A brief history of college and how it has served the Outer Hebrides for 70 years!
Lews Castle College was officially opened in 1953 by Sir Alex Douglas Home. The College provided vocational education and training connected with weaving, the Merchant Navy, Engineering and the Building Trades, All the students were male, and of the 94 students in the first intake, 32 lived in the college itself during term time.
By the time the college moved to the new buildings in the Castle Grounds in the 1970s, the curriculum was extended to include courses for women. As the college expanded, the number of buildings on the new campus site increased with it, eventually leading a demand for a more coherent campus. The current buildings in Stornoway, completed in 2000, were the results of the college’s involvement in the project to provide a university for the Highlands and Islands.
During the 1990s, the Board of Management of the college, established at its incorporation in 1993, made a major commitment to extend the college’s provision throughout the Western Isles. The first learning centre was established in Castlebay, Barra in 1995. The Centre in Benbecula was opened in 1995. A partnership with Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy and the Kildonan Centre on South Uist were also established to ensure a presence for the college as well as the provision of art and music courses.
As an academic partner of the UHI Millennium Institute (established in 1992) the college was able to offer higher education programmes across the Outer Hebrides. When UHI Millennium Institute gained degree awarding powers in 2008 and then the University of the Highlands and Islands was established in 2011, this allowed the college to offer degree courses as well as higher nationals. Some of the initial courses offered by Lews Castle College UHI included Business Administration, Internet Computing, Health Studies, Gaelic, and Rural Development.
The local community, culture and economy has always been central to the development of the college and courses on offer. This continues today, as does our development. Just last year in 2022 we saw the opening of our latest campus Cnoc Soilleir in Daliburgh, South Uist. This new campus is an exciting joint venture between Ceòlas Uibhist and the college. Located in the Gaelic heartland of South Uist, Cnoc Soilleir will promote and celebrate the community’s Gaelic cultural heritage. As well as our local campuses we continue to offer online courses to students across the world.
In 2022 the college was renamed UHI Outer Hebrides with the aim of better representing of geographical reach. With campuses across the Outer Hebrides the aim was to recognise the breadth and width of the Outer Hebrides and all the island communities the college serves. This change was taken while the college was part of the Rural and Islands Colleges Merger consultation process, along with North Highland College UHI and West Highland College UHI. The outcome of that merger was unsure then but now we are very excited to say that this merger will be the next big step for our college.
In November 2022, the boards of management at all three colleges formally approved the merger proposal and business case following a 10-week public consultation, which ran from 8 August 2022 to 14 October 2022. On 1st August 2023, UHI North Highland, UHI Outer Hebrides, and UHI West Highland merged to form UHI North, West and Hebrides. The public launch will take place in September 2023, perfect timing as we celebrate our 70th anniversary of offering further and higher education in the Outer Hebrides!
UHI North, West and Hebrides will create an anchor institution connecting rural and island communities through distinctive education and research, shaped by the culture, location, and landscapes of the North and West Highlands, Skye, and Outer Hebrides. By coming together, the colleges will have combined capacity, resource, and expertise to better meet the needs of their local communities. With 9000 students, 600 staff and 19 campuses and centres stretching from Caithness and Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty to Lochaber, Wester Ross, Skye and the Outer Hebrides, UHI North, West and Hebrides covers an area larger than Wales and around 40% of Scotland’s coastline.
We hope everyone can come together to celebrate our anniversary and the next big steps for our college. How you can get involved:
Join our celebration events