Master weaver and virtual learning advocate wins university postgraduate title

A master weaver from Blairgowrie who completed his MA course entirely online and set up a networking group to support fellow creative practitioners during lockdown has been named as the University of the Highlands and Islands 2020 postgraduate student of the year.

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Ashleigh Slater, University of the Highlands and Islands 2020 postgraduate student of the year. Photography by Kelly McIntyre Photography and Video

Ashleigh Slater (39) recently achieved his MA in art and social practice whilst studying through the centre for rural creativity at Shetland College UHI.

Ashleigh’s achievements include the creation of a community based project to explore the heritage of his home town, through a range of creative workshops offering textiles, printmaking, photography and poetry and, in particular, the life work of one of the town’s most famous sons, Hamish Henderson.

As part of this ambitious project he organised an exhibition of artwork created from stitching, cyanotype photography and poetry crafted by local residents which was launched by deputy first minister and local MSP, John Swinney.  

Roxane Permar, reader in fine art and programme leader for the MA art and social practice, explained why she nominated Ashleigh:

“It was fantastic to see Ashleigh’s confidence grow whilst studying, and his achievements academically and in our field of practice have been exceptional. His work is ambitious and he is personally committed. He additionally produced a digital version of his final work on an interactive website and, as master weaver at Tartan Caledonia, he designed a commemorative tartan to mark the centenary this year, 2020, of Hamish Henderson’s birth.

“Ashleigh is liked by everyone he meets and he displayed enormous compassion and empathy for those he works with. As a wheelchair user, he leads by example, inspiring others to overcoming obstacles and barriers, encouraging others to find their own unique learner journey”.  

Speaking about his award Ashleigh said:

“Receiving this award is not just a reflection on myself, but the outstanding teaching experience at Shetland College UHI and the university’s digital teaching platform. It allowed us to all obtain a real-life experience generating our ‘project’ and evolving our own creative arts practice.

“I have had an amazing experience. It has been life changing and impacted me in more ways that I had imagined possible. I finish my course not only with a new experience but with a new positive mentality.  

“It has also brought my views on education into a new light and I hope other colleges and universities can learn from these methodologies, and allow more disabled people options to access education, and postgraduate degrees without barriers."

Professor Crichton Lang, principal and vice-chancellor (interim) of the University of the Highlands and Islands, added:

“I am delighted that Ashleigh has been selected as our postgraduate student of the year. Our aim, across the university partnership, is to create a supportive and welcoming environment for all and we strive to provide a personalised learning experience for all our students, removing barriers and allowing them to find their own unique learning journey.   

“Ashleigh is a fantastic ambassador. He will inspire many and he sets an example to new students that virtual study is as rewarding and creatively inspiring as meeting fellow students face-to-face.”