NATIONS with their own rural universities currently enjoy 'significant advantages' over Scotland – and the establishment of such a university here could bring a £4.5bn boost to the Scottish economy.

These are the keystone claims of a new report by independent economic consultancy, BiGGAR Economics – and commissioned by Scotland's Rural College, which is actively seeking to attain university status.

The report benchmarked Scotland’s performance against comparable nations that already have a rural university, namely Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and New Zealand. It found that these nations enjoyed significant advantages over Scotland, in terms of better productivity in the agricultural and primary sectors, as well as much greater research and development investment.

For example, in terms of primary sector productivity, the gross value added per job was €30,331 for Scotland, compared to €64,169 for the Netherlands and €99,676 for Norway. At the same time, R and D investment into the primary and agricultural sectors across the UK was also shown to be significantly lower than the other nations being benchmarked – just €6.65 per capita for the UK, compared to €53.37 for Norway and €30.51 for the Netherlands.

The report outlined the opportunity for Scotland to put systems in place to match the countries studied – with the establishment of an 'enterprise university for the rural sector' as a core component, which could mean an additional £4.5bn gross value added per annum to Scotland’s economy.

SRUC chief executive and principal, Professor Wayne Powell, said: “This report provides a compelling analysis of the prize on offer to maximise the potential of our rural economy. The establishment of an enterprise university for Scotland’s rural sector is at the heart of this vision. By looking outside we can see clearly that the other countries studied in the report have rural universities which drive innovation and economic growth in the rural sectors.

“In these comparator countries, a rural university offers a global outlook but is connected to the local rural landscape and heritage, helping translate and transfer knowledge into practice that benefits the domestic economy," said Prof Powell. "Strategic collaboration between government, industry and expert centres is a model followed in these countries and has been shown to be transformational, creating step changes in economic benefits and growth. The same approach can work for Scotland, too.

“We envisage an enterprise university for the rural economy in Scotland that leads innovation and sustainable development, whilst providing world class education, research, skills development and consulting. Last year, we announced our plans to transform into a rural university and the first phase of this process is underway. I am delighted with the findings of this report, and SRUC stands willing and ready to work with all interested parties to turn this concept and opportunity into reality.”