Highlands and Islands' UHI wins university status
A higher education institute has been confirmed as Scotland's newest university.
The UHI Millennium Institute has become the University of the Highlands and Islands following approval from the Privy Council.
UHI is made up of a network of 13 colleges and research centres in the Highlands, Western and Northern Isles, Moray, Argyll and Perthshire.
The new university covers an area twice the size of Wales.
The Scottish government was advised by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in December last year that UHI met the requirements for university status.
Approval from the Privy Council was the final hurdle.
One of the oldest parts of the UK government, the council's wide ranging powers include decisions on universities.
UHI chairman Prof Matthew MacIver said the confirmation was a defining moment in the history of the Highlands and Islands.
He said: "For centuries we have been exporting intellectual talent to all corners of the globe.
"We are now at a point where that flow can be reversed.
"The new University of the Highlands and Islands will be a powerhouse for the economic, social and cultural development of the region."
Education Secretary Michael Russell said securing the status was a fantastic achievement for staff and students.
He added: "However, university title does not mark the end of the road for UHI.
"Rather it heralds the start of a process which will see this innovative model for delivering higher education developing further."
UHI principal and vice-chancellor, James Fraser, added: "I must pay tribute to all of our students, staff and supporters who have contributed to this marvellous achievement. Granting university status is an irrevocable act and therefore not done lightly and hastily.
"A great debt is owed to those who had the vision to set off on this journey and to our many supporters who have stayed the distance with us."
He added: "Our new status as a university will assist us also in attracting more young people to UHI and in recruiting students from beyond the region."
Nathan Shields, University of the Highlands and Islands Students' Association president, said young people in the area now had a choice of where to study at university level.
He said: "This is a landmark day for the Highlands and Islands especially for our young people who no longer have to leave the region if they want to go to university."
A new campus planned for Beechwood, in Inverness, would provide a new base for UHI and Inverness College, one of its partners.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is leading the campus project.
UHI's other partners include the colleges of Argyll, Lews Castle on the Western Isles, Moray, Perth, Orkney and Shetland.
MSPs have welcomed the confirmation.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and MSP for Shetland Tavish Scott said: "The granting of full university status is good news and is a just reward for a lot of hard work by all involved at the University of the Highlands and Islands.
"I want the new Highlands and Islands University to mean that people of all ages can learn closer to home and in new ways."
Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan said: "Everyone who has worked hard to create the University of the Highlands and Islands over many years will be as delighted as I am today the UHI now has internationally recognised status as a university in its own right."
Labour MSP for Highlands and Islands Peter Peacock said: "This achievement is down to many committed individuals down the years, and across the political spectrum, who have turned a dream into a reality."