Category Archives: Uncategorized

Enjoying student successes at the MG ALBA Scots Traditional Music Awards

Ahead of the annual awards that celebrates and showcases the incredible talent that drives the traditional music industry in Scotland, Simon Bradley, programme leader of the university’s music and the environment masters course praises those recognised in nominations and reflects on their pathway.       

‘Hands up for Trad’

This year this annual event returns to Glasgow on Saturday 4 December.  Broadcast live from the Engine Works on BBC ALBA at 9pm, the award ceremony is one of the most anticipated in Scotland’s thriving traditional music culture.

Supporting and celebrating talent

Ahead of the ceremony, organised superbly by Hands up for Trad, I want to wish all the nominees well on the night and congratulate them on being recognised for their achievements. 

Once again, we have a fantastic group of music students and alumni that feature strongly in this year’s nominations. Each have studied with us in the 10 years since we have been delivering the BA (Hons) applied music degree and progression pathways for graduates.

Musical activity in Scotland connects communities in a myriad of ways and has a powerful significance to our cultural landscape, heritage and people.  At the university we recognise the important in bringing together industry with our students, and through our curriculum continue to develop novel collaborations with industry to unlock professional opportunity and practical support for our students.

Sheila Sapkota

Meet Sheila Sapkota. An alumnus from the Scottish Borders, she graduated from the BA applied music degree in 2018 and then progressing to the music and the environment masters programme. Her studies culminated in a final masters project that inspired the ‘Two Towns Housing Estate Youth Musical Outreach’, nominated in the community project of the year award, sponsored by Greentrax Recordings. 

Her masters programme springs from a desire to provide ‘Music for all’ in communities where gaps in provision are mitigated with free tuition and instruments. The flourishing of musical activity in these youth groups has produced noticeable benefits to her local community. By providing accessibility and flexibility to learn we can enable our students to be remain based in their own communities where they can apply their learning and contribute to local contexts.

“This band, in an area of multiple deprivation, would not have formed without the community project aspect of the Masters.” Sheila Sapkota

And we have more students, staff and graduates nominees.   

  • Madderam feature in the up-and-coming artist of the year award; and
  • Livewire by Mec Lir and Gaol by Rachel Walker, both nominated in the album of the year award

Invitation to our anniversary event 

Marking ten years since the applied music degree was introduced, we are celebrating with an online get together on Wednesday 24 November at 4pm.

Everyone is welcome to join our team based across the university partnership in discussion with graduates, current students and guests to reflect, remember and find out more about how you might wish to get involved in the future. As well as producing some of Scotland’s top performers and educators, for three consecutive years our innovative music programme has achieved 100% scores in the National Student Survey, highlighting the value students place on a curriculum which has developed strong community and engagement with industry and professional opportunity. 

Exploring a ‘Future Me’

Providing employment-focused conversation, connection and links with industry is fundamental to our award-winning music teaching recipe. The university’s careers and employability podcast series ‘Future Me’ offers valuable insights for our students and listeners to help to chart their future steps is accessible any time. Each episode brings a range of career stories and valuable advice, accessible to all in your own time.

In the latest episodes I talk to Donald Shaw, director of Celtic Connections about moving Celtic Connections online during the Covid-19 pandemic. Having worked at the highest level within the Scottish music scene his valuable insights are illuminating.  And it was my pleasure to talk with two of our music alumni, graduates Eamonn Watt and Ewan MacKay who share their experiences of life in the creative industries after graduation and forging their careers as professional composers.

The University of the Highlands and Islands is proud to be sponsor of the Musician of the Year award MG Alba Trad Awards 2021 for a third year.  University partner Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI is sponsor of the ‘trad music in the media’ award which will be presented by alumni Peter Wood @tartantunes

Shetland space day – inspiring a community

Following the first ever Shetland Space 101 Day on Saturday 6 November, Dr Brendan Hall, Shetland UHI’s Business Development and Projects Officer, shares insights on the motivations behind the event, the day itself and how Space 101 fits into wider plans in Shetland.

The buzz around space has been building in Shetland since plans were announced for a vertical-launch spaceport in Unst, Shetland’s (and, therefore, the UK’s) most northerly isle in 2018. The spaceport is being developed on the site of a former RAF radar station and will provide launch sites and associated services alongside ground stations for relaying data from satellites.

Shetland’s space skills pipeline

Shetland UHI is one of the key partners in Shetland’s space education, employment and skills pipeline.

The pipeline has four main aims:

  1. Creating an authentic, positive buzz for space in our school communities by providing genuine opportunities and inspiring young people in the space industry sphere.
  2. Developing a sustainable careers awareness pipeline for children through and beyond school.
  3. Enabling new partnerships between providers and employers within and outwith Shetland, including building a local apprenticeship pipeline and developing a local workforce for children and young people beyond school.
  4. Providing new networks and materials for teachers and other education staff in Shetland and professional development opportunities in this field.

Through Shetland’s space education, employment and skills pipeline children and young people in Shetland have been able to attend virtual ‘space camps’ and participate in space-themed competitions, all of which are helping to inspire the next generation of budding astronauts, data analysts and aeronautical engineers.  

As the new college for Shetland, we at Shetland UHI are keen to play our part in inspiring the whole community to take an interest in space and the exciting opportunities offered by having a spaceport on our doorstep. With Shetland Space 101 Day we wanted to offer an opportunity for people across Shetland and beyond to learn more about space and what it means for people in Shetland.

Space 101 event

As the name suggests, Space 101 was aimed at a general audience of all ages. Working to the maxim that ‘space is for everyone’, we collaborated closely with colleagues at Saxavord to design a programme which would have a broad appeal to anyone interested in space and the space sector, while also exploring what the development of the Unst spaceport might mean in the Shetland context.

In light of COVID-19 restrictions, we settled on a hybrid event based around a series of online talks (from Shetland UHI-based and external speakers) alongside some interactive space-related activities at our Lerwick campus.

With the support of Saxavord UK Spaceport, we were able to recruit a fantastic group of engaging experts to compliment the talents of our colleagues at Shetland UHI. The speakers and subjects included:

  • Dr Andrew Jennings (Shetland UHI) who explored how our ancestors looked at the stars with an introduction to Celtic and Norse astronomy
  • Dr Christina Mackaill (York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) who provided a fascinating insight into the effects of space exploration on the human body and the emerging field of space medicine
  • Dr Simon Clarke (Shetland UHI) who examined the history and heritage of RAF Skaw (the proposed spaceport site) and the role of heritage management in contemporary development
  • Dr Hina Khan (Spire Global) who explained why space is such an important and growing part of the Scottish economy, with an introduction to everyday satellite usage
  • The Endeavour Team (a student-led rocketry group based at Edinburgh University) who offered an inspirational insight into their ambitious plans to build space-faring vehicles in Scotland

The talks were livestreamed on Shetland UHI’s Facebook page. This was a new experience for us, but something we were keen to get to grips with to enhance our community engagement and outreach. Space 101 day provided the perfect testing ground for this and it’s safe to say we learned a lot on the day! All the talks are available to watch online.

On-campus activities included a virtual reality space experience, facilitated by the Shetland UHI computing team (Anna Breimann and Euan Robertson). Anna is also Shetland UHI’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) lead and provided lots of informative and interactive materials including models of space vehicles – from Mars Rovers to Saturn V rockets.

The future

It’s fair to say that the creation of a spaceport in Unst will have a profound impact on Shetland’s industrial landscape and the opportunities available for local people. The pace of development in the ‘NewSpace’ sector is almost bewilderingly rapid and the range of potential careers and associated skills needs are vast.

In line with the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Islands Strategy, we will work to align the university’s curriculum, at all levels, with key sectoral priorities in this (and other) rapidly developing industries in the islands. Handled properly, there is little doubt that the burgeoning space industry can help us to retain and retrain skills and high-quality jobs, while also attracting new talent from elsewhere to live, work and study in Shetland and the other islands.

Shetland UHI is committed to helping to maximise the benefits of the industry locally and across the region. We continue to work closely with Saxavord UK Spaceport and our other pipeline partners and hope that this will have been the first of many Space 101 Days.

Supporting students with dyslexia

To mark Dyslexia Awareness Week Scotland, our disability support coordinator Mark Ross has gathered insights from staff who have experience of dyslexia and provides information about support services which are available.

Dyslexia has consistently been among the most disclosed disabilities within our university partnership and across further and higher education over the last few years. The university has clear processes in place to ensure the support requirements of individual students are identified, captured and communicated with relevant staff on a need-to-know basis.

Our disability and personal learning support plan processes enable us to make reasonable adjustments for students with dyslexia in line with our responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. We also do as much as possible to ensure our provision is accessible to current and prospective students in advance and we recognise that not every student will require, or wish to set up, a personal learning support plan.

Gerald McLaughlin – Student Services Manager, Perth College UHI

The most often seen condition at Perth College UHI’s additional support service is specific learning difficulties. These conditions constitute around 40% to 45% of the students we support each year. Specific learning difficulties is an umbrella term for conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. The etymology (origin of the word) of these conditions is: dys – difficult, then add the suffix (or ending) lexis – speech (for dyslexia) or praxis – movement (for dyspraxia) and calculia – to count (for dyscalculia). The most common specific learning difficulties condition we see is dyslexia.

As a dyslexia specialist and specific learning difficulty assessor of a number of years now, it is clear that the benefits of a dyslexia diagnosis are multifaceted and, more often than not, personal to the individual. The obvious benefit for our higher education students is to unlock funding such as Disabled Students’ Allowance.

However, there is personal benefit in terms of a diagnosis too. Anecdotally speaking, after more than a decade working in additional support, you begin to see patterns of folk with specific conditions congregating in certain courses. While I have not done any formal research (although, I do believe I have a PhD thesis in here somewhere) my contention is as follows. People with dyslexia are attracted to jobs that are more practical in nature, childcare and early education being a good example.

From around 2012 onwards, colleges such as Perth College UHI saw a steady stream of early childhood practitioners come on to degree courses such as the BA (Hons) childhood practice. A number of these, usually mature, students began to struggle with the advanced literacy elements of their courses. The college support systems would kick in and dyslexia screening and eventual diagnosis would be scheduled. Having completed a number of diagnoses for these (predominantly female) students, the overwhelming feedback I would receive from is that of catharsis! The student would invariably feel a sense of relief. Some comments I would receive, would be along the lines of ‘I knew I wasn’t thick’ – ‘I always knew there was something not right’. There were sometimes even tears of relief.

Many of these students would continue their educational journey to success. They would often report a sense of achievement from their hard work and endeavour. You could see their negative experiences of education dissipate; it is almost tangible.

They would now be supported appropriately by the university support systems and have equal access to the curriculum, sometimes for the first time in their life.

My part in the student journey to success is relatively incidental. You simply give the student a key. It needs to be said though, as a specific learning difficulty assessor, being able to give someone the key that allows them to unlock their full potential is by far the biggest privilege you can have!

Dr Gareth Davies – Lecturer and Programme Leader, Lews Castle College UHI

I started secondary school in Wales in 1979 and I was told I was thick. In the late 70s there wasn’t as much known about dyslexia as there is today and there was far less understanding of the challenges that those with dyslexia faced daily. A teacher told me I was too thick to do “O” level English and the school refused to put me in the “O” level group. 

Thus, I was denied the opportunity to study for one of the most basic and important gateway qualifications. Fortunately for me, my mother was an English teacher and she did not give up on me.  She told the school that she would keep me home on a Thursday morning and teach me herself. She did and I passed, but that was not the end of the story. I struggled to gain a BTEC diploma in business studies and then got relatively mundane jobs.

One job was working in a shop on the high-street in Bangor. I spent Saturdays watching students from the university casually milling around and popping into the pubs and I thought that looked like a fun thing to do, so I signed up for “A” level English evening classes and I squeaked through with a grade D which was enough to get me into Bangor University to study psychology. I honestly thought that if I lasted until Christmas before they found out I was thick and booted me out, I would be doing well. But that did not matter because I was in university having a great time and I was not working in the shop. Much to my surprise, I made it through to the second year (a degree is three years in Wales and England). 

As part of the degree, participation as a research subject was strongly encouraged so I signed up to be a control participant for Prof Tim Miles, a name that many in the dyslexia community will recognise. He told me I had come on the wrong day and that the subjects with dyslexia should come the following day. Of course, I protested that I did not have dyslexia, but Prof Miles just smiled and said that he was pretty sure that I was dyslexic. Who was I to argue? He referred me to an educational psychologist who confirmed his hunch. Thanks Tim!

Discovering that I had dyslexia was a moment that gave me the confidence to carry on with my studies. I did and I was successful. I had the feeling that a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I was not, after all, “thick”. It was a great boost to my self-confidence.

I did a Master’s degree straight after my Bachelor’s degree and a few years later I completed a teaching qualification. A couple of years after that I did my PhD. The school was wrong, but to be fair, this was 35 years ago and dyslexia is now far better understood. Help and support is available in ways that didn’t exist when I was a student. There was some; I was given a computer and extra exam time and that was it. No one ever asked me how I was getting on. The university partnership has a host of resources that those with dyslexia can access so seek the help that is out there – it is far better than the help that was on offer 35 years ago. 

The lesson I have taken away from all this is never to let anyone hold you back. Having dyslexia does not mean that you cannot succeed – you can. I did.

The university’s accessibility project

To help staff ensure their learning content is accessible and to comply with accessibility regulations, the university is running a project with staff training at the heart of it. Not only will this ensure that students with disabilities are able to access learning content, creating accessible learning resources also enhances the experience for all students.  

The accessibility project team has:

  • Established a university-wide accessibility champions forum which will help staff locally
  • Created a self-directed accessibility support module for staff, comprising a suite of useful resources
  • Arranged online support which will include webinars, workshops, drop-ins and question and answer sessions
  • Used software tools to help make learning content accessible and available to students in alternative formats
  • Created an accessibility communications site which will give staff the information they need to start their accessibility enhancement journey

Students with dyslexia may find some of the available alternative formats such as audio, tagged PDF and BeeLine Reader useful. The BeeLine Reader is particularly helpful for people with dyslexia as it displays lines of text in different colours. For more information, see the BeeLine Reader section on Blackboard Ally’s  alternative formats webpage.

Microsoft Office

University of the Highlands and Islands students can download the offline versions of Office 365 applications (e.g. Word, PowerPoint, etc) for use during their studies. Microsoft Office has several in-built accessibility tools which can be useful for students and staff alike.

Accessing support  

  • Students who would like further details of available support can contact student services for advice.
  • Students can also contact their personal academic tutor for further information on the university’s accessibility project.

Food doesn’t need to cost the earth

As the UN climate change conference kicks off in Glasgow and Green Week takes place around our university partnership, Nadja Korner, a BSc integrative healthcare student from Moray College UHI, shares advice on how we can help the planet and ourselves through the food we eat.

Have you ever asked yourself how the food on your plate impacts the environment? Often, we shop with only our eyes, but not with reasoning. With globalization, the supermarkets have been able to offer a wider variety of foods from across the world. It’s fun to explore the taste from other countries, but it also has its downsides – mostly affecting our environment and climate.

One of the most obvious facts is the travel food needs to undergo when coming from the other side of the world. The emissions used for shipping or flying goods to us can be avoided by eating local growing foods. In addition, food coming from further abroad, especially fresh produce, will not have as many nutrients preserved as food from closer to where we live. Therefore, a local diet can help to reduce emissions and reduce our impact on the climate.

But it’s not only a local diet that matters. Eating seasonally, is also important. It goes hand in hand with eating more locally and is easy to incorporate. When you start looking to make local choices, it doesn’t take much effort to find out what’s in season. After a while, you will remember what is growing where and when. To help you, I have attached a free downloadable guidance chart from my Mission Nutrition cookbook.

Local farmer markets have become increasingly popular over the recent years which is good news! The markets will provide you with fresh, unprocessed and highly nutritious food that benefits not only yourself, but the farmers and the environment at large.

Let me summarise the points above:

Buying seasonal, local food helps to reduce emissions caused by long transport. It supports local farmers and stores in your area, guarantees a higher nutritional value and freshness of the products. Fruits and vegetables in season are also cheaper, it will save you money eventually to know when to buy what.

The production of meat also causes a lot of emissions and has a significant impact on the climate. You may consider one or even more days a week where you explore a different way of eating. You can find a variety of vegetarian or vegan recipes on my website and online. If you are unsure about this step, try combining it with a theme, such as vegetarian Italian recipes etc.

Little goes a long way

Do not worry if it all seems a lot. It can be hard to change our common way of life and eating habits. However, if you think of the world at large, other animals and human beings, it can motivate you to make a change. Considering how your choices can impact future generations or even your own life, may just be what you need to get started.

It’s important to be gentle and to start slowly. If you are new to this, start with one or two days a week, then slowly increase to buy more local food. Take time to look at the guidance chart and see what you can buy in season in your area. Looking up recipes in advance before going to the supermarket and writing a shopping list can also help you to stick to your goal.

Finally, I would like to emphasise the importance of enjoying the process. Food is a big part of our life and changing our diet is much nicer when it is fun. If we can look at change as a challenge that helps us grow, we are much more likely to enjoy it. So, be gentle, plan and enjoy a new, rewarding way of eating for yourself and the world at large!

Please see below some common ingredients grown in the UK.

  • Barley, quinoa (UK grown), oats
  • Wheat, wholegrain, einkorn, emmer and Khorasan
  • British Chia seeds, Camelina seeds, hemp seeds, linseeds
  • Fava beans, peas, chickpeas, carlin peas, marrowfat peas, yellow peas, lentils, beans
  • Seaweed etc.

Hodmedod is a UK growing business, which has a shop full of local ingredients and delicious recipes.

Nadja runs her own website where people can find out more about healthy eating and lifestyle. Access your free seasonal calendar.

Are you a sole trader or a small business leader? Pushed for time but want to grow your business? Looking for a fresh spark for you and your business?

Often it’s business leaders, the entrepreneurs and those preparing the workplace of tomorrow in our small and rural businesses that can’t find the time, motivation or funds to continue to develop their own personal skills and access training.

With 24 fully funded places on this year’s Catalyst programme available to sole traders and small business owners based in the Highlands and Islands, Perthshire and Moray, we asked David Massey, managing director at The Apprentice Store, an inspiring social enterprise company, to share his experience of the programme.

When did you take part in the Catalyst programme?

I was actually on the very first group, back in 2016, having been put in touch with Roz by the business support team at Inverness College UHI. The programme was easy to apply for and it was exactly what I was looking for. It was a space to explore and create a different mindset whilst also learning from other people in a similar position to myself.

Person with a blurred background
David Massey, ‘The Apprentice Store’ managing director

Did you have a goal in mind when you started?

Not really. I had the start of an idea for a new nameless project which I wanted to explore.

By the end of the programme, I had registered ‘The Apprentice Store’ and had crystalised a business model which is the foundation of how the business operates today.

In what way did it unlock new thinking?

‘The Apprentice Store’ operates as a social enterprise, one of only around four in the UK that I am aware off. Our social purpose is to create sustainable employment for young people who have been excluded from employment and to assist small and fragile communities to be sustainable by allowing young people to stay living and working from them.

We offer remote quality services such as IT support, web development and cyber security advice to small and micro businesses across the UK.

The programme has given me an insight into a different way of thinking. A process to thinking outside my blue square box, where I feel most comfortable. It was challenging but I recognise that I need different types of people around me to allow the organisation to flourish.

It helped me to mould the ethos of the business and how to model its services and the team whilst supporting the career development of young talent in our local communities.

What advice would you give to those considering applying?

Do it! It will make you look at yourself and the way that you think about doing things. It is different from many other programmes that tend to focus on finance, efficiency, scaling and processes. It puts people at the core of the business.

People need to be of the right mindset and that starts with the leaders. If you look after the people and break the mould in your thought process who knows what you can achieve. Insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Based at the Inverness campus, Roz Thomas is an enterprise lecturer and runs the catalyst programme at CREATE, part of the university’ centre for remote and sustainable communities at Inverness College UHI. She is committed to supporting businesses and helping them to enhance their performance and skills.

Roz Thomas, enterprise lecturer

What does the Catalyst programme offer? 

It is accessible training that is tailored to suit your needs and preferences. It will help you to develop entrepreneurial skills, improve leadership practices and productivity, and analyse, develop and pilot growth plans.

The programme consists of six modules and is taught entirely online with an initial induction on how to use the online tools and resources as well as three twilight, tutor-led group sessions.

It is supported and enhanced by experienced entrepreneurs who input their own experiences that connect you to real-life situations and references, as well as enabling you to expand your existing business networks.

Is there a cost?  

We have 24 fully funded places subject to availability and eligibility. The places are available to small and medium size enterprises and sole traders that are based in the regional communities that the university serves. We cover the largest geographical area of any campus-based university or college in the UK – the Highlands and Islands, Perthshire and Moray. 

How do I get in touch to find out more?

To apply for one of the places or discuss the programme, please contact Roz Thomas at catalyst.ic@uhi.ac.uk

To find out more about support for business and employers at the University of the Highlands and Islands, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/business/

Catalyst is funded by the Scottish Funding Council through the University Innovation fund and administered by the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Our work to support dementia education

World Alzheimer’s Day takes place every year on 21 September. To mark this day, Dr Leah Macaden, a senior lecturer in nursing, a senior fellow of Advance HE and an expert in dementia education, provides an insight into the work of our nursing and midwifery department in enhancing dementia knowledge in healthcare practitioners.

Dr Leah Macaden

In the UK, 850,000 people (one in 14 adults over the age of 65) are estimated to be living with dementia. With future prevalence predicted to mirror global trends, dementia has been declared a global health priority by the World Health Organisation.

Deficiencies in the quality of care for people living with dementia are associated with gaps in dementia-specific knowledge amongst practitioners. This has been recognised as a key challenge throughout the UK and has intensified the need for appropriate dementia workforce development.

Our department aims to address this issue with a strategic approach to dementia education across our undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD programmes.

As a senior lecturer in nursing, I worked with colleagues from our educational development unit to develop the ‘dementia enhanced education to promote excellence’ initiative as an integral component of our three-year BSc nursing programme in 2017. The initiative is underpinned by Scottish policy and is delivered with interdisciplinary colleagues from NHS Highland, Alzheimer Scotland and Connecting Communities. Students are certified as ‘dementia friends’ in the first semester of the programme and progress through the ‘informed’, ‘skilled’ and ‘enhanced’ levels of Scotland’s promoting excellence framework for dementia training over three years.

Our MSc advanced nursing / professional practice programme includes an expert dementia practice module and we have two externally funded PhD projects focussed on dementia too. One is exploring technology enabled dementia education for remote and rural practitioners and the other is looking at the role of technology and virtual access to the outdoor environment to enhance wellbeing for people with dementia in care homes.

Supporting dementia practice in care homes

The COVID-19 crisis has had a disproportionate and devastating impact on care homes, including staff and residents living with dementia and complex care needs. Structure, routine and familiarity are vital cognitive ramps for people living with dementia to make sense of their world. It is a well-established fact that an appropriately trained workforce enhances confidence and competence, promoting positive care experiences and interactions both for staff and residents.

As a Churchill Fellow, I was keen to support dementia practice in care homes through education to meet the demands for new learning at an unprecedented pace in the constantly evolving and changing COVID-19 landscape. We secured money from the COVID-19 Action Fund to develop ‘COVID dementia education for care homes’, the first dedicated blended learning resource to promote dementia care excellence in care homes during the pandemic. The resource was developed in consultation with the Balhousie Care Group and is set to become part of the UK’s COVID-19 knowledge bank.

Twenty-seven practitioners have now completed this training and we have secured additional funding to train staff who provide home care in the community. We have received positive feedback from many stakeholders and participants:

“Dr Leah Macaden secured a grant competitively from our COVID-19 Action fund, networking with two other Churchill Fellows from the Highlands to lead ‘COVID dementia education for care homes’ in response to the immense challenges faced by care home staff during the pandemic. We were able to hear first-hand from care home staff about the transformational impact of the training, both for them, the residents they care for and their families. We consider our investment to this cause very worthwhile and believe that the partnerships that have developed as a result of the project will go from strength to strength. We look forward to following the evolution of the training beyond this crisis and seeing how it continues to strengthen the enormously important field of dementia education.”

Julia Weston, CEO of The Churchill Fellowship

“I have been involved in Leah’s unique approach to dementia nurse education since 2012, sharing my perspectives as a dementia carer. As a Churchill Fellow from the region, I jumped at the opportunity to be part of this project. The resource covers the A to Z of dementia care and, as far as I know, is the only training programme that does this. Before the pandemic it was difficult enough to get experts to our remote, rural location to train staff. Then, with the pandemic when we needed it the most, it was impossible. The fact that the training is interactive using a blended approach is a tremendous plus for organisations like ours.”

Ann Pascoe, Founder/Director: Connecting Communities, Churchill Fellow [2012], Sutherland

“The Balhousie Care Group has committed to provide a therapeutic environment for people to live and die well with dementia. This project provided a valuable opportunity during the pandemic for our social care staff in North Inch and North Grove Care Homes to access a unique blend of quality education from practice and academic experts. The resource has equipped us to continue our journey in continuous improvement for dementia care excellence in our organisation.”

Lindsay Dingwall, Clinical Care Quality Manager, Balhousie Care Group, Scotland

“Being an expert group member to develop the resource was rewarding. The pedagogical and interdisciplinary approach used to design and deliver it were unique, exceptional, innovative and pandemic friendly.”

Alka Goel, Associate Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Nursing and Health Promotion, The Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway

“Improving care and support for people with dementia is a national priority. Working with Dr Macaden to design valuable digital resources to support dementia training in care homes during a pandemic was purposeful, rewarding and timely.”

Andrew Gibson, Educational Development Leader, University of the Highlands and Islands

To find out more about our health courses, visit http://www.uhi.ac.uk/courses

To find out more about our department of nursing and midwifery, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/studying-at-uhi/nursing

Why it’s vital to involve children in decision making

With the Scottish Parliament passing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill earlier this year, Ellie Moses, programme leader for our MA in children and young people’s participation and leadership, explains why it’s vital to include children and young people in decision making processes.  

The Scottish Parliament has recently voted a unanimous ‘yes’ on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, making Scotland a global frontrunner in the application of children’s rights. This Bill seeks to ensure that children and young people are given a voice, that they are provided with chances for active participation in their own society and encouraged to build resilience and leadership skills to ensure a brighter future for all.

Overall, this is a fantastic achievement for all children, young people and organisations that have been campaigning for children’s rights since the ratification of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) by the United Kingdom in 1991.

However, we continually hear that young people are disenchanted with society, that they are not engaged, that they are unruly and hard to deal with in almost all media outlets. In short, we hear that young people are trouble! However, we do not give them the chance to be engaged, to be involved in the decision-making process, to be allowed to give their opinion on matters that affect them, so how can we expect them to be engaged in a society that effectively ‘shuts them out’?

We, as adults, make decisions for children and young people centred around their ‘best interests and welfare’, however when they reach the ‘age of majority’ we hand these decisions over to them. How can we expect young people to make these life choices without providing opportunities to develop the relevant skills and abilities to be able to make these decisions?   

Children and young people are the future generation of Scotland, therefore, allowing them to be involved, will build important proficiencies for the future, such as effective communication and presentation skills; building resilience, self-esteem, understanding and empathy; it allows children to develop negotiation and leadership skills; to feel involved in their own community and wider national forum. This will allow them to feel a sense of pride in their own abilities and ensures future engagement.  

The incorporation of the full UNCRC into Scottish legislation should be the seen as the most basic set of rights that all children should expect, not as the ‘gold standard’ that we hope to achieve. The right to live, freedom of expression, food, shelter, protection from abuse and exploitation, education and an to have an identity, are the most fundamental rights of all humans. We need to build upon these rights to ensure that all children have the resources to reach their full potential. We need to support children and young people to contribute within their local, national, and global communities.

It is anticipated that the new legislation will provide children and young people with opportunities for engagement and active participation. To move forward on this path, we need to ask children and young people how they see the new legislation being implemented so that it does not end up as a tokenistic gesture.

We need to involve children and young people in the application of children’s rights and provide them with the resources to achieve this outcome. What is the point of adopting children’s rights into legislation, without the involvement of children and young people in the implementation of this legislation? To fully achieve this we, as adults, also need to improve life chances and support children to make their own voices heard. We need to be facilitators rather than decision makers.

We have made a good start, but we need to do more. Moving forward as a nation, we need to eradicate inequality, poverty and protect all children from abuse and exploitation. Only then, will Scotland become “the best place in the world to grow up” (Scottish Government 2018).

This article first appeared in The Herald in June 2021.

A history of the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership in ten objects

To mark the University of the Highlands and Islands tenth birthday, we invited colleagues to provide an insight into some of the interesting objects which tell the story of our partnership!

1. Sir John Murray’s microscope at SAMS UHI

We believe SAMS UHI to be the oldest entity in the university partnership, having come into existence in 1884. We are also proud to have been one of the founding members of the UHI Millennium Institute.

Our prized object is a microscope once owned and used by Sir John Murray, our ‘founding father’ who is honoured by our main research building, which is named after him and where his microscope is displayed.

Sir John Murray, a member of the Canadian Scottish diaspora, returned to study in Edinburgh and is known as the ‘father of oceanography’. Sir John was a scientist on board the Challenger Expedition (1872 to 1876), the world’s first recognised marine science expedition for science’s sake, covering nearly 70,000 nautical miles. He subsequently led the production of a magnificent set of 30 volumes of reports, which we have at SAMS UHI – worthy companions to the microscope.

During the production of the reports, Sir John established an ‘office’ in Queen Street, Edinburgh, which attracted marine scientists from around the world, to analyse all the materials collected on the voyage – the start of what is now SAMS UHI. The office was soon added to by physical laboratories: firstly, a barge in Granton harbour, which was formally opened in 1884 – the date we use formally for our establishment, but which I think rather underestimates our longevity; secondly, a steam yacht for offshore work.

These were subsequently relocated to Millport on the Island of Cumbrae, where John Murray became the first Director. An impressive laboratory was subsequently built, which is still active as a Field Studies Council centre.

However, in the late 1960s it was becoming clear Millport was not an ideal location, especially with an increasing need to access deep water. A new site was sought and our current location on the Dunstaffnage Peninsula was settled on and the institute was moved in 1970, where we remain, although we continue to grow.

Throughout all this time there have been several name changes, but the core of what we do has not changed: to continue to discover and to promote outwardly our discoveries. Thus, we are very proud of the ‘golden thread’ we can see very clearly running through from our earliest days to now. And no more so than the practical reminder provided by Sir John’s microscope.

The importance of Sir John Murray’s microscope to us and we hope its value to the university partnership in celebrating its tenth birthday, is not only its direct connection with an historical founder, but also its symbol to a key activity of the university – the creation of new knowledge.

Professor Nicholas Owens, Director, SAMS UHI

2. Shetland College UHI’s Lerwick building

Shetland College UHI was first established in 1970. Our Lerwick campus was originally located on the other side of town before migrating to its current location at Gremista. Up until ten years ago, the Gremista campus consisted of two separate buildings with a road passing between them. This set up always felt a little disjointed and we struggled for adequate teaching spaces.

In 2014, our new £4.5 million extension was officially opened by the university’s chancellor, HRH The Princess Royal. The development linked the two existing buildings together to form one single, large building.

The extension created an entrance which leads directly into a library and study area and which provides easy access to the rest of the college. It also helped to expand the canteen and construction workshop areas and provided a new hospitality training kitchen as well as offices and classrooms. Existing classrooms were re-designed to allow improved layout, study spaces and art studios. 

Our new campus is a huge improvement. The development helps us to support and inspire learners, providing opportunities for students to stay in their local community to study.

Euan Robertson, Senior Lecturer in Computing, Shetland College UHI

3. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI’s portrait of Somhairle MacGill-Eain

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI has been very fortunate in its supporters and patrons since its foundation in 1973. None stands out so prominently as Sorley MacLean. This is sufficient reason for the college to have a portrait of him, were it not also for his stature and reputation as the most distinguished of Gaelic poets.

The full-length portrait in oils was one of a series of ‘contemporary poets’ commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in 1990 from the artist, Peter Edwards. The artist explained his work as image rather than portrait, projecting what the poet and his poetry meant to him. This purpose was underlined in the London exhibition by each of the poets choosing a poem to accompany their portrait. Sorley MacLean chose Creagan Beaga, with its intense response to the night sounds of sea and land under moonlight. The portrait shows the poet standing on the shore at Peinchorrain in Braes with the Sound of Raasay and Glamaig in the background. In 2005, the artist presented the portrait to the Sorley MacLean Trust for display in Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI.

Somhairle MacGill-Eain was born in 1911 in Osgaig, Raasay, his culture and store of tradition coming from his family and his island community, catalysed by a finely tuned awareness of the history of Gaelic Scotland and of the political position of the Gael. His poetry is powerfully redolent of the land and seascape of Skye and Raasay. But his landscape occupied a different world from the earlier nature poets and, with its litany of placenames, transcended Romanticism in its symbolic recall.

With first-class honours in English language and literature, he embarked on a teaching career. Writing with an intensity and passion, he composed his celebrated love sequence, Dàin do Eimhir, and An Cuilithionn (‘The Cuillin’) against the backdrop of the rise of Fascism and impending world war. Having made the decision to write in Gaelic, his dedication to the language was sustained in a mood of pessimism over its survival. As late as 1974, he wrote: cha b’urrainn cor na Gàidhlig a bhith ach truagh (‘the state of Gaelic could not be anything other than wretched’).

He was witnessing initiatives such as the founding of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig though, commenting that this was ‘the beginning of a beginning compared with what ought to be’ (toiseach tòiseachaidh seach mar bu chòir). Nonetheless his support for the Gaelic college was absolute and heartfelt, as his words of hope express in a poem of commemoration.

……

luibhean ’s blàthan an rùin

mu Shabhal Ostaig, agus solas,

Deò-grèine dòchas nan Gàidheal,

mu bhallachan ùra ’s sean,

…….

the herbs and flowers of aspiration

about Sabhal Ostaig; and a light

sunbeam of the Gael’s hope,

about its old and new walls.

May good fortune and success

be with the great work of the Sabhal.

Gealach an fhàis os cionn Shlèite / A waxing moon above Sleat (1974)

Professor Uisdean Cheape, MSc Senior Lecturer / Àrd-Òraidiche Cùrsa MSc, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI

4. IT infrastructure

The project to createour university ramped up in 1997, with £100 million funding arriving for a range of capital initiatives. Information technology was seen as the glue which would bring the partnership together. One of the first initiatives was to deploy video conferencing units to each of our academic partners, made up of very large TV screens on stands and three lines.

The first email system was called ‘First Class’ and comprised an Apple computer acting as a server connected by modems to a single computer in each site.

Over the next three years, we spent several millions to provide structured cabling, a new telephone system and equipment to allow everyone to talk and use the growing video conferencing facilities without incurring very large bills.

Having a fast connection is the most important glue for any IT system so Scottish Telecom undertook their largest infrastructure project in the north. Fibre optic cables were laid from Aberdeen to Thurso via Elgin, Inverness, Dingwall and Wick. New radio towers were built down the Great Glen to interconnect Fort William, Skye and Oban and microwave and fibre optic cables were laid to get to Stornoway. A series of towers were built to connect Orkney and Shetland and this was largely completed by 2000.

By 2001 we invested another £1 million on video conferencing kit to cope with the demand for remote learning. In 2005 we were running more video conferences than the entire higher education sector in the UK combined! We also installed a number of software systems including a common virtual learning environment, student information system and library management system. Our IT helpdesk was created to grow to support the increasing demand from staff and students.

With the growth in computing demand, we also set up our own datacentres in Inverness and Oban – later moving this to Perth. This infrastructure allowed us to have hundreds of virtual servers on just eight large servers, all backed up to Oban.

In 2009, we undertook several projects to roll out Wi-Fi everywhere together with a new local area network. We also deployed updated video conferencing kit to meet even higher demands. In 2011 we moved our email and user directory to Microsoft and in 2016 we adopted the Scottish Wide Area Network SWAN which allowed for 1GB to all the main sites and larger bandwidth to the learning centres.

Together with colleagues in partner IT teams, we have shared knowledge and developed expertise in a huge range of areas which has helped to ensure that we are ready for the next ten years as a university.

Mike MacDonald, Head of IT Services

5. The university’s coat of arms, robes and mace

Once the University of the Highlands and Islands achieved university status on 1 February 2011, the search was on for the appropriate symbols for the ceremonial trappings of that lofty status – our university badge, our robes and our mace. I was delighted to be consulted on the design of these which I feel really reflect the history, location and natural environment of the university.

For example, our badge, with its compass showing the importance of location, its books showing the importance of education, and its hazel leaves which are a symbol of wisdom for both the indigenous Celtic and Norse cultures of the Highlands and Islands, is a worthy symbol of the nature and philosophy of the university. The hazel leaves and catkins also appear on the facings of the university officers’ ceremonial robes, reflecting the great wisdom and knowledge these roles demand.

The mace is now a ceremonial artefact symbolising authority, but was originally a weapon and the bearer a kind of bodyguard at state occasions. Our mace is a wonderful example of modern silvercraft with its freeform and organic symbolism, reflecting our university of the moment. I was asked to make a choice between lime and ash for the shaft. I chose ash because it is indigenous to the Highlands and Islands, which lime is not, and also for its significance in both Celtic and Norse mythology. Like the hazel, it features in the Celtic Tree calendar. It is also a symbol of protection – Yggdrasil, the World Tree in Norse mythology which supports the entire Norse cosmos, is an ash tree. This is also the case in Gaelic tradition – three of the five legendary guardian trees of Ireland were ash. In traditional folklore, the ash tree is particularly associated with the protection and nurturing of young people.

I also thought it complemented the hazel tree, which I had suggested for the badge and robes, as symbols of wisdom and protection but also of our natural environment which defines our university too.

The mace and the robes offer protection and the accrual of wisdom as our students set along life’s path!

Professor Donna Heddle, Director of the Institute for Northern Studies

6. Highlands and Islands Students’ Association awards

The University of the Highlands and Islands was one of the first institutions in the UK to work with the Higher Education Academy and the National Union of Students to introduce student-led teaching awards. They were rolled out across our partnership in 2010, then adopted by institutions across the UK by 2012.

Run by the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association, the awards give students the opportunity to thank the academic staff, support staff and students who have inspired and supported them.The annual awards are judged by a student panel who decide the winners based on the quality (rather than quantity) of nominations received for a particular individual.

In 2010, I was delighted to receive a letter to say I’d been chosen in the ‘greatest expertise in video conference delivery’ and ‘best assessment feedback’ categories. The awards themselves (a column of glass stars balanced on top of each other) were presented to me at the autumn graduation ceremony in the not very atmospheric Clickimin Sport Centre in Lerwick.

I have to admit to being inordinately proud of my awards, particularly the one for best video conference delivery. It inspired me to publish papers about the use of video conferencing in teaching. Do take part, it made my day ten years ago.

Dr Simon Clarke, Senior Lecturer, Shetland College UHI

7. Highland Theological College UHI’s library

Highland Theological College UHI has the largest library by volume in the partnership.

Since the inception of the college in 1994, the collection has grown significantly, due in large part to many generous benefactors over the years, not least of which was the family of the late and dearly loved Martin Cameron. As librarian and a pillar of college life for some twenty years, Martin built the collection from the ground up to the 60,000 plus volumes we are privileged to be custodians of today.

The college has three main special collections. The Rutherford House Collection, comprising 11,500 books and 1800 periodicals and pamphlets, including rare and important monographs which belonged to what is now the Rutherford Centre for Reformed Theology based in Dingwall. The William Temple collection, comprising books of important Anglican heritage from the personal library of former archbishop of Canterbury William Temple (1881-1944). And the Fort Augustus collection, containing some 10,000 volumes from the former library of St. Benedict’s Abbey, a Roman Catholic Monastery from 1880 to 1998. A more detailed history of the collections held by the library is featured as part of the library’s online guide.

It’s always fascinating and exciting to come across resources which give an enriching insight into Scottish church history and we look forward to digitising this content to make it readily accessible. One such primary source held at the library is a handwritten book of some 28 sermons dating from the 18th century. It was penned by Rev Thomas Simpson of Avoch, an ancestor of a gentleman whose wife generously donated the book to the college in 2020. The postscript reads:

‘This first volume of sermons was begun at Avoch the 27th day of October 1760 years and finished the first day of October 1761 years by me Thomas Simpson minister of the Gospel at Avoch. Deo Juvante.’

Geordie Cryle, Librarian, Highland Theological College UHI

8. SAMS UHI’s Culture Collection for Algae and Protozoa

Algae are the unsung heroes of the sea, providing food for larger creatures and absorbing some of the carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.

More than 3000 different strains of algae, protozoa and seaweeds have a home at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) UHI, where scientists at the Culture Collection for Algae and Protozoa (CCAP) maintain a unique collection that goes back more than 100 years.

The global reputation of CCAP, which regularly sends marine and freshwater samples to researchers and companies all over the world, showcases the university’s science credentials on the world stage.

Perhaps the oldest sample in this collection is the algae Chlorella vulgaris. It was first isolated in 1892 by Dutch scientist Martinus Willem Beijerinck, who is credited with discovering viruses. This particular strain is used in ecotoxicology tests and is therefore ordered on a regular basis, as well as having citations in more than 100 academic papers.

Chlorella vulgaris was part of the original collection started by Professor Ernst Georg Pringsheim at the Botanical Institute of the German University of Prague in the 1920s. In response to the Nazi invasion of Prague, Pringsheim and his cultures moved to the UK. The collection grew and was split between marine and freshwater algae, with the marine elements coming to SAMS in 1986. However, when SAMS UHI opened the Sir John Murray Building in 2004, the freshwater collection came to Oban too, creating one of the most diverse algal collections in the world.

Euan Paterson, Communications and Media Officer, SAMS UHI

9. Cachaileith na Colaiste at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI

‘The gateway of the college’ is a symbol of the welcome experienced by students over the years on entering the enfolding arms of the old building. This is the entrance to the old steading of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI, the building in which the Gaelic college was founded in 1973.

The iron gates were not a part of the original building, but were brought from the house of Rosemount, Tain, about 1982 and re-erected in their present position. They were dedicated by Lady Ray Bannerman in a ceremony which included unveiling a fine bronze war memorial to the fallen of the 1939-1945 War mounted on the steading wall beside the gates. This also celebrated a landmark moment for the college with validation of the first SCOTVEC further education courses.

The gates, fine products of the craft of the blacksmith (whose name is not recorded), were probably made about 1949 when An Comunn Gàidhealach set up its annual summer youth camp at Rosemount or Cnoc nan Ròs at the direction of John M Bannerman (1901-1969). Lord Bannerman of Kildonan, Liberal politician and farmer, rugby internationalist and Mòd Gold medallist, was president of An Comunn Gàidhealach from 1949 to 1954 and worked tirelessly for the promotion of Gaelic.

The gates remind us that the high art of metalworking belonged to the Gàidhealtachd of Scotland and Ireland; the same patterning and decorative flourishes are found on the earliest fine metalwork, on carving and sculpture and in the embellishment of manuscripts, and are symbolic of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI’s role in the preservation and perpetuation of the language.

Professor Uisdean Cheape, MSc Senior Lecturer / Àrd-Òraidiche Cùrsa MSc, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI

10. The Cairns Bowl, Orkney

In July 2018, the oldest wooden bowl found in Orkney to date and the only prehistoric wooden bowl, was found during our excavation at The Cairns in South Ronaldsay.

The 2000-year-old vessel was recovered from an underground chamber beneath the Iron Age broch that once dominated site. It is very finely carved, exceptionally finished and was carved from alder wood.

Measuring around 27 centimetres in diameter, it has an elegant profile, an everted rim (splayed outwards), a globular body and round-bottomed base. Tool marks are visible in the interior, but the exterior has been finely burnished.

On one of the broken edges of the bowl there is something astonishing. A series of about 16 strange-looking, strips of bronze can be made out. They are flush with the surface of the bowl and arranged in a tightly spaced vertical column running up the height of the vessel along the line of a large, ancient crack.

The strips are in fact an unusual and distinctive type of wood rivet. Beyond these, a further small straight metal strip, also bronze, runs across the break and is an ancient bracket or staple! The staples and rivets represent a very artful ancient repair, or repairs, made to prolong the vessel’s life. The care taken over the repair of the bowl suggests such items were not common and that it was highly valued.

It is thought the bowl was placed in the subterranean chamber – at its deepest, innermost end – sometime between AD150-200.

The bowl is currently undergoing a long process of conservation and consolidation in Edinburgh. When the process is complete, the bowl will return to Orkney and the Archaeology Institute, and thereafter, when all the field work and analysis on site is complete, it can hopefully take up a place in the museum here so locals and visitors can see this miraculous survivor from the ancient world.

The craft and cleverness that went into the bowl and the exquisite repairs show that 2000 years ago Iron Age Islanders had sophisticated and artful sets of skills.

The resilience of these communities and their willingness to sustain their possessions, and their culture more generally, is surely an inspiration for the university and its contemporary cultural, economic and environmental mission across the Highlands and Islands.

Martin Carruthers, Archaeology Lecturer, Orkney College UHI

Connecting the partnership: how video conferencing shaped the University of the Highlands and Islands

As the University of the Highlands and Islands celebrates its tenth birthday, our longest serving video conferencing expert, Roray Stewart, provides an insight into the importance of the technology to the development of the partnership.  

When did you join the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership?

I started as an apprentice IT technician with Shetland College UHI in 1998, before becoming a video conference technician with the university in 2001. At the time there was an expansion of IT services taking place across the partnership. Partners could submit bids to host services. Shetland College UHI won the right to run the video conference service.

As part of my work at the college, I’d had some experience of helping staff and students use the video conference facilities. I found it interesting and could see that it had potential for becoming a more widely used technology. I worked alongside the senior video conference technician and video conference administrator.

How has your role changed over the time you have been with us?

There have been a few significant changes over the years:

  • The growth in video conferencing demand. In 2001 we ran 2200 conferences. Fast forward to 2019 and we were running 22140 conferences. For obvious reasons 2020 saw a significant growth with approximately 92,000 meetings on Webex alone. Add on Microsoft Teams and we will have hosted over 100,000 meetings!
  • The technology has moved on leaps and bounds with better quality audio and video and added features. Two of the main ones that enabled growth were desktop calling and recording of conferences.
  • We are no longer as hands on with scheduling meetings. We used to manually create each meeting the morning of the day it was due to take place.

What are some of your most memorable moments?

  • When we hit 10,000 conferences in a year in 2011. That seemed like such a milestone at the time.
  • Presenting at two online sessions which I would describe as being well outside my comfort zone. In August 2020 I ran a Webex training session to over 180 staff members. I had never presented to as many people before (or since). I also gave a presentation to the Webex community recently about the university and our transition to Webex. The live session reached 17 countries with 43 different organisations represented by 78 attendees.
  • Being lucky enough to have travelled around most of our campus locations throughout the years. The scenery is stunning and we have great staff around the partnership.

What is your proudest moment of working with the university?

Seeing university title granted and becoming the University of the Highlands and Islands. The hard work by many over the years had finally paid off.

Do you think the role of video conferencing has been vital to the development of our university partnership?

For me, it certainly has been one of the key tools in the development of the university partnership. Video conferencing has been used since the early days of getting the university off the ground, through the different phases of our development, to being awarded university title and now continuing through a global pandemic.

Due to our geographic spread, video conferencing will remain a key tool in our development going forward. It may take on a new name and the technology may change, but video will still be at the heart of it. Using a blend of face-to-face teaching and innovative technologies offers students the flexibility to study when and wherever they choose.

Do you think the university partnership is a pioneer in this area?

We were well known for being a pioneer in video conference use and our opinion was respected by other institutions, at conferences and by the equipment vendors. I remember colleagues that had attended or given presentations at conferences saying that the other attendees were always impressed by the sheer volume of video conferencing we did back then.

What do you think the future holds for video conferencing and online meetings?

Video conferencing and online meetings are here to stay – I think that’s safe to safe to say. Conferences and events will offer some form of online capability alongside in-person attendance for a while to come, although I’d expect that to reduce over time.

A couple of possible developments down the line could be 3D video conferencing or virtual reality meetings where attendees will meet in either a virtual representation of a real space or a purely virtual one. There are start-ups and companies already working on this, but whether they come to market time will tell.

For me it’s an exciting technology sector to work in and one I have a real passion for. Also, I finally no longer need to explain what my job is as everyone has been video calling or ‘Zooming’ for the last year or so!

Preparing students for the workplace of tomorrow, with the skills employers value now

As part of our annual employability week, Fergus Weir, Managing Director at teclan ltd, one of Scotland’s leading Digital Marketing Agencies, and Nicola Smith, Head of Careers and Employability at the university, share their thoughts on developing skills for a digital future.  

Reflecting on his career journey, Fergus reveals an early fascination of internet technology having witnessed the evolution of the internet from around 1992 and shares his tips on landing a right role.

Photograph of Fergus

My passion for learning and not being afraid to have a go – make mistakes and learn from them – equipped me with the confidence to explore almost all the emerging internet technologies of the time.

Fast forward a number of years and having gained much more knowledge and experience in web technologies and commerce, I still use and need these early learnt skills. As the managing director of a fast-growing business in the digital sector my ethos remains the same, it is important to find solutions to problems by learning from all experiences and to not be afraid to try

Why all graduates should consider pursuing opportunities in the digital sector

A common phrase touted around used to be ‘the future is digital’. Well, the future has arrived. Almost everything is digital. There are very few roles and jobs in today’s economy that do not involve digital skills and technologies in one form or another.

Our culture and societal norms are often embedded in digital medium.

The workplace of tomorrow needs you! Those who can add value, solve a problem, create something new or just improve how a business utilises technology. Equipped with the right skills, confidence, and qualifications you will have a powerful role to play in the way the future economy develops.

The digital sector, its growth, and the opportunities available in our region

Prior to COVID-19 the trend for businesses to expand more into internet technologies as a gateway to market had been steadily increasing. Our experience at teclan showed that businesses in the Highlands were not always at the forefront of that trend.

However, since the pandemic, many businesses across the UK, including the Highlands, have been given a sharp shock, forcing them to implement sometimes missing or old digital strategies to generate new revenue streams and routes to market.

This is resulting in a labour market change with a significant boom in the need for skills that support and assist that transition and expansion into online technologies. The continued increase in internet usage over the last 18 months, across all age groups, has further accelerated opportunities and growth for those businesses adapting to the changes and adopting new digital practices.

Another outcome from the pandemic has been the explosion of flexible working and a wider cultural shift in thinking that people can work for anyone, from anywhere. With the rise of digital agencies and businesses increasingly bringing these skills in-house, it has further increased the need for digital technology literate problem solvers who are competent and enthusiastic people.

The right fit – proactively identifying and pursuing opportunities

Working for money is an awful lot easier if you like what you do AND you work with, and for, the right people. Understanding an organisations core values and speaking with the people who work there can help hugely in determining whether you want to work there or not.

As a business leader, I know that our employees are vital to our success and I enjoy speaking with people that are truly interested about what we do and want to find out about what opportunities, work placements are available, or just want a little advice. 

Pick up the phone. Send an email. Be genuinely curious and interested in a business and its employees and owners, to get to know that business and its people. It’s part of your learning. Ask about opportunities, work placements, or just advice. Business owners will generally happily talk about their business if they feel someone is truly interested.

Working for money is an awful lot easier if you like what you do AND you work with, and for, the right people. Understanding an organisations core values and speaking with the people who work there can help hugely in determining whether you want to work there or not.

As a business leader, I know that our employees are vital to our success and I enjoy speaking with people that are truly interested about what we do and want to find out about what opportunities, work placements are available, or just want a little advice. 

Pick up the phone. Send an email. Be genuinely curious and interested in a business and its employees and owners, to get to know that business and its people. It’s part of your learning. Ask about opportunities, work placements, or just advice. Business owners will generally happily talk about their business if they feel someone is truly interested.

Fergus Weir is speaking on Tuesday 27 April 2021 as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands employability week event series.  

Based in Lochaber, Nicola comes from a long line of small business owners stretching back to her grandparents. She is passionate about helping students to prepare for their future and supporting them into future employment. 

Dial-up phones and no mobiles or emails! The changed working world

Photograph of Nicola

When I first started in the workplace, we used dial-up phones, there were no mobiles, we didn’t have email, and a fax in the workplace was very high tech.

Each new technological advance meant learning new skills, adapting practice and processes, and quite often running to catch up. Between then and now, the world of work has changed dramatically, and it keeps changing as we and the technologies we use to manage our lives grow and evolve.

Will the pandemic make changes to our working lives, and the way in which businesses approach the future?

Change inevitably results in new practices, which means new opportunities, and teclan is a perfect example of how innovative forward-thinking organisation can thrive and grow in a rural environment.  

And for our students and graduates entering the workplace, I firmly believe that the advancement of flexible working accelerated by the deployment of technology during the pandemic will result in new and attractive employment opportunities that can help people to create a healthy work and life balance from the location and community they love, and want to be based in.

What does remain constant is the type of skills and attributes that we develop in our further and higher education courses, and through the support we provide at the University of the Highland and Islands career and employability centre, all designed to ensure students are equipped with the attributes that are valued in the workplace.

Problem-solving, enthusiasm, curiosity, team working, continuous learning, being proactive, showing an interest and grasping opportunities to find solutions are vital now, and for the future workplace. 

Good communication skills are of huge importance, alongside things like self-discipline, self-motivation, and time management; not necessarily ‘learned skills’, but qualities we help our students to understand and apply.

Self-confidence in planning for the future is also key. There is widely held belief that gaining a qualification confers on you a level of instant confidence, the ability to articulate who you are as a person and what you bring to the workplace.  For some this might true, but for many it is simply the first step in working out what comes next, and indeed what the next step after that might look like. 

We all know that planning for the future can be daunting, that the next step is often balanced against other areas of an individual’s life and can and will be subject to change, and that there are a multitude of things we can never plan for. 

Our career and employability team helps students to think things through and take action to change things. Sometimes small steps, sometimes big leaps – all dependent on the individuals own unique path.

Employers will always look for a package of skills which contain these elements.  Indeed, advances in technology and a move to more remote working trends will only enhance the need for these types of attributes now and in the future 

The careers and employability centre

Our students can meet with the career and employability team anytime for a career conversation, personalised CV and application support, interview preparation and job searching. They can also access one to one support, career development workshops/events and a range of current career and employability information.

This comprehensive support doesn’t stop after graduating! Our distinctive ‘Graduate for Life’ offer includes ongoing support whenever required, long after leaving university.

Nicola Smith is Head of Careers and Employability at the University of the Highlands and Islands. To find out more information on careers support or the employability week programme of events from the 26 April to the 30 April visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/students/careers/current-students/