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UNION GIVES QUALIFIED BACKING TO COLLEGE MERGER PROPOSALS

NFU Scotland has given its qualified backing to the proposed merger of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) with the land-based colleges of Elmwood, Oatridge and Barony.

In a letter to the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education, Mike Russell, the Union recognises that the merger is likely to deliver the best outcome in providing the agricultural education required by the industry.

However, while it supports the principle in the proposal of developing centres of excellence, the Union believes that land-based colleges must remain able to provide more general education, especially at entry level.

The Union is also concerned about the stability of the new structure were funding to be cut in the future and also the effect it may have on other further education colleges that provide land-based education such as Borders, Perth and Arbroath colleges.  

NFU Scotland Chief Executive Scott Walker said:

"NFU Scotland has a fundamental interest in the future delivery of education, skills and research in the agricultural and land-based sectors. We believe there is merit in the proposed merger of SAC with Elmwood, Oatridge and Barony colleges and accept that this approach is the one most likely to keep funding at the level needed to provide the agricultural education required by the industry.

"Future funding levels are critical to the success of the merger. Transitional support to the new structure is crucial to its success while any withdrawal of support – either interim or long-term - could undermine the stability of the new structure.

"The proposed new structure will offer benefits to students, notably greater opportunity for students to progress through the stages of learning. However, while we support the principle of developing centres of excellence, this should not lock the colleges out of more general education provision especially at entry level.

"During the consultation period, a chief concern raised by a few of our members was that the new structure may be seen by some people as a take-over of the land-based colleges by SAC. That view, even if held by a few, may jeopardise successful integration and future support by farmers. To address this, the Union

"In order to ensure an equal partnership between all the land based colleges in the new education structure we believe there is merit in considering a model where the non-education divisions of SAC are excluded from the merger and instead are left to operate as a stand alone entity. This would leave the SAC non-education division to focus on research, consultancy and other commercial services.

"The other colleges in the new structure should be similarly encouraged to develop their own links with researchers in other establishments and perhaps their own consultancy and commercial services if appropriate. Such development will help to ensure competition and wider integration of research into education.  

"This would leave SAC education and the three further education colleges to form a new merged entity for funding and co-ordination of effort. Our proposed model for a new group which focuses on education may not be the optimal end point but we believe it is vital that no one institution is seen to dominate and that the national curriculum strategy is developed transparently.

"We are also concerned about the effect of the new structure on other further education colleges that provide land-based education such as Borders, Perth and Arbroath colleges. The national curriculum strategy will not be finalised until after a decision on the proposed merger has been taken so the effect of the merger on other further education colleges is unclear. It is important that the strategy recognises both the merged land-based colleges and other further education colleges if a clear strategy for land-based education provision is to be developed."

Notes to Editors

Barony College, Elmwood College, Oatridge College and the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) have come together to look at how the increasing demands of the land-based sector could be met by a new institute of further and higher education which combines their strengths and expertise. The ‘Going Further’ consultation was launched on the 26th March and closed on the 7th May. Details at

www.goingfurther.org.uk

NFU Scotland has submitted it views on the consultation and written to the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell MSP in connection with the proposals.

Ends

Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 45/12


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