SCOTTISH education minister Brian Wilson has pledged Pounds 3.6 million for the University of the Highlands and Islands project, but has hinted that there will now be closer Government scrutiny of its development.
This latest cash boost will come in this financial year, with almost half earmarked for information and communications technology to link the project's 13 colleges and specialist institutes.
Just over Pounds 1 million will go to curriculum and academic development and the project office itself, with another Pounds 1 million backing development work at eight of the colleges.
The grant augments a Pounds 15.9 million support package announced by the Scottish Office in December. While there had been complaints that funds were siphoned off from the further education budget, Mr Wilson stressed that the Pounds 3.6 million was new money, "additional to the resources originally planned for Scottish further and higher education".
He also said the Scottish Office would assess the project strategy for the next three years and evaluate progress so far.
"I want nothing but the best for the Highlands and Islands. I intend to satisfy myself that the financial and educational assumptions which underlie the project are going to deliver the best possible outcome in terms of quality and educational experience for the potential students."
Mike Webster, principal of Perth College and convener of the UHI project academic council, said the reaffirmation of the level of Government support would enable the project to invest in a range of developments, informed by the outcomes of the Dearing and Garrick reports on higher education.
"The Government's financial contribution also provides a vital acknowledgement of the role of the colleges themselves by providing direct support for development at the chalkface," he said.
* The first students to enrol on a new full-time Gaelic immersion course on Skye began their studies this week as a precursor to three degree-level courses expected to be offered through the UHI network next autumn. These will cover Gaelic language and culture, Gaelic performing art and media studies, and Gaelic and North American studies.
Norman Gillies, director of Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college on Skye, and convener of the UHI project's cultural and heritage curriculum working group, said the region's cultural diversity was a key strength in attracting students.