Sabhal Mòr Ostaig was recently amongst an elite of twenty Universities and Colleges from throughout the United Kingdom to be honoured with the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education 2002, the most prestigious National Honour of its type.
The Queen's Anniversary Prize is open to all UK Universities and Colleges and entries are subject to a rigorous and demanding assessment process through a wide-ranging independent review. The Trustees and the Awards Council, in making their decision, look in particular for signs of innovation, initiative and originality, where a very high standard of achievement has been demonstrated.
A group of staff and students from the College travelled to London in February to attend the Prizes ceremony in Buckingham Palace. At the ceremony Her Majesty the Queen presented the Gold Prize Medal to College Director, Professor Norman Gillies and Head of Studies, John Norman MacLeod, received the Prize Certificate from HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. Following the ceremony, staff and students were introduced to Her Majesty the Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and had an opportunity to mix with members from other winning institutions.
Receiving the Award, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig's Director, Professor Norman Gillies said:
"I am absolutely delighted, for all those who have been associated with the work of the College over the years, that we are to be recognised in this highly prestigious manner. The journey of Sabhal Mòr has been one which has been taken often under less than favourable circumstances and this award is indeed a testimony to the vision of the founders, our Board, our senior management and staff, our students and, importantly, our numerous supporters and friends throughout the years who have believed resolutely in our mission. I am very proud, on behalf of that wide community which we seek to serve, to accept this great honour for Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in the certain knowledge that it will act as a further stimulus to our ongoing commitment to ensuring that the Gaelic language community, of Scotland and beyond, has access to educational opportunity of the very highest standards"
The significance of the College's award was felt deeply within the UHI Millennium Institute (UHI) of which Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is an academic partner. UHI Chief Executive, Professor Bob Cormack, said:
"UHI is delighted that one of our academic partners has gained this major distinction. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has led the way in the revival of the Gaelic language and culture and is the cornerstone of the UHI provision in the area. No one can spend time at Sabhal Mòr without being infused by the heady atmosphere of the campus on Sleat and the enthusiasm of all at the College. It is entirely appropriate that the achievements of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig are now being recognised through a Queen's Award"
The wider social and economic impact of the College's work has long been recognised as a significant factor in the social and cultural regeneration of the Highlands and Islands community. Highlands and Islands Enterprise Chairman, James Hunter said:
"Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has had a profound impact on the wider social and economic regeneration of the Highlands and Islands Community, engendering a new found confidence through the development of the language and culture. It is an outstanding success story and richly deserving of this honour."
Allan Campbell, the newly appointed Chief Executive of Bòrd na Gàidhlig and a past Trustee of the College, welcomed the news saying:
"This is a huge step and a great honour for Sabhal Mòr and its work, and a special tribute to all those who have given so much to realise this unique educational institution."
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig's national role in the development of the language and the culture has been recognised in the Scottish Executive's own 'Programme for Government' and in the 'National Cultural Strategy.'
Scottish Executive Minister with special responsibility for Gaelic, Mike Watson MSP, said:
"I greatly welcome the news of this award for Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, as the Executive recognises the crucial role which Sabhal Mòr has fulfilled as a National Centre for the development of the language and the culture and the constructive role which the College has played in partnership with Government in extending opportunity and in promoting social inclusion. Whilst operating from its magnificent campus on the Isle of Skye, the College has sought to extend opportunity to all, nationally and internationally, and in recent months, we have witnessed further evidence of the fruits of this institution's considerable efforts to strengthen the base of the language across the country, with the opening of the new Gaelic language, education and heritage centre on Islay. I am happy, as the Minister with special responsibility for Gaelic, to record my own admiration for the work of this innovative institution."
Scottish Executive Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Life-long Learning, Ian Gray, in recognising the award, said:
"This is wonderful news for the Scottish Further Education Sector as a whole and, in particular, a wonderful encouragement to smaller institutions. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig's success in winning this prestigious honour in the face of stiff competition will also be welcome to the UHI Millennium Institute, marking as it does the level of excellence that its important academic partners can boast."
UK Energy Minister, Brian Wilson MP, a former Scottish Education Minister and long time campaigner for the Gaelic language and culture and a committed supporter of the work of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, said:
"I am absolutely delighted that Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has been recognised in this way. For as long as I have known the College, it has set standards of excellence in everything it does. Against the odds, it has created one of the most attractive campuses in the country and has constantly widened the range of courses on offer, as well as playing a key part in other Gaelic-related activities".