by Wayne Powell, Principal and Chief Executive, Scotland’s Rural College

IF HISTORY has taught us anything, it’s that times of crisis often lead to great innovation.

In early March, few of us could have imagined the kind of impact the Covid-19 pandemic would have on our daily lives. The whole world has been affected by coronavirus and, clearly, the education sector is no different.

At Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), we want everyone to know that we are open for student applications for next academic year. Our campuses across Scotland are focussing on our students as partners and on how we can work with local communities to support the local economy and help things return to some sense of normality.

Of course, like everyone else working in education and rural life, we will need to adjust. But we are excited to welcome students on to exciting courses looking to the future of our natural economy and helping our graduates prepare for advances in digital technology and new approaches to agriculture.

Covid-19 has made this more important than ever.

Adapting to the crisis

Over the past two months, staff and students at SRUC have had to adapt to new ways of teaching and new ways of learning.

This hasn’t always been easy, particularly with courses which involve a practical element.

Fortunately, we were already looking to the future. Our new learning and teaching enhancement strategy was already introducing more blended (online and face-to-face) ways of learning. Under this new approach, students are equal partners in SRUC, and we want to empower them to have more choice in how they learn.

Lockdown has accelerated these plans. We are looking at the virtual systems that underpin our teaching, student and staff access to hardware, software and connectivity, as well as the physical technology we have in place, such as lecture capture. This will ensure our students are digitally ready for a blended approach.

We are conscious of the impact of Covid-19 on our students’ mental health and a lack of access to physical resources such as hardcopy library materials.

To support our students, we have devised a “Help not Hinder” approach to support Degree Year 3 and 4 as well as taught SRUC postgraduate students to achieve the best possible outcome they can, based on their achievement during this academic year.

Finding practical solutions

As we’re all aware, Scotland is scheduled to enter the first stage of a four-phase plan to ease lockdown restrictions.

The Scottish Government will also be focussing on recovering the economy and, with SRUC at the heart of the natural economy, we look forward to playing a key role in this recovery by driving innovation and skills. This will help get the country moving again and gradually return us to normality – although that might not be quite the right word.

We’re expecting things to be different for some time, with social distancing measures likely to remain in place for the significant future. In addition, there could be further national or regional periods of lockdown, so we need to have a firm footing for online teaching and focused practical activity where we can react quickly and effectively should this occur. 

Like the government, we will only open buildings or resume face-to-face teaching when we consider it to be safe.

We are, however, acutely aware of the importance of the practical elements of certain courses and these will be prioritised and delivered accordingly. We are working with industry partners to look at creative and imaginative solutions. Not just for Covid-19 but for the future delivery of sector skills.

Agriculture, vet nursing, animal care and horticulture, for example, simply can’t be taught solely through a computer. To give students the best possible experience under new guidelines, this isn’t just about how we provide courses but how we schedule our practical elements to make sure our students are as safe as they can be. Rural life is often about pragmatic solutions and that will be our approach too.

There is a lot we need to think about. And, working closely with our students’ association – SRUCSA – we are working hard to prepare our buildings and teaching spaces for the next phase of “normal”. 

We are also working closely with SRUCSA to learn from our students’ experiences these past few months, so that 2020-21 prioritises, above everything else, a quality student experience and sense of community. Even in a blended, technology-rich environment, this is paramount.

Prior to lockdown, we’d enjoyed a considerable increase in the number of applications to SRUC, helped by our investment in digital advertising.

With uncertainly about studying further from home and people possibly now looking to change their career, our doors are open to all enquiries.

Even with our campuses currently closed, those wishing to study at SRUC can take part in one of our virtual open days, where exciting degree courses such as Agricultural Technology and Environmental Management are being showcased.

The future of education has arrived, perhaps not in the way any of us expected or hoped, but SRUC has risen to challenges before and we will do so again.

To find out more about our open days, visit