“WE WANT to be in charge of our own destiny! We want to set our own agenda, with a clear focus of building a stronger more productive rural economy” – those were the words of SRUC principal Professor Wayne Powell, discussing the organisation’s plans to achieve university status by 2022.

Mr Powell explained that the biggest challenge facing Scottish farming was productivity, where we are now falling behind our competitors globally. He referred to the example of the Netherlands, which exported £18 billion worth of food in the last year and has become a world leader in agriculture since its agricultural education system achieved university status.

“We have been doing a lot of work in the background, looking and learning from those countries such as New Zealand, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, where productivity levels are higher.

“We don’t want to create just another university but one which is distinctive in giving back to the rural economy,” he explained. “We want to upskill the current working population as well as shaping the minds of the future and through the analysis we have undertaken of other agricultural universities, we know that they contribute greatly to the overall economy.”

Scotland’s new rural university will aim to have faculties at three locations across the country, with current plans to invest in a new South and West faculty at the Barony campus in Dumfries and Galloway. Over the next four years, there will be a phased withdrawal away from the existing campuses at the Riverside in Ayr and the Crichton in Dumfries, with a projected £35 million to be invested in the new facility.

Dean of the South and West faculty, Professor Nick Sparks, commented: “Aside from investing in the bricks and mortar of a new facility, we are most importantly making an investment in people. We want to broaden our expertise and skills base, bring in the brightest of talent and provide the best student and research environment for the future.

“Our university campuses will be unique in the fact there will be different campuses throughout the country – reaching out to students all over Scotland. One campus could not serve the whole of rural Scotland and would create huge travel issues,” he stressed.

Professor Sparks assured that the new Barony campus will be exploring public transport service options for students who may be concerned about access to the new facility and insisted that a top-class facility will have no problem attracting students.

“We want to build a facility that really stands out and the best facilities attract the best people and that’s not just pigeon holing the farming industry – veterinary nursing is one of our most heavily subscribed courses. We want to make sure we get more practical work in to our curriculum, so can deliver graduates straight in to jobs, equipped with the right practical skills to hit the ground running, ready to contribute to the rural economy,” he explained.

More big changes are on the cards for SRUC in the coming months, not just in the long-term, with ambitions to collaborate with top research institutes such as Moredun. SRUC have this month relocated its veterinary services on site with Moredun where they hope to use the opportunity to work together on projects and enhance mutual learning – through sharing knowledge and expertise.

Professor Jamie Newbold, Academic Director of SRUC explained the move: “Over the summer of 2018 we held a series of workshops with colleagues from Moredun looking at areas we could work together; taking the strengths of Moredun and complimenting them with our own. We want to work with them not against them, as it will better serve the agricultural community by offering; the state-of-the-art techniques, the best diagnosis and a quality of service which will only be enhanced through this co-location,” he insisted. “We want to take a more holistic approach of animal health and this move will ensure it is incorporated in to wider farming research,” he concluded.