or business sector. They are a great first foot in the door to a new business or industry sector, or a way to continue your learning and development while in work.

An apprenticeship provides you with the experience, work and life skills employers are looking for, and sets you up to be a flexible and adaptable team member, ready for today’s fast-paced and changing world of work.

How do apprenticeships work?

For Foundation Apprenticeships, pupils entering the senior phase of school will choose these as part of their options in liaison with their school guidance teachers. They run over one or two years during S5 and S6 and usually include a combination of college-based study and workplace experience, and are studied alongside other school qualifications.

Modern Apprenticeships are employment-based programmes available to anyone aged 16 or over and tend to last between one and four years depending on the specific framework being undertaken. An employer can either identify a suitable member of their existing team or recruit a new apprentice into their workforce.

There are a range of training providers available, who will support the employer to ensure any potential candidate can meet the requirements of the apprenticeship programme before they start.

Teamwork in freight transportation industry with cargo containersThe apprenticeship is a partnership between training provider, employer and apprentice, with everyone having their own responsibilities and contribution to ensure the programme will be a success. However, the training provider will lead both the employer and apprentice through their apprenticeship journey, including using things like inductions, tailored learning plans and regular reviews to help ensure everyone knows what is required and stays on track.

Depending on the apprenticeship, there may be some requirement for the apprentice to attend college or university, particularly in the earlier stages of the programme, however in many cases the apprenticeships are entirely work-based and involve an assessor making regular visits to the workplace to support and assess the apprentice.

Graduate Apprenticeships are similar to Modern Apprenticeship in many respects, except that they are only provided by universities. Due to the high level of academic study required, it is even more essential that the university is involved in the early stages of identifying or recruiting a graduate apprentice, not only to ensure they can manage the programme, but also to identify any previous qualifications or work experience which might enable them to fast-track through the programme.

For example, at the University of the Highlands and Islands we are currently seeking new employer partners for our civil engineering and early learning and childcare programmes, ready for a new programme starting in September.


How can I find out more?

To find out more, visit, the Skills Development Scotland website for apprenticeships, where you can access information about the range of apprenticeship opportunities available across Scotland.

To find out more about the range of apprenticeships across Foundation, Modern and Graduate levels available in your region through the University of the Highlands and Islands, visit or contact your local University of the Highlands and Islands college.

The university’s apprenticeship programmes form part of a portfolio of work-based learning at the university and are managed and supported though the university’s work-based learning hub. For further help or information, please contact the hub at or call 01463 279 436.


Foundation, Modern and Graduate Apprenticeships have been developed by Skills Development Scotland, in partnership with employers, colleges, universities and Sector Skills Councils, with support from the European Social Fund.

University Mental Health Day 2020 – building resilience

Today is University Mental Health Day, the national day for student mental health run jointly by Student Minds and the University Mental Health Advisers Network.

As the university’s mental health and counselling manger, I am encouraging students and staff to get involved in the local events which taking place, to help promote awareness and to share information about the support which is available to help students manage their wellbeing. I am hopeful that we can work together to change the often negative narrative around student mental health.

Volunteering imageAcross the university partnership we can tackle stigma together and create a campus culture where talking about mental health is something we can all do. One in four of us will experience mental health problems in our lives so, if you haven’t been directly affected yourself, it is likely that you will know someone who has experienced mental health problems.

The topic of student mental health and wellbeing is one I am very passionate about.  It’s known that students of any age can be at risk of experiencing poorer mental health and wellbeing due to factors relating to academic, social and financial pressures. I feel strongly that mental health is everybody’s responsibility and, as mental health and wellbeing affects every aspect of student life, I want to encourage you to do your best to look after yourselves.


shutterstock_292953377Quite often we hear the term resiliency being banded about, but what is resilience and how can we further develop this it?

Resilience comes from the Latin word meaning to ‘jump back’. It is the ability to return to an original form or position after being bent, compressed or stretched. When applied to humans, it is our capacity to cope with adversity or disappointment and bounce back when we encounter setbacks.

Some factors which may influence our levels of resiliency are:

  • Our developmental experiences in childhood/adolescence
  • External factors such as having positive relationships with others, having a faith or other kind of commitment and engaging with activities
  • Internal factors such as how we choose to interpret events, manage our emotions and regulate our behaviour

Walk1Being resilient doesn’t mean a person won’t experience difficulty or distress, but it helps them cope better when problems occur. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered problems or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience may involve considerable emotional distress.

Resilience is not a trait which people either have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions which can be learned and developed in anyone. There are lots of factors which can contribute to our resilience:

  • Having close relationships with family and/or friends
  • Holding a positive view of self and confidence in our own strengths and abilities
  • Developing the ability to manage strong feelings and impulses
  • Developing good problem-solving and communication skills
  • Being willing to seeking help from people and/or resources
  • Noticing and appreciating nature – living in a more mindful way
  • Engaging in exercise
  • Seeing yourself as resilient (rather than as a victim)
  • Coping with stress in healthy ways and avoiding harmful coping strategies, such as substance abuse or drinking alcohol excessively
  • Helping others – such as volunteering or doing a good deed every day
  • Finding positive meaning in your life despite (difficult circumstances or traumatic events)

Increasing resiliency

So, it is possible to increase your levels of resiliency. What are some of the ways we can do this?

  • Keep things in perspective and train yourself to think positively
  • Regard setbacks as challenges and learning opportunities, rather than paralysing disasters
  • Be committed to the activities and people you value
  • Focus on what you can control, rather than worrying about what you can’t

It is also helpful to focus on the positive aspects of yourself. A great way to do this is by keeping a positivity journal. Spend a little bit of time reflecting on:

  • What do I like about myself?
  • What characteristics do I have that are positive?
  • What are some of my achievements?
  • What challenges have I overcome in my life?
  • What skills or talents do I have?
  • What do people say they like about me?
  • How would someone who cares about me describe me?
  • What bad characteristics do I NOT have?


Another way to increase resiliency is to regularly review your stress levels and look at ways to manage this. Engaging in things you enjoy and socialising can be a great way to reduce your stress levels.


Allie Scott, Mental Health and Counselling Manger, University of the Highlands and Islands

For more information on mental health and wellbeing, visit