Ambitious timetable as colleges plan merger

Scottish Agricultural College's new beef research facility at Easter Howgate on the Bush Estate, Midlothian.
Scottish Agricultural College's new beef research facility at Easter Howgate on the Bush Estate, Midlothian.

THERE is a lot of work to be done before the new Scottish Rural University College (SRUC) comes into existence ahead of the autumn intake of new students.

That was the view of Nigel Miller, National Farmers Union Scotland president – who farms at Stagehall near Stow – on the decision to merge four of the country’s agricultural colleges.

The boards of Barony, Elmwood and Oatridge Colleges and the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) last month announced their formal agreement to merge and create the SRUC, which will come into existence on August 1, after approval by the cabinet secretary.

The announcement follows consultation and planning among the college partners, their staff, students and stakeholders.

SRUC will be the first university college in Scotland and its partners have appointed SAC’s chief executive and principal, Professor Bob Webb, as chief executive and principal.

Mr Miller said: “The future foundation of Scotland’s land-based sector is largely dependent on the quality of education that we can provide to the coming generations. SRUC will, in a few short months, become the main platform for delivering that education.

“There will be a lot of work to do for SRUC to come into existence ahead of the new autumn intake. The August 2012 start date and the speed that the merger is taking place at are both ambitious, and we will keep in touch with SAC and the colleges at Barony, Elmwood and Oatridge through the summer to see how plans are progressing.

“The creation of SRUC dovetails with the proposed new Scottish strategy for further education in agriculture. This new structure will have a big role to play in setting the strategy and determining funding.

“However, other local colleges with land-based courses should also be involved in that strategy process so that all the educational requirements for the sector can continue to be met and properly funded in the future.”

While none of the colleges involved have campuses in the Borders, many local farmers attended one themselves or may have children or relatives currently studying there.

SAC has campuses in Edinburgh, Ayr and Aberdeen, while Barony’s campus is at Dumfries; Elmwood’s at Cupar and Oatridge at Broxburn, West Lothian.

The four partners believe the merger presents a unique opportunity to combine and enhance their valued strengths. Their vision is of a dynamic and successful approach to higher and further education, high quality research and consultancy provision within a single, integrated organisation.

Financial due diligence will be finalised over the coming weeks and a shadow board, with representatives from all of the colleges, is being set up to drive progress ahead of August 1.

Andy Robb, chairman of the merger partnership board, commented: “SRUC will bring together the features of four very successful colleges in their own right. It will be the first fully integrated tertiary education, research and consultancy institution for the rural and land-based sectors in Europe.

“We are very excited about the fact that, for the first time in Scotland, learners and stakeholders will have comprehensive and integrated expertise available to them for the full range of skills, training, education, research and business support.”