1 September 2010

The nefarious UHI Millenium Institute...

Isn't the UHI Millennium Institute a wonderfully evocative, slightly sinister name? For me, it has always summoned up a Scottish setting for James Bond or similar foiler of nefarious plots aiming at world dominion. In my peat-addled imagination, I see a neo-classical New Town façade with a polished brass nameplate, succeeding to an interior of old wood, bookcases, pipe-smoke,  decanters and heavy crystal-ware glasses, guttering gas lamps throwing sinister old men with high Edinburgh accents in red leather armchairs into hideous, Mephistophelean relief. Avowedly, of course, the Institute would be a philanthropic research organisation, perhaps with rather misguided Whiggish views on milleniumising the "Third World". Not so, naturally. A quick tug at a copy of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe in the Institute's extensive, foosty library would cause one of these groaning cases to click smoothly inward, revealing a startlingly chromed, glaziered interior. Tweeds and bumpers of port would give way to corridors replete with shuffling men and women in white coats walking in clipped, purposeful steps from laboratory to laboratory. No doubt the air would be abuzz with electrical energy and the dull, dulcet thumping as screams rebounded off padded cells. I've not entirely decided quite what they'll actually be up to, but I'm inclined to think that this Tartan Taliban band intend to unite the ancient virtues of Scots industry and piety, using scientific engineering to precipitate the apocalypse. No doubt they will be foiled by our brave protagonist and their industries reduced to molten slag and scorched and pitted blonde sandstone.

In point of fact, the UHI Millennium Institute isn't based in Edinburgh, but in Inverness. Nor, I'm happy to say, is it a conglomerate of dementedly pious scientists bent on annihilation and the Rapture. Rather, its a Higher Education Institute, conducting university-level education in the Highlands and Islands. I noticed this morning that the Scottish Government are consulting on recognising this level of education by bestowing the status "university" on the institution. If so, it will join the fourteen other higher education institutions in the country with that status, two of which I've attended on my own educational travels. Happily these days a Papal Bull is no longer necessary for the status to be conferred, so the Institute needn't persecute Benedict the Umpteeth with petitions during his imminent papal visit to Scotland. If their petitions are successful, the institution will presumably transmogrify  into the University of the Highlands and Islands. Personally, I would have preferred the more quixotic alternative of "Millennium University" but such an institution already exists in Bangladesh. Regrettably, neither of these options sounds nearly as gently malevolent as its current title.  My imagination smarts from the potentially imminent loss of a setting. Indeed, both suggest bright eyes, optimism, good cheer, new foundations - decidedly un-Scottish virtues for a would-be supervillain...


  1. I'm surprised to find the UHI does not already have full University status, I'm sure that would surprise many of those who have seen their print ads as well as the recent Gaelic television commercial advertising clearing places.

    I think that MI6 have little to worry about at this stage, in my past and only dealing with them, I asked to speak to the man heading up their creative writing department, and I was transferred first to the English dept in Inverness, then creative writing in Skye before being told the man in question was in Shetland for the day.

    Once they start transferring calls to the Volcano campus on Skull Island we should probably call 007.

  2. Ha!

    Excellent, excellent!

    I've no sense of the mood towards the proposal or the responses which the consultation might provoke. That said, the phrase university-level courses is somewhat suspicious. Like liquids marked "juice drink", at first seeming only tautologous but then opening up a whole vista of doubt on what precisely is sluicing down your throat.

  3. Haha, I love your post about juice drink--it's just water, sugar, and purple! I love the idea of becoming a bankruptcy lawyer, I don't think you could do that if you went to UHI.

  4. Unhappily, the Institute in question is a bureaucratic leech on the Further Education Colleges which constitute its teaching staff. Funds allocated to the UHI are creamed off by their administrative headquarters in Inverness before being divided amongst the constituent colleges. The result: the lowest-paid lecturers in the entire FE sector (approx. £6,000/year less than James Watt College for example) - yet they're delivering degree courses. This means that they are also, by a far, far greater factor, the lowest-paid lecturers in the University sector. They're presently being encouraged to make themselves redundant by recording large amounts of their teaching materials and lectures onto their Virtual Learning System. As far as I am aware, little or no research is carried out by this "University."