New beginnings at Orkney College

Thousands of young people across the country are receiving their exam results today and, for many, the next step may still be uncertain. One thing for sure, though, is that Orkney College UHI has become a real alternative to the traditional University experience south. We've been finding out more about the coming term at the College...

A panoramic view of Orkney College UHI
A panoramic view of Orkney College UHI

Take a summer stroll to Orkney College UHI and you’ll be greeted by a relatively quiet car park, with the sounds of student life absent from the building’s sunny and spacious foyer.

Yes, the holidays are here – but it’s all set to change in the coming weeks.

Across the country exam results are being opened, with some students still pondering their next moves. For many, that could be a trip to Orkney, where there are more courses on offer than ever before.

“An enormous amount of work has gone into developing the curriculum here in recent years.” said College Principal, Bill Ross. “We have close links with schools in Orkney and also with employers, and our courses are very much based on the feedback we get from them.”

Amongst the sixteen new qualifications for 2015/16 at Orkney College UHI are Able Seafarer and Deck Rating Certificates, SVQs in Business and Administration and honours degree courses in Fine Art and Sociology and Criminology. Bill says it’s this variety which is vital to the future of the College.

Orkney College UHI offers a number of construction courses, with close links to the local industry
Orkney College UHI offers a number of construction courses, with close links to the local industry

“Being in a small community, you can’t keep offering the same thing year after year, so it has to be dynamic. We have to have unique things available here to be part of a thriving University network.”

The development of the College’s art and design department highlights how much the facility has changed over the years. The excellent Art Portfolio course used to be as far as you could go locally, before heading south to continue at another institution.

Now, though, two honours degrees are on offer – with the Fine Art qualification joining Fine Art Textiles. Local fashion designer Kirsteen Stewart also works as a lecturer at the College – she says things have changed so much over recent years.

“I studied here myself when I left school and really enjoyed it, so I always thought I’d come back and teach. The courses on offer really give young people the opportunity to continue studying here if they want to. With the costs associated with going to University south, I can understand why it might not be the right choice for everyone, so it’s brilliant we have courses that can take them further right here.”

Kirsteen also believes the link between successful local business owners lets students see there is a clear path after life at Orkney College UHI.

Emma Fraser, a graduate from the BA (Hons) Fine Art Textiles course at Orkney College UHI
Emma Fraser, a graduate from the BA (Hons) Fine Art Textiles course at Orkney College UHI

“Just now we have people running their own businesses in fields like textiles, art, film making and photography all teaching here part time. For a lot of the students it makes it more real and to have that link with business is really important. We love it too because we get to work with creative, talented people on their projects, so we’re sparking ideas off each other. I’ve found that really inspiring.”

If the lecturers are inspired by life at Orkney College UHI, what does that say about the students? With such a range of courses available, there are people from all kinds of backgrounds, all kinds of locations, signed up.

Molly Malone is one of them - she’s about to start the fourth year of her BA (Hons) Business and Management degree.

“When I left school I knew I wanted to stay in Orkney, but I also wanted to continue to study. I applied to some Universities but then my teachers told me about the business courses at Orkney College UHI. I didn’t know you could complete a degree here to honours level and I was really surprised when I researched it more.”

After three years of studying, she would recommend the Orkney College experience to anyone. “I can’t praise the tutors enough, and I feel you get a lot more personal attention here than you might somewhere else. The smaller class sizes also encourage you to interact and that builds your confidence.

Orkney College UHI is one of the best places in the country to study archaeology
Orkney College UHI is one of the best places in the country to study archaeology

The College has a lot of input in things like counselling, financial advice, that kind of thing. It’s a really good standard of education – if you want to experience something different, then I think you’d be surprised at what is on offer here.”

There are challenges at Orkney College UHI. Like everywhere else, finance is always at the forefront of the thinking, and there are unique problems including student accommodation and providing student specific services. But they are issues Principal Bill Ross is confident they can tackle.

“The real challenge everyone faces is the drive to offer more with less. We will always put our resources towards the quality of our courses, but there is a need to identify extra funding. All we can do is make sure the students are the priority, and a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to get everything in place for them.”

Pushing the message that Orkney College UHI, and the wider UHI network, can offer a similar experience to other Colleges and Universities in Scotland, is part of the process.

“We have to let young people coming out of school know the breadth of further and higher education opportunities that are available on their doorstep” said Bill. “Then, when it comes to exam results time, if they’re looking through University clearing, they’ll know where we are, and what we can offer.”

The corridors and cafeteria might be empty right now but, in just a few short weeks, Orkney College UHI will be back to normal - complete with new faces, studying new courses, looking forward to a bright future together.

gallery start=1 rows=2

There are currently places available on all Further Education and Higher Education courses starting in August and September at Orkney College UHI. For more information visit or phone 01856 569 000. Newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to receive our newsletter and get the latest updates from our beautiful, vibrant islands.
Sign Up Now