Michael Forsyth, Secretary of State for Scotland, has unexpectedly backed plans for a University of the Highlands and Islands, previously cold- shouldered by the Scottish Office, writes Olga Wojtas.
In Inverness this week for the Scottish Grand Committee, Mr Forsyth said he had recently visited Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye, Scotland's only Gaelic college, and had been impressed by the way new technology was being used to revive a moribund language.
"We could use this to link up existing institutions and create a new style of institution. The technology is there," he said.
A steering committee, set up by Highland Regional Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, envisages a federal university based on existing institutions by the end of the century, but the Scottish Office has firmly ruled out support for the creation of a new institution.
The Open University is well established in the area, and a number of others, including Stirling and Aberdeen, already offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
"This would not be another Stirling University in Inverness, that is something quite different," Mr Forsyth said. "This would make use of technology and distance learning."
The Scottish Secretary has made no financial commitment to the scheme, which the economic consultants Pieda have said will need capital investment of Pounds 42 million over five years. But the project's supporters have warmly welcomed his comments.
Robin Lingard, project director for the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: "We are most encouraged by this and will be talking further to the Scottish Office."