The Princess Royal has praised the “transformational” impact the University of the Highlands and Islands has on the region as the institution marks its tenth anniversary today.
It is a decade since university status was achieved for the network of 13 independent colleges and research institutions covering the largest geographical area of any campus-based university or college in the UK.
The princess has been chancellor of the university since 2012. During that time, she said she has visited a number of campuses and met “inspirational students and staff across the network”.
In a video message posted on the university’s website, she said it has been involved in many significant achievements, including launching new courses, led ground-breaking research, opened new facilities and pioneered modern learning approaches.
“We have also become an inclusive provider, offering a full range of university courses to enable learners to follow their own unique path”.
A recent economic assessment showed the university contributes £560 million annually to the region and supports 6,200 jobs. It also said that for every £1 spent on the university it puts back £4 into the economies of the Highlands and Islands, Moray and Perthshire.
Another report said between 2015 and 2018 the proportion of 15-30 year-olds committed to staying in the Highlands and Islands increased from 35% to 46%. The proportion of school-leavers committed to leaving decreased from 56% to 42% over the same period.
During the pandemic, the university’s experience of using technology to deliver online learning across its multi-campus network has been seen as a model for other institutions and businesses.
The Princess Royal said: “I believe that by bringing educational opportunities to communities across the Highlands and Islands, Moray and Perthshire, our partnership is having a transformational impact on our region its economy and its people who otherwise might not have been able to benefit from the more traditional forms of further education.
“This is the result of the vision and dedication of our students staff and supporters both past and present and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your contribution over the years and in particular how you have all risen to meet the challenges of the past year – challenges that our model was perhaps better prepared to respond to than others.”
She said an anniversary is not just about looking back, but is also a chance to look forward as she prepares to welcome the university’s new principal and vice chancellor, Todd Walker, who takes up his post today.
Due to Covid travel restrictions, Prof Walker will initially be carrying out his duties from Australia where he was provost and deputy vice-chancellor at University of New England (UNE), which operates several campuses in New South Wales.
The Princess Royal added: “Prof Walker is joining us at an important time with many exciting initiatives on the horizon including the development of a new golf centre at North Highland College UHI’s Dornoch campus, a life sciences building on Inverness Campus and aviation facilities in Perth and Moray.
“I look forward to welcoming Prof Walker as we enter the next chapter of our partnership’s journey. And as a new and innovating university we have much to celebrate and be proud of and a firm foundation to build on. Congratulation to you all.”
As part of the tenth anniversary celebrations, the university is hosting a series of seminars to focus on its role as an economic driver for the region and to look at how it will help lead the region to recovery post-Covid and toward the next decade.
These include rural digital provision, rural health services and the impact of commercialising rural health products and services.