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Union Seeks Reassurances on Agri Education Revamp

NFU Scotland has sought reassurances that improved education provision rather than budgetary concerns are the driver behind the major changes planned for Scotland’s land-based learning system.

A merger between SAC and the colleges at Elmwood in Fife, Oatridge in West Lothian and Barony in Dumfries and Galloway has been proposed.  Representatives of all the colleges and SAC will address NFU Scotland’s council meeting taking place in Perth next week (Tuesday, 1 November).

In the interim, NFU Scotland has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Life Long Learning, Mike Russell, to express its concerns and provide suggestions regarding the plans to bring Scotland's agricultural colleges into one group.

NFU Scotland President, Nigel Miller said:

“There is a welcome commitment that the focus of the new ‘super’ college structure will be on agriculture and the rural economy.  That is important, especially when we are in the healthy position of seeing demand for places on land-based courses increasing for the first time in recent history.

“However, having discussed the potential skill base of the industry and future educational provision, the Union is concerned about the plans.  We have written to the Cabinet Secretary for further reassurance that the creation of a single college group has not been driven primarily by the need to reduce costs but by the greater imperative of providing the best possible education for future generations of students.

“Looking at the proposals, it is unclear that any mechanisms to lock in and develop the many real strengths in the present establishments have been engineered into the proposed new structure. There is no clear commitment to develop centres of excellence or to encourage pathways between research providers and education or wider knowledge transfer to the farming industry. We fear that the future strategy is incomplete and risks fixing structures that limit the capability of a knowledge-based rural economy.

“A credible future strategy must map out provision at college and university level and demonstrate a pathway for progression from apprentice level to continuous professional development. Centres of excellence should be designated; some may be in the existing college structure and some may be located within the research institutes.

“As a minimum, we would suggest a model that looks at two merged college structures. In the West of Scotland, this could focus on grassland systems and dairy farming; in the East this could be focused on beef and cropping systems. SAC might have a role in both the East and West of Scotland, but could also focus effort on at least one university-level site linked to research activity and post-graduate studies.

“A level of competition is also important if we are to see innovation and maximise the value of regional sites. Although college-based learning is a priority for our industry’s future and perhaps a foundation to more academic training, Scotland should also have distinct university provision, with a range of post-graduate opportunities. Scotland is a major world player in animal science, for example, and that base must be supported and developed.

“Having discussed our shared priorities with representatives of the colleges involved in the merger proposals, we all appreciate and support the benefits of vertical collaboration which would allow students to move through the system as their needs develop.  We look forward to representatives of all colleges involved in the merger proposals addressing our council meeting next week.  We all have the shared objective of ensuring Scotland can deliver the very best in agricultural and rural education in the future.”

Notes to editors

NFU Scotland’s Council meeting will take place at Dewars Centre, Perth, PH2 0TH on Tuesday, 1 November 2011.

The Programme is:

10.30am – 11.00am

Registration and coffee

11.00am – 11.30am

Issues Ahead  – Scott Walker, Chief Executive, NFUS

11.30am – 12.30pm

The Future of Education Provision  - Jim Crooks (Elmwood College), David McKenzie (SAC), Russell Marchant (Barony College) and David James (Oatridge College)

12.30pm – 1.15pm

Press Briefing and finger buffet

1.15pm – 2.00pm

CAP Reform Update – Maeve Whyte, BAB, Brussels

2.00pm – 2.45pm

The effects of speculation on food price volatility – Alan Renwick, Group Manager of Land, Economy and Research, SAC

3.00pm

Close of Council

Ends

Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

 

Date Published:

News Article No.: 171/11


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