The University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland has announced plans to develop a BSc degree in optometry, backed by expertise and funding from the Federation of Ophthalmic and Dispensing Opticians Educational Trust, the optical press in the United Kingdom reports.

Described by the university as a move to “address the growing demand for eye-care services in the region”, the university has submitted an initial proposal to the General Optical Council and is “working with stakeholders to develop the new course”.

  • The program will “incorporate new approaches to regional training to support the delivery of optometry services in remote and rural communities”.
  • The UHI uses a regional university structure, made up of a partnership of 13 independent colleges and research institutions based in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Previously known as the UHI Millennium Institute, the UHI gained full university status in 2011.
  • Today the university has over 40,000 further and higher education students. The optometry course will be conducted by the UHI’s0 School of Health, Social Care and Life Sciences.

Professor Crichton Lang, deputy principal of the university, said: “We are delighted to be working in innovative ways with industry partners to develop and deliver this BSc degree in the region. This initiative will boost career opportunities, strengthen the supply of qualified optometrists to the industry and contribute to the overall delivery of high-quality health and social care to our communities. These benefits all align fully with our vision for the growing impact of the university’s School of Health, Social Care and Life Sciences.”

Optometry Scotland supports the initiative, adding that it recognises the “difficulties recruiting and retaining optometrists in the remote and rural areas of Scotland”.

Mr Hal Rollason, chair of Federation of Ophthalmic and Dispensing Opticians Scotland, said: “The development of this course is a direct response to the need to upskill and expand the optometric professional workforce so that we can play our full part in meeting the growing and changing eye health needs of the population. FODO is very proud to support that work.”

The FODO Education Trust, which is providing expertise and funding to help develop the degree course, is a charity set up to support education in the optical sector.

• A GOC spokesperson is reported as saying it is in discussion with UHI; that the GOC must consider all new applications for accreditation based on whether they meet its standards; and that the GOC is not able to consider factors such as demand for optometrists or market conditions when considering accreditation applications.

• Furthermore, when a new course leading to GOC registration wishes to open, a formal application must be made to the GOC, which will then consider the application and if it meets its requirements, provisional approval will be given. The GOC will grant full approval when the course has been running for a period of time and the GOC is satisfied that the course meets its standards

The Optical Workforce Survey conducted earlier this year by the College of Optometrists identified a national shortage of in the region of 900 optometrists.