I am really pleased that a renewed debate about the possibility of a ‘University of the City of Perth’ is taking place and I encourage everyone interested in Higher and Further Education in Perthshire to get involved.
Perth College is a remarkable institution with deep roots in the city. It has travelled far in the many decades it has served Perth and Perthshire. Just look at how it has grown since it first began offering courses in building trades in its old Rose Terrace site. Perth College now has over 2,800 students enrolled this year, served by an incredible and talented staff team. It also has acquired an international reputation. It is a centre of excellence in aircraft engineering. It also now offers degree courses in everything from music to social sciences.
The major transformative moment for Perth College was when it became incorporated into the University of the Highland and Islands. The degree courses started to arrive and Perth College became part of a proper paid up higher education institution. As one of the campuses of UHI, Perth College has been put clearly on the map and it has been transformed in the process.
But like every institution it must consider its future and take into account the risks presented by current conditions and structures. Perth College remains as just one of the 13 campuses of the UHI and is therefore constrained in what it can do to develop its future and reach. It also remains vulnerable to any institutional changes within the UHI, as we saw from experience last year.
As such I agree with Perth and Kinross Council and other politicians from across the political spectrum that now is the time to look seriously at Perth securing its own university, and the college becoming the University of the City of Perth.
A University of the City of Perth would have far reaching benefits to the rest of the city and county. University cities attract incredible economic benefits and investments – we only need to look to Dundee with its two universities to see what a dedicated university can do for the local economy. It would also be fantastic to hold on to the many school leavers who currently leave Perth to pursue their university studies elsewhere. It is such a depressing feature of our city that we lose so many of our talented young people to city competitors, some never to return. Perth lost out to Stirling when Scotland got its first new build university since medieval times in 1967. We can not lose out again.
Then there is the risks of doing nothing. Last year there was the attempt to integrate the colleges of the UHI into the head executive office in what would have been nothing more than an amalgamation. Had this gone ahead it would have compromised the current UHI model with potentially disastrous consequences for students and staff in Perth. Where this was rightly seen off there will be other such attempts in the future and the UHI model remains vulnerable and open to further ‘restructuring’. Most recently UHI withdrew rurality funding to Perth College precipitating the disastrous closures of the Learning Centres in Blairgowrie, Crieff and Kinross with staff being made redundant and students losing out.
And the thing is we’re almost there. As part of the UHI we already have degree courses, we have an excellent site within the city environs and we have a dedicated and committed staff group. All it needs is the ambition to take this forward and grasp the opportunity to go out on our own. I encourage everybody to think about this seriously and to consider the benefits a stand alone university would bring to our city. With our renewed city status and our growing population now could be the time for the University of the City of Perth.