Funding cuts leave agricultural college in need of new cash cow

Harper Adams typifies the uncertain financial future faced by specialist institutions. John Morgan writes

August 25, 2011

Plenty of distinctive features crop up on a walk around Harper Adams University College: the escaped lamb on campus; the 600-strong herd of cows; the huge circular milking shed with observation deck; and the volumes of the Aberdeen-Angus Bulletin in the library, itself an impressive piece of eco-friendly design.

The farming, agricultural and managerial studies college in Shropshire - established in 1901 after Thomas Harper Adams, a wealthy farmer, bequeathed his estate - can also point to its fruitful links with industry, high student-satisfaction ratings and formidable graduate employment rates (of the 2010 cohort, 96.5 per cent were in jobs six months after graduation).

Harper Adams, which has about 2,200 students and farms more than 640 hectares of land, also typifies the uncertain funding future facing specialist institutions.

David Llewellyn, the college's principal, highlighted the expense of equipment such as tractors and combine harvesters, with the latter costing about £200,000 a year to lease.

Despite charging the maximum £9,000 fees in 2012, Harper Adams says it will not recoup all the income lost through government funding cuts. All of its courses are in Band B for funding. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is currently consulting on how to divide the rump of teaching grant that will remain for high-cost subjects.

"This funding will probably be associated with individual subjects or small subject groupings rather than our present broad price bands," Hefce's consultation states.

"We have in the past argued for a 'Band B and a half'," said Dr Llewellyn.

He noted that in some Band A areas, institutions have to maintain high-cost facilities. "We have to do the same thing here, yet we're not recognised for that funding level."

Asked whether he was confident that funding will remain for Band B, Dr Llewellyn said: "There are a lot of pressures."

He added that he was keen to ensure that agri-food subjects are seen as a "strategic priority".

Noting that other nations have focused agri-food investment in specific institutions - such as the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at Denmark's University of Aarhus - he said: "We need a university representing the agri-food sector. I think we can perform that role."

Food security - identified as a priority in the UK's National Security Strategy - could be a key area for the institution, which currently has 31 postgraduate research students.

Harper Adams also has a range of industry links: scholarships funded by the poultry industry and engineering firm JCB, and a record of placing graduates with firms such as John Deere and Land Rover.

At the edge of campus stands a testament to Harper Adams' commitment to sustainability: a new £3 million anaerobic-digestion plant covering the college's base electricity needs by converting local food and farm waste. It will need such thrift and imagination in the future.

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