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.

Student centred fair assessment approach to help those impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic

Rhiannon Tinsley, Academic Registrar at the University of the Highlands and Islands outlines the latest student support measures being adopted to ensure a fair and consistent approach to assessment for all higher education students whose studies have been adversely impacted and affected by the pandemic.  

The University of the Highlands and Islands partnership is committed to ensuring continued fairness in our assessment processes for our students during this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to our dedicated staff’s existing expertise, knowledge and practical skills we have been able to enhance the delivery of our courses through our distinctive and innovative approach to blended learning and support our students, whilst adapting to changing government guidelines.   

That said, we continue to identify and seek to move promptly to address the recognised extra challenges now facing the education sector. And the university partnership, which covers the largest geographical area of any campus-based university or college in the UK, making it essential to have in place a flexible policy framework that recognises individual circumstances.   

Further education students  
We are committed to assisting further education students complete their courses and will be advising directly through local engagement at our colleges.  If you have any have questions about assessment they should be discussed with your personal academic tutor/learning development adviser or equivalent. 

Higher education students 
Together with representatives from the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association, the university’s team responsible for academic quality matters, has now carried out a review of our policy on principles for fair assessment [for higher education students] which takes into account the impact of COVID-19 on student assessment and the regulatory requirement to meet academic standards and quality expectations.   

The review identified a supplementary range of additional assessment support measures for use during the pandemic. The recommendations were agreed by the university’s partnership Principals, with the application of support measures to be determined by the level of study, and the course that a student is enrolled on.  

Engaging with students  
Course leaders are already in regular contact with their students, and these principles provide a framework within which they can talk to their students about the assessment arrangements on their course and an opportunity to ask questions about their individual circumstances.  

Our strength in delivering through blended learning is the support available from local student services, and as always, students can contact the support staff at their local academic partner to access a range of support or press the red button.  

How have the principles been developed?    
Our principles for fair assessment are aligned with the national Quality Code for Higher Education, the current guidance from the Quality Assurance Agency, and the statement from Universities Scotland on Maintaining Fair Assessment
These principles will support students in their learning journey and take into account the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate these as far as possible, while maintaining the academic standards of our qualifications. 

The University of the Highlands and Islands partnership will aim to: 

  • enable students to complete their qualification or progress to the next stage of their studies. Wherever possible, progression and award decisions will be made within normal timescales 
  • maintain the academic standards of our awards, and the value of our qualifications to students, graduates and employers 
  • award credit and qualifications consistently to recognise student achievement 
  • continue to meet the accreditation requirements of professional, statutory and regulatory bodies, where relevant 
  • make assessment decisions that are fair and students are treated consistently 
  • continue to provide opportunities for assessment at all levels, using alternative assessment arrangements where necessary. If circumstances prevent delivery of some course elements, students will not be academically penalised 

Student partnership  
We are committed to improving the student experience in partnership with the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association.  This year’s student partnership agreement was signed at the HISA student conference in January, with engagement with students on changes as a result of COVID-19 a key priority.  

Flo Jansen, President of the Students’ Association said:  

“We have been fully consulted throughout the development of this policy and reached a conclusion that the agreed measures outlined in this statement sufficiently mitigate against the impact of current circumstances in a fair and equitable manner. Some other universities have put in place what is being referred to as ‘no detriment’ policies, this toolkit of approaches to fair assessment is believed to be a more suitable approach to meet the needs of University of the Highlands and Islands higher education students.” 

For more information visit  

The one thing we can hug | A poem inspired by mood boosting trees

As the pressures of lockdown continues, advice on how to take care of your mind – look after your mental wellbeing – as well as your body, is fortunately becoming more and more visible and available.   

Dr Mandy Haggith

In a recent study ‘Wild Words for Woods’, funded by Scottish Forestry, researcher Dr Mandy Haggith uses a creative poetic inquiry technique to draw attention to the powerful and positive source of wellbeing trees offer people.  

All the words in the three-part poem have been contributed by participants who took part in three online events, set up to gather views and feelings about trees in our landscapes. Each section combines the chat responses to the question ‘Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected how you feel about trees?’, with the words reorganised to create a ‘poemish’ text.

The One Thing We Can Hug 

Being among trees helped things feel less scary.
We somehow felt calmed by the trees, 
more connected. 
Yes, we feel more connected. 

Images are of trees, a person hugging a tree and researcher Dr Haggith
Rowan tree

When it was raining,  
we sheltered and sang under a group of yews,  
bare-foot, feeling amazing, 
reconnected to the earth. 

We’re much more aware of the effect that trees have on mood. 
As a consequence of walking more locally  
we have noticed more trees, 
watched the trees in a local park change from spring to summer, 
discovered we’re interested in weeds, 
looked much more closely at things growing,  
liverworts and lichens, 
fungi and other plants we hadn’t noticed before.  
We learned a lot from this focused watching. 

We completely slowed down, 
took time to explore, 
time to experience trees, every day,  
surprised how much we’d missed before, 
connecting with new trees that were nearer to us but not on our radar. 

Our day to day lives with our ‘work’ trees have strengthened. 
We have an embodied relationship with trees: 
touch, smell, sight, sound, heart. 
We feel inspired, we love listening to their birds.  
Great trees seem to teach and protect us. 
We feel healed by trees. 

Image credit Anne Hay


In lockdown a tree becomes 
the one thing we can hug. 


COVID-19 confirmed my love of trees, 
intensified the joy in them that I already knew, 
made me more aware of their natural cycles,  
made me wish I lived even closer to woodland. 
I sold my house. 
Perhaps I can move closer to the trees. 

I have always relied upon trees and nature to guide me, support me emotionally.  
I channelled my pandemic anxiety into looking after trees. 
I have so much awe for them now – even more than before. 

During lockdown everything was very still  
and made me realise that nature endures. 
Nature has been bursting out all over. 

For a depressingly short time  
I spent much more time outside, 
more time nearer home,  
more time in the forest.  
I have had lots more time  

to look closely at trees 
to see the trees 
really see trees 
stare at trees closely without feeling self-conscious. 
I think I maybe do notice them a bit more now. 
I slowed down and looked more. 

The ashes are dying. 
How many disasters have the trees seen? 


Dr Mandy Haggith is a lecturer in Creative Writing and Literature based at Inverness College UHI and is a researcher at the university’s Centre for Remote and Sustainable Communities.   For details on future online events planned in February and March or more information on the ‘Wild Words for Woods’ research project email     

You can find links to a link to the University of the Highlands and Islands support services  from the website | 

A decade of research at the University of the Highlands and Islands

As the University of the Highlands and Islands celebrates its tenth birthday, we look back at ten key research projects our staff and students have been involved in over the years. From Neolithic textiles to marine microplastics, we hope this small selection of studies highlights the breadth and significance of research across our university partnership.

Bere barley

In autumn 2014, Bruichladdich Distillery and Isle of Arran Distillers each released a new single malt whisky made from bere, an ancient type of Scottish barley. The return of bere to whisky production was largely made possible by the Agronomy Institute at Orkney College UHI which has been working with the crop, Orkney growers and commercial collaborators since 2002. Three more vintages of bere whisky have been released by Bruichladdich since 2014.

Dr Peter Martin, Director of the Agronomy Institute, explained: “We wanted to demonstrate that old crops can still be very valuable to today’s companies. The development of new markets for such crops allows farmers to earn an income from growing them and helps to ensure their on-farm survival. This is important for conserving them as a genetic and heritage resource and allows them to continue to adapt to changing conditions.”

Scottish land reform

Historic land issues have been one of the Centre for History’s key research areas since the centre was established by Professor Jim Hunter in 2005. The team’s research has shown that, from the late 18th century, land inequality has been one of the main causes of rural poverty and deprivation in the Scottish Highlands, leading to socially unjust emigration.

The work has been used to inform contemporary public policy debate on land reform and community buyout schemes. This has had an impact on levels of community ownership, on statutory oversight by the Scottish Land Commission and on extending community ‘right to buy’ to the whole of Scotland.

The research has fed directly into the Scottish-wide sense of land-access injustices and, as reported by the Land Reform Review Group, has helped shape the Scottish Government’s realisation that addressing land inequalities is “fundamental to the wellbeing, economic success, environmental sustainability and social justice of the country.”

The Phoenix

The Phoenix is the first ever large-scale aircraft powered by variable-buoyancy propulsion. Professor of Engineering, Andrew Rae, who is based at Perth College UHI Campus, led the design of the autonomous vehicle. He explained:

“The Phoenix spends half its time as a heavier-than-air aeroplane, the other as a lighter-than-air balloon. The repeated transition between these states provides the sole source of propulsion. This system allows the Phoenix to be completely self-sufficient.

“Vehicles based on this technology could be used as pseudo satellites and would provide a much cheaper option for telecommunication activities. Current equivalent aeroplanes are very complex and expensive. By contrast, Phoenix is almost expendable and so provides previously unavailable options.”

The prototype was flown successfully during indoor trials in 2019. The Phoenix team is exploring collaborations to take the technology to the next phase of development. The project was part-funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s Innovation Agency, through the Aerospace Technology Institute.

Linguistic fragility

Researchers from the university’s Language Sciences Institute and Soillse, a multi-institutional research collaboration, launched a new book in 2020. ‘The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community: A comprehensive sociolinguistic survey of Scottish Gaelic’ is the most comprehensive social survey on the state of Gaelic communities ever conducted.

The book presents research about Gaelic communities in the Western Isles, the Isle of Skye and Tiree. The authors’ main findings show that the language is in crisis and that, within remaining vernacular communities of Scotland, the social use and transmission of Gaelic is at the point of collapse.

The research has led to increased national awareness of linguistic, social and economic fragility in traditional Gaelic areas and to calls for new support and interventions.

Peatland research

Dr Roxane Andersen from the Environmental Research Institute at North Highland College UHI is a leading peatland researcher. In 2020 she was awarded a £986,000 Leverhulme Trust leadership award to undertake a new research programme into the peatlands of northern Scotland.

Dr Andersen will use the funding to develop a team of nine researchers who will explore how climate change could affect blanket bogs and to assess the effectiveness of restoration efforts. The team will use cutting-edge technologies and techniques, including satellite remote sensing, to investigate how we can protect and restore blanket bog areas.

Peatlands are renowned for their ability to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, to promote biodiversity and to provide high quality water.

Water innovation

University of the Highlands and Islands researchers received £245,919 from the Scottish Government’s Hydro Nation scholars programme in 2020 to undertake two new projects to help improve the quality of water being released into the environment.

The first project will tackle the issue of clearing pharmaceutical drugs from hospital wastewater. These chemicals are difficult to remove from water treatment works so researchers will investigate whether new filters made from nanomaterials which adsorb and breakdown the chemicals, together with exposure to specialised light, can eliminate them before they leave hospital water systems. The project, led by the university’s Institute for Health Research and Innovation and North Highland College UHI’s Environmental Research Institute, will involve innovations developed by PolyCat UK and collaboration with NHS Highland.

The second project will investigate the effectiveness of reedbeds which are used to clean wastewater from the distilling process. Researchers from the Environmental Research Institute and Inverness College UHI’s Rivers and Lochs Institute will use ‘environmental DNA’ techniques to measure the diversity of the ecosystem in reedbeds and link this to water quality at Scottish distilleries. The project, run in collaboration with the Malt Distillers Association of Scotland, the Scotch Whisky Association and the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, aims to develop a toolkit to maximise reedbed performance.

The university is part of the One Health Breakthrough Partnership which saw Caithness General become the first hospital to receive an Alliance for Water Stewardship award and which has now received Scottish Government funding to co-ordinate a national initiative.

Liver cancer treatment

An innovation developed by Professor Jun Wei, an expert in genetics, has shown promising results in the treatment of liver cancer. Professor Wei devised a kit for screening blood bank stock for samples with high levels of a cancer-fighting antibody. Plasma with high levels of the antibody can be infused into patients to kill liver cancer cells.

Trials in China, which has more than half of the world’s population of liver cancer patients, showed that people who received the new therapy survive, on average, one year longer than those who have received conventional treatment. This represents a significant increase in the life expectancy of these patients, with the average survival period increasing from 20 months to 32 months.

The university signed an agreement to licence the technology to Qingdao Hailanshen Biotechnology, the company which supported the clinical trials, in 2019.

Harmful algal blooms

Scotland’s aquaculture industry, including finfish and shellfish production, contributes approximately £620 million a year to the Scottish economy, supports over 12,000 jobs and generates employment in remote rural areas. Research by the Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI has minimised the serious risks to the economic sustainability of the aquaculture industry and the health of consumers posed by harmful algal blooms and their related biotoxins.

Understanding the development of harmful algal blooms allows rapid reporting and forecasting. This enables shellfish producers and the regulatory body (Food Standards Scotland) to suspend harvesting or undertake tests to verify the safety of the product when harmful algal blooms occur. Since 2014, this work and expertise has underpinned the supply of almost 15 million Scottish shellfish portions to UK and international consumers without a single reported poisoning case. The work has also informed harmful algal bloom regulatory monitoring guidance across all EU member states.

Archaeological discoveries

In June 2020, archaeologists from the university’s Archaeology Institute found evidence of a 5000-year-old Neolithic textile in Orkney. The impression of the woven cloth was discovered on a fragment of pottery found at Ness of Brodgar.

Organic material from prehistory does not often survive unless in very specific oxygen-free conditions so the study of Neolithic textiles relies on secondary evidence. There is only one other piece of evidence suggesting the use of woven textiles in Neolithic Scotland – another clay imprint discovered in Dumfries and Galloway in 1966.

The team has made many other significant finds, including evidence of a Viking drinking hall on Rousay and 8000-year-old hazel nut shells, thought to be the remains of Mesolithic hunter-gatherer’s snack on Skye.

Marine microplastics

In 2017, scientists at the Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI found that around half of marine creatures living at depths of more than 2000 metres in the North Atlantic could be eating microplastic material.

Researchers sampled deep-sea starfish and sea snails from the Rockall Trough and found microscopic traces of plastic in 48 per cent of those sampled. The levels of plastic ingestion were comparable to those found in species living in shallower coastal waters.

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than 5 millimetres in size and, when ingested by sea creatures, may be passed up the food chain.

Although scientists previously found traces of microplastics in the deep sea, this research was the first time microplastic ingestion in deep-sea invertebrates has been quantified.

Creating connections: Supporting the social side of online learning

With lockdown restrictions affecting campuses across the world, 2020 has shone a spotlight on online and blended learning techniques. However, education is about more than the transfer of knowledge. Social interactions are an important part of the student experience, vital for providing support and developing skills such as team working. We asked staff, graduates and our students’ association how they help to create digital learning communities.

Dr Iain Morrison, Dean of Students

The pandemic has had a profound impact on the ways higher education operates, with many universities having to adapt quickly to an environment where learning and teaching delivery is predominately online. Pedagogical skills have had to be rapidly developed, online infrastructure invested in and student expectations managed.

Less visible have been the rapid changes in the ways professional services are being delivered to ensure processes work smoothly for students and their support needs are met.

All universities are now moving into the online space to support their students and, at the University of the Highlands and Islands, we are finding ourselves the subject of multiple requests from colleagues elsewhere keen to learn from our experiences. Although nothing could have prepared us for the recent challenges, we have found that we possess significant strengths.

Based in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, our partnership of 13 colleges and research institutions covers the largest geographical area of any campus-based university or college in the UK. We have the largest student population in Scotland, with nearly 37,000 students studying with us each year. Our blended learning approach combines video conferencing, online technologies, real time support from lecturers and local staff and face-to-face teaching.

Although we have the advantage of world-class technology, the focus is not on the technology itself, but how we use it to support our students and to create a sense of belonging and opportunity during this challenging period.

Emma Robson, Activities Manager, Highlands and Islands Students’ Association

The Highlands and Islands Students’ Association had to adapt quickly to the ‘new world’ during a crucial time for both new and returning students.

Clubs and societies started to use social media and communication platforms in place of physical meet ups and arranged social events such as quizzes for their members. Students also set up new ways to recruit members, taking part in induction programmes at local colleges to ensure engagement is as high as possible.

HISA student reps coordinated virtual tours of campuses and local areas across the Highlands and Islands and organised online social events like ‘dungeons and dragons’ which proved very popular. There have also been student competitions, including a treasure hunt in Lerwick to encourage students to individually find their way around their new town! Many other campuses also hosted events, such as live DJ sets, music bingo and virtual drop-in sessions with senior management.

Throughout lockdown, HISA has put on a range of events which are open to all students, including ‘cuppa and chat’ sessions to allow students to get to know people from different campuses. We also arranged a ‘HISA-lympics’ for students to keep fit.

We introduced an online freshers’ programme this year too. The event included a quiz hosted by Mark Labbett from ITV’s ‘The Chase’. Our students took on Fife students and, naturally, our students won! We also had a music event which celebrated women in traditional music across the university partnership which reached almost ten thousand viewers. Our most popular freshers’ event was a comedy night with four comedians, including headliner Iain Stirling. It was a fantastic comedy exclusive for Highlands and Islands students!

Anna-Wendy Stevenson, BA (Hons) Applied Music Programme Leader

Our applied music programme has pioneered delivering creative online residentials to students since 2014, allowing participation from even the most remote locations. As a result, despite the current restrictions due to Coronavirus, our students could meet as usual this September through a virtual residency.

We are living in a time where community has never been so important. The value of community for collaboration and learning underpins the curriculum design and delivery of our applied music degree.

Our face to face residencies are rites of passage and reflect many aspects of the professional music world, from long, intense days full of learning, to working with musicians of different backgrounds and expertise. Shifting to fully online as a result of COVID, we consciously retained the intensity of schedule and expectations, engaging students in collaborative tasks which are often creatively and academically challenging. 

We begun our academic year by focusing on our programme values and ethics, discussing themes of ‘community’, ‘collaboration over competition’ and ‘belonging’. We created a range of in-course support groups, both in and across year groups, through a study buddy system and by spreading students who are confident with technology throughout groups. Bringing the university’s creative writing degree into our residency allowed students to meet with peers on another programme. Engaging with external organisations such as the Scottish Music Industry Association and XpoNorth to shape opportunities for response and resilience has also been a key factor. 

Video conference presentations with simultaneous chat functions have enabled more discursive and meaningful interactions between students and staff. We have found there is stronger attention and investment as part of the evolving discussion process. One second year student explained: “I feel noticed, encouraged and valued.”

To develop performance skills, musicians need to isolate and practice for hours on end. Yet rarely is the performative side a solo venture – it usually relies on intensive collaboration. To facilitate this, we create opportunities for social engagement such as ‘a chat and a tune’ on Friday lunchtimes and an ‘applied music bake-off’ which went global on social media. We have also organised evening events such as ‘desert island discs’ which encourages staff to share their musical inspirations, experiences and life stories.

This holistic approach to support collaboration, community and wellbeing both in curriculum and in social spaces has been incredibly successful. Contrary to staff and student concerns, engagement in the online environment was actually been higher and more sustained during the online residency week than the equivalent face to face activity. New friendships have been forged from Spain to Shetland through a carefully curated community of practice which values collaboration over competition.

Fraser Szymborski-Welsh, PGDE (Primary) graduate

There were lots of opportunities to build relationships with fellow students on the PGDE (primary) course, both online and in person. At the start of the year, we met at Badaguish Outdoor Centre for a three-day residency where we collaborated with students from across the university partnership. We met our classmates for the first time and formed seminar groups which would meet online during the course.

Being online helped massively with the social elements of student life. We used chat groups to keep in contact with our classmates and seminar groups for document sharing and collaborative work. The benefits of using online chats for advice, reassurance and support cannot be understated. There was always somebody available who had experienced the same problem or asked the same question before. An issue from a student in Inverness could potentially be resolved in just a few minutes by a network of students from as far away as Shetland or the Borders.

Our online collaboration increased greatly when classes went online during lockdown. Classes and meetings were held in virtual classrooms and assessments were submitted online too. We also adapted to socialising in this way. Where we would have met up in person before, we used online facilities to host informal chats. We even held a ‘spring break’ party where some of us wore fancy dress on the last day of term!

Now our class has graduated, we still keep in touch via WhatsApp groups. It’s fantastic to hear how everyone is getting on and to have a network of new teachers around the country we can call on for advice throughout our careers.

Top tips for preventing digital eye strain

With many of us spending more time than ever at our computer screens, Alison Macpherson, Programme Leader for the University of the Highlands and Islands’ optometry BSc (Hons), highlights the issue of digital eyestrain and how to avoid it.

When the clocks go back at the start of winter, optometry practitioners often see an increase in patients reporting difficulty with reading small print in the darker nights.

We often forget that the human eye is a finely tuned instrument which works best in natural daylight conditions, so reading outside on a bright summer’s day (with protection from UV rays of course) is a very different visual task to sitting in front of the fire on a cold winter’s evening reading the latest release from a favourite author. Similarly, the use of digital technology as a means of communication can have an impact on our visual system.

The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to cause challenges to our daily lives. Many of us are still working remotely from our kitchen tables or spare rooms and the format of our working day is considerably different from how it was before lockdown.

Our day to day lives have become dominated by technology. Our working days can consist of virtual meetings requiring long spells in front of a screen and, even away from work, our social interactions are now also facilitated via Zoom, Facetime or other virtual means. This means that large portions of our lives currently centre around display screen equipment.

Using a screen or computer can be visually demanding and may cause symptoms which are not apparent when you carry out other work. Asthenopia (eyestrain) associated with screen use can manifest with a variety of symptoms including eye fatigue, discomfort, blurred vision, pain or generally sore eyes. Visually related symptoms can also be caused by factors such as ergonomics.

How to help these symptoms

  • Take regular breaks
  • Look away from your screen periodically and allow your eyes to refocus on an object at a different distance. A good technique is to use the 20-20-20 rule by focussing on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes.
  • Adjust the settings on your screen including brightness, contrast and font size so it’s easier to see
  • Consider the distance you are sitting away from the screen – arm’s length is optimal for most people.
  • Regular eye examinations with an optometrist can help to identify any underlying causes that may be contributing to symptoms.
  • Optometrist, Nicola McElvanney, from Optometry Scotland, also recommends switching off screens at least half an hour before you go to bed, as this may upset the Circadian rhythms that help to control sleep patterns.

For more information about the University of the Highlands and Islands BSc (Hons) optometry, visit

Responding to the pandemic – insights from an infection prevention and control graduate

Sofie French, a senior infection prevention and control nurse who graduated from our infection prevention and control MSc in 2018, talks about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the benefits of online study.

Tell us about your experience of studying infection prevention and control

I completed the infection prevention and control MSc online whilst in full-time employment as an infection prevention and control specialist nurse.

The course linked directly with all aspects of my clinical practice. It gave me a deeper theoretical knowledge and understanding of infection prevention and control and allowed me to apply this to my daily practice e.g. when managing incidents or outbreaks in healthcare facilities.

Through completing this course, I have not only gained promoted posts in my field, but I have had the opportunity to present at national and international conferences.

When I started studying with the university, I was working as an infection prevention and control audit and surveillance nurse. I am currently a senior infection prevention and control nurse, working at a national level within the Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infection Scotland team.

What does your job involve?

My role is incredibly diverse. One day I can be filming educational videos, the next I’ll be providing specialist advice and support to Health Boards on outbreak management. I manage a planned programme of work, which includes the ongoing development and maintenance of the National Infection Prevention and Control Manual, a resource to support board-level infection prevention and control across NHS Scotland.

Within infection prevention and control, my passion is delivering education. I enjoy developing educational materials and this was the focus for my dissertation. Throughout my career I have gained extensive experience in face to face teaching and have also had the opportunity to develop educational content for NHS Education for Scotland.

Some of our work is also reactive in nature, such as supporting the national COVID-19 pandemic response. The pandemic has completely changed the way we work, as the situation is continually evolving, meaning we need to react swiftly. I was also deployed to the NHS Louisa Jordan Nightingale Hospital to assist with the operational phase of opening. This was a once in a lifetime experience that will stay with me forever.

How have you been involved in the COVID-19 response?

I’ve been at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, providing support and guidance, reviewing outbreak and incident data and working closely with stakeholders such as NHS Boards and the Scottish Government. Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infection Scotland is leading the national agenda for infection prevention and control in Scotland.

I continue to work and collaborate with NHS Education for Scotland as part of my role and we have recently developed COVID-19 supporting educational materials.

How did you find studying online?

Distance learning can often be perceived as challenging, but if the recent lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that it can be done! Throughout my time at the university I felt that all of the tutors and lecturers were fantastic. They were available to provide guidance and support throughout the modules and kept the momentum of the module going through ongoing engagement on the university’s virtual learning environment.

The benefit of distance learning is that you have the opportunity to engage with individuals from all over the world, virtually. There were people from many different countries on my course and we all participated in discussions. It was interesting to understand the infection prevention and control challenges that colleagues faced in other countries, such as extensive antimicrobial resistance.

It also gave us the ability to share and discuss how we would manage issues within in our own areas. This is a level of discussion that other students may not experience in a face to face learning environment and I feel that it was beneficial and allowed me to reflect on my own clinical practice.

You can find out more about the University of the Highlands and Islands Infection Prevention and Control MSc

Satellites, artificial intelligence and COVID – How University of the Highlands and Islands researchers are advancing our understanding of diabetes

To mark World Diabetes Day on Saturday 14 November, Professor Sandra MacRury and Professor Ian Megson from our School of Health, Social Care and Life Science highlight some of the projects our researchers are undertaking to further our understanding of diabetes and its treatment. 

Diabetes and COVID-19

Professor Ian Megson

One of the most puzzling aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the wide range of outcomes for infected people: some experience no symptoms at all, while others are admitted to hospital, can require artifical ventilation or can die as a result of the disease. Amongst the factors that we now know to increase the liklihood of severe symptoms is pre-existing disease in infected people. Diabetes is understood to be one such disease.

At the outset of the pandemic, one of our students switched his project to investigate the link between pre-existing diabetes and severe symptoms in COVID-19. Jacob Roberts is investigating how the virus can trigger changes to cells that constitute the capillaries in our lungs to cause them to become leaky and inflamed, leading to breathing diffiulties. The team believes that these cells in patients with diabetes are particularly prone to such harmful changes, which might contribute to the severe symptoms experienced in COVID-19. Mr Roberts is funded through the Eastern Corridor Engineering Centre, supported by the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.

Links between diabetes and cardiovascular disease

By far the biggest impact of diabetes is on the heart and blood vessels, markedly increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, visual impairment and problems associated with the lower legs and feet. However, the underlying mechanism by which diabetes drives blood vessel disease is not yet fully understood.

In a recently completed PhD project funded by the European Social Fund, Maria Luisa Fiorello found that high sugar caused the cells that line all our blood vessels to stop producing substances that protect against cardiovascular disease and blood clots. The work has been published in the journal Scientific Reports. Dr Fiorello went on to show that a particular type of sugar (fructose) found in fruit and soft drinks has a very profound effect on these cells. These findings have important implications with respect to limiting our intake of refined sugar in our diet.

Remote monitoring of diabetes

Professor Sandra MacRury

The usual test for monitoring overall diabetes control requires regular blood samples. In rural areas this can involve considerable travel. Our research has shown that a method of carrying out this test using dried blood from a finger stab sample which can be carried out in the person’s home and posted to the local laboratory gives comparable results to conventional methods. This has considerable benefits not just for people living in remote or rural areas, but for the wider population of people living with diabetes in the post-COVID environment. Further trials are planned to explore integration of this method into routine practice at scale.

Another new approach to monitoring glucose levels in diabetes is the use of flash monitoring of glucose sensors applied to the arm which can provide a continuous stream of glucose levels over 24 hours. There is mounting evidence for benefits in people living with type 1 diabetes in the community. People with diabetes tend to spend longer in hospital than those without and our rural health and wellbeing research team are working with partners in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to lead a European Interreg project to explore the feasibility of using these sensors for people with diabetes in a hospital setting and to determine if they can help to reduce time spent in hospital.

This is part of a wider project around unscheduled care in diabetes and the team recently published an article on the role of ambulance staff across Scotland in transporting people with diabetes-related problems to hospital. Further analysis is taking place to examine differences in remote and rural communities.

Supporting foot health with satellites and artifical intelligence

‘Reducing amputations in diabetes’ is a technology-enabled project which has developed and evaluated a new service pathway for people living with diabetes-related foot ulceration in rural Highland areas. The trial uses satellite technology in remote primary care settings to improve connectivity and allow remote consultation for patients and community staff with the specialist diabetes foot team in Inverness. The study, supported by an Innovate UK and European Space Agency grant, involves a consortium of academic, NHS and commercial partners.

Highland has also been selected for exploring the use of artifical intelligence with large health datasets for the prediction of diabetes-related foot problems. If successful, the technology could aid earlier prevention and intervention strategies to reduce ulceration and amputations.The project is funded by the Small Business Research Institute and is being run in conjuction with NHS Highland.

Screening is also an important aspect of prevention in diabetes foot disease. One of the early manifestations of diabetes foot problems is a change in foot pressure which can been an indicator of potential ulceration. As foot pressure measurement is not routinely included in the foot screening process, we have been exploring the use of a Footscan mat to assess pressure measurements in people with diabetes with a view to conducting further trials as part of foot screening in a rural community setting.

Lifestyle and type 2 diabetes

Lifestyle is an important factor in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes. 

Being overweight or obese can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes and, with the increasing prevalence of these problems nationally, the prevention of diabetes has become an important strategy in Scotland. The use of very low calorie diets has proven to be effective in reversing type 2 diabetes in overweight individuals. We are conducting a study in conjunction with NHS Highland of a very low calorie diet in the prevention of type 2 diabetes for people who have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes.

We are also undertaking a study with High Life Highland which involves exercise trainers supporting a programme to increase physical activity for people with type 2 diabetes in the Highland region.

To find out more about research at the University of the Highlands and Islands, visit

Revealing the ‘spirit of the highlands’


Head shot of Prof David Worthington smiling
Prof David Worthington

Professor David Worthington is the Head of the Centre for History at the University of the Highlands and Islands.  He shares his delight in the seeing the spirit of the highlands project come to life and explains how to get involved.   

It was a bright, sunny Saturday morning in September when I saw the vibrant red hoardings around Inverness Castle for the first time. I took my time to absorb the drawings, photographs and text which combine  to tell the story of the Castle Hill area, and detail the inventive plans for the conversion of the former courthouse and prison into a modern visitor attraction over the next four years.

Despite many projects having halted due to the impact of COVID-19, this Highland Council initiative managed by High Life Highland – a delivery organisation which provides cultural, leisure and learning services on behalf of the Council – continues to advance. It is entitled ‘Inverness Castle – Spirit of the Highlands’ -and is the biggest single heritage development in the Highland region of the last century. 

It was exciting to see the hoardings – for which myself and a colleague at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Professor Hugh Cheape, were text advisors – in place. I was also proud to see references on them to the university’s innovative approach to education and research, as “encouraging new ways of living, working and learning in the region”.

Writing and images on a large permenent exhibition with Inverness Castle building in the background
A view of a part of the ‘Spirit of the Highlands’ hoardings

The university is a proud project partner, with aligned aims to support economic growth in the region, and we are an active contributor towards ensuring the creation of a sustainable, viable and ‘must-see’ attraction that will show the spirit of the Highland past, present and future, including its creativity, culture, and natural environment.

After centuries of being marginalised, the communities that the university serves in the Highlands and Islands, Moray and Perthshire, while still experiencing some massive social and economic challenges, have begun to see signs of cultural renewal.

Towards this end, the university signed a memorandum of understanding in 2016 with High Life Highland and we’ve now worked together on several significant projects.   

For the Dornoch-based Centre for History, where I work, this has involved a range of collaborations and co-productions on public history projects of various types. To highlight a few: a collaborative PhD with Highland Folk Museum; our part in the inspirational ‘Inverness Rare Books’ project; public exhibitions at the Highland Archive Centre, and several other book launches, lectures and joint events held at High Life Highland museums, libraries and archives.

It is immensely gratifying that one of the outcomes of our research and teaching collaborations with them is to show the agency – the resilience and, sometimes against all odds, vitality – of Highland communities, and to help inspire the ‘Spirit of the Highlands’ concept.

A view of a part of the ‘Spirit of the Highlands’ hoardings

Ultimately, the ‘Inverness Castle – Spirit of the Highlands’ development, is one of the largest cultural projects to be undertaken in the Highlands, and our staff, students, graduates and communities have a unique opportunity to engage with it from now until 2024 and beyond.

Many of our students have had the opportunity to work on this ‘live’ project in some shape or form already. We’ve seen architectural technology students based at Inverness College UHI presenting digital and true-to-scale physical models of their initial concepts for the Castle Hill area, a student studying BA (Hons) art and contemporary practice on placement with the Creative Director of the Castle Hill Project, Bryan Beattie and a BA (Hons) contemporary film making in the highlands and islands student supporting the ‘call for stories’ promotional video, which is narrated by Julie Fowlis, the university’s alumnus of the year in 2013.

Myself and Katie Masheter, Curriculum Development Employer Engagement Officer and many others at the university are fortunate to be working with, and learning much from, the dedicated Castle Hill transformation project team.  Together we continue to nurture a range of new and exciting plans that we trust will see this link strengthen further.

Uncovering your story

Talking with Bryan Beattie, Creative Director, he sums up why it is so important :

“The whole project is intended to reflect the Spirit of the Highlands, a fantastic challenge that ranges from intangibles like the warmth of the welcome or beauty of a landscape, to specifics like the type of food and drink from the area. Story will bind all aspects together – not a conventional history but a crowd-sourced one, using the authentic voices and lived experience of contemporary Highlanders and those who’ve chosen to make the area their home.

Personal story is a direct way of connecting the visitor with the local, finding your own experience reflected in the life of another. It’s a typically bold Highland statement – looking for the connection with friends, neighbours and visitors, and then exploring those links in an entertaining way in a special environment.

The geographic location of the Castle – a striking red sandstone Victorian building overlooking the river – make it a natural magnet for visitors. This development will build on that and create something that locals will also use regularly. A venue has to earn that type of loyalty from its community, but by trusting them to provide the stories that are interpreted within it the `Spirit of the Highlands’ project is making a clear statement of intent.”

Your turn. How do I get involved?
Everyone has a story to share. What kind of stories? Stories about people you might have heard at a ceilidh: the uncle or aunt who worked on the hydro schemes from afar and decided to stay; the sibling that set up the local fèis, the neighbour that kayaked the Great Glen in record time…
The stories of each community too, large and small: the local events that shaped it;  how it has become involved or entangled in global histories; about its singing sands or Viking graffiti, the things that give it a distinctive fingerprint.

Material collected will become an ‘Autobiography of the Highlands’, a unique collection of stories held in a digital archive, all told by the people who live, work and visit here. If you have any ideas you feel could help, or questions about the project do contact the dedicated team at

You can also follow and share the projects advancement through social media channels, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.   With thanks to the Inverness and the Highlands City Region Deal and The Highland Council for their support of the Inverness Castle redevelopment and to Creative Scotland for the Spirit:360 project.

Prof David Worthington is a University of the Highlands and Islands representative on the Inverness Castle Project Delivery Group and chairs the separate University of the Highland and Islands and High Life Highland advisory group to the project.

Halloween, the time of witches, is upon us yet again

As coronavirus restrictions impact many modern day traditions on 31 October this year, like ‘guising’, costume parties and ‘apple bobbing’, we can still tell spooky tales at home, visit haunted attractions (online) and remember a time when witchcraft had deadly consequences for many!

Dr Ragnhild Ljosland a researcher of Orkney’s culture and heritage at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Sigurd Towrie, marketing manager at the institute, share a few witches tales from Orkney.

Halloween is a special time of year that is particularly magical and sinister

On the Orkney Islands, between 1594-1708, islanders tried and found guilty of witchcraft were put to death at an execution site on Clay Loan, Kirkwall.  In March 2019, as part of a research project commissioned by the by the Orkney Heritage Society with the University of the Highlands and Islands a memorial to the victims was placed at their Kirkwall execution site to commemorate the victims.  

Memorial site, Kirkwall, Orkney

Who were Jonet Rendall and Janet Forsyth, two of the 80 victims of the Orkney witchcraft trials?

Jonet Rendall was an Orkney woman tried for witchcraft in 1629. She was poor and relied on ‘alms’, food or money given to poor people from others, for her survival. When someone refused to give her food or a bed for the night, she showed her disappointment by mumbling. People thought she was mumbling spells to harm them and that she was responsible for their cows producing thin milk.

Surely it was the Devil himself who had taught her to do this? And to do it on Halloween to make it more effective?

It was believed that that witches met with the Devil on certain nights, including Halloween, in specially chosen locations. In her confession, Jonet Rendall said she met with the Devil on a hilltop in the parish of Rendall on the Orkney Mainland. Or perhaps she never thought of him as the Devil, perhaps only her accusers made that connection.

Jonet said she had met a man in white clothes, with a white head and white beard, whom she called Walliman. He taught her to heal, so that people would give her food, and to harm those who refused her.

She might have thought he was a fairy – one of the “hill-folk” well known in Orkney folklore. In her trial, she points to Walliman as the originator of the various crimes she was accused of committing by witchcraft. Walliman caused cattle and horses to die. Walliman caused illness and death to people in the parish.

Victorian folklore

A similar name for the Devil was used in a spell written down by the Victorian folklore collector Walter Traill Dennison in the 1880s.

Dennison, from the Orkney island of Sanday, says that to become a witch, and pledge yourself to the powers of darkness, first wait for a full moon, then go alone to the beach, turn three times against the sun and lie down between the high and low water marks. Place stones around your body and over your heart.

Then recite a spell which Dennison recounts, in Scots, where the would-be witch implores the “Mester King o’ a’ that’s ill” to come and “tak me noo” in the name of “de muckle black Wallowa!” Then rise up, taking care to turn to the left, and throw the stones, one by one, into the sea.

Like many others, Dennison was familiar with the widespread belief that witchcraft was particularly rife in the north. When visiting a port on the Scottish mainland, the young Dennison was asked by one of the sailors where he was from. Upon replying “Orkney”, the man “shrank back” muttering: “Oh, my lad, you hail from that lubber land where so many witches dwell.”

The Westray Storm Witch

Another Orkney witch accused of practicing witchcraft on Halloween was Janet Forsyth, better known as the Westray Storm Witch. Forsyth was believed to be able to save a ship in storm, and for generations afterwards was regarded as someone who could take sailors’ lives in her own hands.

Today, the story of the Westray Storm Witch is told and retold in Orkney.

In the folk story, Janet warns her sweetheart, Ben Garrioch, not to go fishing on a certain day because she has dreamt he will perish. Garrioch ignores the warning and goes anyway, never to be seen again. Janet becomes a recluse and her reputation grows for having the ability to control the wind and the fog.

Two years later, she is taken to Kirkwall to be tried for witchcraft. But on the day of her verdict, as she looks out at the assembled crowd she spots a familiar face and cries out: “Save me, Ben!” before being dragged off to be kept overnight in a cell in St Magnus Cathedral.

The following morning, however, when the executioner went to fetch her, Janet Forsyth was gone. Her sweetheart, as the story goes, had not died at sea but had been kidnapped by the Press Gang to serve in the navy. He had returned at just the right moment to spirit his beloved away. The happy couple were never again seen in Orkney but lived a happy life together in England to the end of their days.

Sadly, the true story does not have a happy ending and Janet Forsyth’s court record paints a very different picture. In November 1629, she was brought to trial accused of slaying four pigs, which subsequently caused illness in a woman who ate the pork. She also faced accusations that she bewitched two men – making them ill and then healing them; magically taking the fat from the milk of other people’s cows and the food out of their grain, and putting curses on those who refused to give her food or drink when asking for alms. She also allegedly bewitched a man to fall ill while at sea before healing him again the same evening by washing him in salt water.

Janet Forsyth was sentenced to have her hands tied and be taken to the Kirkwall execution site, where she was to be fastened to a stake, strangled, and burned.

International collaboration

Dr Ragnhild Ljosland’s witchcraft project included contributions from researchers from as far afield as Finnmark in the extreme north of Norway, Warwick in England and Perth in Australia.

The University of the Highlands and Islands has a strong research and knowledge exchange collaboration culture, which together with the technical resources available to staff and students has enabled continued interaction locally, regionally and internationally with the academic community during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Visit the Archaeology Institute to find out more about current research projects and the range of undergraduate, postgraduate and research courses available.

Dr Ragnhild Ljosland is a co-editor of a new publication ‘New Orkney Antiquarian Journal Vol9: Commemorating the Victims of the Orkney Witchcraft Trials’, with James Irvine at the Orkney Heritage Society.  Readers can find the stories of many others who were also tried for witchcraft in Orkney, explored and analysed in their historical, political and folkloric context. Sigurd Towrie, an alumni of the University of the Highlands and Islands, also works at the Ness of Brodgar.  

Five top tips for writing your personal statement

1. Have a clear beginning, middle and end

There is no set way to write a personal statement, but having a clear beginning, middle and end will help your personal statement to flow naturally.


Get straight to the point and begin with an opening sentence that will capture the reader’s attention. Course selectors are looking for someone who sounds interested in their subject and they want to hear why you are interested in it too. Clearly explain your reasons for wanting to study the course. If you are applying for an academic degree, such as geography for example, think about why you want to spend a long time studying this subject in detail and write about what you’ve enjoyed so far and what you want to learn more about.


Focus on your academic studies, work experience and extra-curricular activities here to show how you meet the selection criteria. This will also allow you to demonstrate your transferrable skills to show your suitability for the course. Consider what topics you have studied at school and how they relate to the course you are applying for. If you are applying for a history degree, for example, you could talk about specific topics within this subject area or demonstrate how you have gone above and beyond the curriculum by highlighting books you’ve read or taster sessions you’ve attended.

If you are applying for a vocational course such as nursing, you may find you focus more time talking about work-related experiences which demonstrate the skills and abilities you have which are relevant to the course. These experiences will enable you to write confidently about what you like about the profession and why you think it would be the right career for you.

Universities want to see that you are committed to university study. Show them that you are prepared to work hard. If you are interested in a vocational course, such as teaching, they will want to see that you have undertaken work experience in an appropriate setting. Having classroom experience allows you to decide on the year groups you would like to teach and will help you to write confidently about your observations in the classroom.

Universities are also keen on hearing about your transferrable skills from work experience or from extra-curricular activities: time management, coping under pressure, interpersonal skills, decision making and team working. To help you write about your transferrable skills in depth you can use the ABC model (action, benefit, course). This model allows you to describe an activity or role (A), detail the transferrable skills that you gained (B) and how these relate to the course (C).

For example, playing a sport requires dedication, determination and focus. These skills are useful for university when working towards varying deadlines and studying for exams each semester. Another benefit from playing a group sport is the teamwork skills that you will develop. Teamwork teaches you to communicate effectively and to be a good listener. These are important skills for participating in groupwork, for example, on a social sciences degree, as you will already have the skills to express ideas and opinions confidently during groupwork.


The end of your personal statement should summarise all the key points and talk about what you expect of yourself when you finish the course. If you have a specific career aspiration, tell the reader all about this and how your course will help you to reach that goal.

2. Consider your course choices carefully

You can only submit one personal statement for all courses so you should consider your choices carefully. When applicants apply for different courses which are specific to different vocations, such as nursing and teaching, it shows admissions staff that they may not be committed to either subject. This could harm an application, especially for competitive courses, and your place could be given to someone else who shows more commitment and passion to one subject.

3. Set a schedule

Many students worry about writing their personal statement because it could be the first time that they have had to write something personal about themselves. Writing something that shows your personality and enthusiasm for the course may take longer than you think. Don’t worry about the word count on your first draft. By setting yourself a schedule, you are giving yourself time to tease out what you want to display centre stage.

4. Ask for feedback

Ask people you trust to read through what you have written. They may think of something important to include which you may have overlooked.

5. Remember you have a lot to offer!

You just need to communicate what sets you apart from the competition by selling all the skills and experience that you have.

Kathleen Moran, Schools Recruitment Officer

For more information about courses at the University of the Highlands and Islands, visit