Governors at Plymouth University have unanimously approved restructuring plans that include scrapping teaching at Seale-Hayne Agricultural College.
Students in Exeter and Exmouth will be relocated to Plymouth, increasing provision there by about 2,500 students.
The plans for Seale-Hayne, which caters for 1,050 students and 200 staff, have attracted vociferous opposition. Courses such as agriculture, land and countryside management, animal sciences and hospitality and tourism will be moved to Plymouth from September 2004.
Vice-chancellor Roland Levinsky said the changes were being made on academic, not financial, grounds. He insisted that the university had no immediate plans to sell the 200-hectare campus, which includes a working farm. Seale-Hayne's research facilities will "remain available for ongoing research activity". But Professor Levinsky said he was to conduct a feasibility study to determine the long-term future of the campus.
The National Farmers' Union warned that it would be a disastrous loss. Southwest spokesman Ian Johnson said: "After a meeting at the university we understood the campus would continue as a centre for research excellence. If there is any long-term doubt about Seale-Hayne, it would be extremely regrettable. This is the largest rural region in England so it would not be a good omen for joined-up thinking to lose a centre of academic excellence."
In an open letter on the eve of the governors meeting last week, Fred Harper, former principal of Seale-Hayne, says: "Your proposals will effectively kill agriculture and related subjects at higher education level in the Southwest."
He says the timing is particularly bad coming after the BSE and foot-and-mouth epidemics. "The last thing the rural community needs is a further blow through a weakening of support from the university in the region."
Professor Levinsky said: "We recognise the importance of the rural economy to the region and believe that by bringing together related disciplines, we have the opportunity to develop a rural research centre of international excellence."
He said he wanted to consult "land-based and related industries" to get involved "in the development of any plans for the future use of the Seale-Hayne campus".
THE PLYMOUTH PLAN
* New students at Seale-Hayne will be moved to Plymouth from September 2004
* The School of Art and Design, based in Exeter, will be moved to Plymouth from September 2006
* Theatre and performance provision will be moved from Exmouth to Plymouth from September 2006
* Exeter arts and humanities students will move to Plymouth
* A "flagship" building will be constructed in Plymouth to house arts, architecture and humanities from 2006
* Work will begin with a private-sector partner to boost student accommodation in Plymouth