Historian calls for Scotland's first Gaelic university to be created on Skye

A respected writer and historian is calling for Scotland’s first Gaelic university to be created on the Isle of Skye.

Professor James Hunter CBE said the internationally renowned college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, where teaching is conducted solely in Gaelic, should be given university status and its own degree-awarding powers.

Prof Hunter, author of 14 books on Highlands and Islands and the first director of University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for History, will make his call at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s annual lecture today.

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He will tell the audience that, while the pursuit of university status would involve “no end of difficulty”, the college could follow in the footsteps of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, which in 1993 became the first Higher Education institution of its kind to be granted its own degree-awarding powers.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye teaches solely in Gaelic with hopes the college will be given university status. PIC: Contributed.
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Prof Hunter said: “Already there’s a precedent for such recognition in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which is firmly inside the Scottish higher education sector, but with its own cash allocation and its own degree-awarding powers in areas like music, film, dance, drama and arts production.

“In the sphere of Gaelic language – Gaelic culture, history, heritage in the widest sense – Sabhal Mòr Ostaig occupies a role analogous to that of the Conservatoire and surely merits the same treatment.

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“Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, to speak plainly, needs to be seen, needs to be funded, as Scotland’s first Gaelic university.”

Based in the Sleat peninsula in the south of Skye, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture, delivers both further and higher education and is an independent academic partner of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).

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Professor James Hunter

With Scottish Gaelic as the sole medium of instruction on its courses, the college is regarded as having a crucial role in the linguistic and cultural renaissance of the language in Scotland.

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The college was founded in 1973 in old farm steadings at Ostaig with a mission to contribute to the revitalisation of the Gaelic language and culture.

In 2015, Ionad Iain Nobail, the first building in the college’s Kilbeg development, was named in memory of the late businessman and Gaelic activist Sir Iain Noble.

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Kilbeg is the first new “planned village” in Skye in around 100 years and builds upon the significant socio-economic impact Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has had in the region since its establishment.

Housing, retail and enterprise units, a small hotel, and sports and recreation facilities for the college and wider community are included in a masterplan for the site.

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Prof Hunter said: “I hope that Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, this transformative institution, continues to amaze, with a larger student body, bigger staff, a growing campus and a new status.

A move to university status would require the backing of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (SFC).

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Jamie Hepburn, minister for higher education, further education, youth employment and training, said: “As SMO approaches its 50th anniversary, I am confident that the college will continue to build on its excellent record of achievements of recent years.

“I will look forward to considering Prof Jim Hunter’s views on the future of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and its potential to contribute to the future of Gaelic in Skye, Scotland and beyond.”

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