West Highland Free Press
Friday 17 September 1999

A major landmark in the educational history of Uist was reached on Monday with the official opening of Colaisde Bheinn na Faoghla – a learning centre which will both strengthen FE provision and provide direct links with the University of the Highlands and Islands network.

The opening ceremony, in the presence of a large and representative audience, was carried out by Alasdair Morrison, MSP for the Western Isles and Minister for the Highlands and Islands, along with the Minister of State at the Scotland Office, Brian Wilson.

Colaisde Bheinn na Faoghla is owned and managed by Lews Castle College whose chairwoman, Mrs Irene Matheson, outlined the progress of their efforts over the past five years to bring the project to fruition. In 1996, a development officer was appointed to give the initiative added momentum.

She recalled that the crucial funding decision at the Scottish Office was taken while Mr Wilson was Education Minister and that they had promised then to invite him back to the opening ceremony. He responded by saying that the new complex was a “fantastic asset” for the islands which would reward the investment and effort that had gone into achieving it.

Mr Wilson said that the islands had suffered for too long from people having to leave in order to fulfil their educational potential. “That process is now being reversed and, with the help of technology, the educational opportunities are being brought to the people. We should settle for nothing but the best.”

During his time as Education Minister, said Mr Wilson, he had become deeply impressed by the range of provision offered in FE colleges. While attention tended to focus on the links with UHI, it was important to remember that FE provision covered a far wider range of students within the community, including those with special educational needs.

To emphasise that point, one of the courses already being operated in the new building is OFTTI – Opportunities for Training Towards Independence – for people with special needs, run in conjunction with the social work department of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
Delivering almost all of his speech in Gaelic – itself something of a first for a Government minister on such an occasion – Mr Morrison expressed satisfaction at seeing such a high-quality facility being established in his own community. He was confident that it would be extremely well used by the many people who could benefit from its presence.

Mr Morrison paid tribute to the work and commitment of all those who had brought the project to fruition. It would, he said, have an important economic as well as educational impact. Initially, there are eight staff based at the college, including its manager and long-time driving force, Gordon Wells.

The first full-time course to be offered in Uist was the GSVQ in Care, starting in September 1997 using temporary premises at Sgoil Lionacleit – which is now next door to the new facility. The Diploma in Art and Design course was added the following year, in association with Taigh Chearsabhagh.

It is projected that in the new academic year, Colaisde Bheinn na Faoghla will accommodate around 30 full-time and 200 part-time students. It will be the biggest such facility in the Western Isles outside Stornoway though three smaller learning centres in Castlebay, Tarbert, and Ness are already “on-line”.

A further one is planned for the south end of South Uist – possibly linked to a traditional music course and the centre which is being planned through Uist 2000 to carry forward the work of the Ceolas festival on a year-round basis.


A new unit which will market UK expertise in technology-based distance learning techniques to the world is to be based at Lionacleit as part of the new Colaisde Bheinn na Faoghla complex.
The unit will build on the innovative work of the University of the Highlands and Islands which is already attracting international interest, particularly from countries with thinly-populated peripheral areas. The announcement was made to coincide with the opening of the new college, and was greeted as an exciting opportunity for the islands.

Alasdair Morrison said: “UHI is already having to react to many enquiries about the way it is approaching the delivery of tertiary education to the furthest-flung communities in the Highlands and Islands. The remit for this unit will be to go out proactively to promote even wider interest.”

Brian Wilson – who first announced the intention to locate such a unit in the Western Isles when he was UK Minister for Trade – said: “There is a tremendous export market in all kinds of educational services from the UK, based on a world-wide reputation for excellence.