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University is a model for ‘new normal’ working as more and more organisations embrace technology

Professor Frank Rennie
Professor Frank Rennie

The University of the Highlands and Islands has for many years pioneered the use of technology to deliver courses, and to link its 13 partner colleges and research centres.

It is now being seen as a model for some other institutions and businesses which have been forced to re-think their way of working with offices closed and many staff operating from home.

Frank Rennie, professor of sustainable rural development and assistant principal of Lews Castle College UHI on Stornoway, said other universities and business are looking for help as they face the “new normal”.

He said: “Businesses and universities are approaching us saying ‘we are new to this, how do we get started? Can you give us some classes and lessons?’

“We are now looking at things that were internal training and rolling them out as new courses because people are having to learn these techniques.

“We are discussing with two or three other universities who are modelling themselves on the UHI structure.

“The idea of having a distributed campus and distributed students, being taught by people who themselves are geographically distributed around the country, is quite important.

“The difference lockdown has made is the general populace are understanding they can move online with these things, and not just for social media.

“They can use other tools that are more sophisticated and secure to network and do business in a way that they previously thought was a bit Star Trek or sci-fi in the past.

“This is a huge shift in mindset.”

Prof Rennie delivered his first online course at Lews Castle College in 1993 and now does all teaching online.

Since lockdown, the university has put all further and higher education courses online along with meetings and conferences.

“The massive changes and challenges of responses to Covid-19 are facing millions of individuals, businesses and organisations, but, unlike most, the University of the Highlands and Islands has a long history of adapting to the culture-change that is required for online design”, said Prof Rennie.

“This is a crucial issue for, surprisingly, the technological matters are relatively easy to resolve, but the ability, and willingness, of many people to make the cultural adaptions to new ways of thinking is notoriously more difficult.”

He believes lockdown has provided the necessary push for many organisations to look at doing business online.

“The University of the Highlands and Islands has the advantage that many colleagues have been embracing online delivery for many years.

“We have seen the future and we know that it can be a very effective, worthwhile and enjoyable experience, both for students and staff members, and not just academic teaching staff.”

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