The evolving economic and social landscape has never been more challenging for the education sector, prospective students and those in employment or facing the prospect of a career change.

Over the past 18 months, there has been an enormous change in the way people work, study and interact nationally and globally, with colleges and universities having to adapt and evolve on an almost daily basis.

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) has met these challenges by helping current students adjust to new ways of learning while ensuring the student experience is still at the heart of its focus.

Its increased investment in new technology and digital learning platforms over the course of the pandemic has been fully embraced by staff and students alike, with a blended teaching and learning system now in place so students can make the most of their studies, continue to interact with their peers and have one-on-one support from the range of staff committed to their programmes.

As the country moves towards ‘the new normal’, the mix of digital and face-to-face teaching will continue to offer a flexible approach which helps students balance a variety of other factors in their lives, including jobs or the care of elderly relatives and young children.

Adult learners make up a significant portion of the student body across the six campuses and the distance learning courses offered at SRUC. Changes in the labour market and job losses for some during the pandemic has led many to think of changing career – something which SRUC has vast experience in supporting, not least with its Change Your Path campaign.

Aimed directly at those aged over 25 looking for a new career, or taking a lifelong passion one step further, it offers an additional £1000 grant to help make the leap less daunting for some applicants.

SRUC offers a variety of programmes related to land-based industries, from agriculture and horticulture to forestry and wildlife, and also conservation management. Getting back to nature and the outdoors is a popular choice with mature students looking to give something back by engaging with the community or starting a new business venture.

After a high-flying career as a press photographer – which saw her hanging out of helicopters and climbing church bell towers to get the perfect image – Julie Bull completed a National Certificate in Horticulture at SRUC’s Oatridge campus, in West Lothian. She is now very much grounded in her Flower Power gardening business which offers a personalised gardening service for people – either as a lone gardener or as a companion gardener working alongside clients at their pace.

She hopes to continue her studies by completing an HNC, and in the future would like to become a community garden co-ordinator working alongside volunteers, or even a first gardener with the National Trust for Scotland.

“I have always enjoyed gardening,” said Julie, 50, from Midlothian. “I volunteer with the Cyrenians at Midlothian Community Hospital Garden and buddy up with ‘green prescribers’ who are referred by their GP or support worker. Being able to share space and time in the community garden with folk is a precious thing – especially after Covid-19 and all the lockdowns.”

Protecting and supporting biodiversity and sustainability are at the heart of all SRUC’s courses and moving at a gentler pace with an environmentally focused programme allows many adult returners to refocus their priorities after a stressful and demanding career.

Keith O’Connor spent 15 years travelling the world working in sales and business development for the oil and gas sector. His job involved spending large amounts of time away from home and, increasingly dissatisfied, Keith and his family took the decision to return to Aberdeenshire, in 2013.


Keith OConnor used his study time to further a career in wildlife management

Keith O'Connor used his study time to further a career in wildlife management


Having decided on a career change, Keith, 40, came across SRUC’s Wildlife and Conservation Management course and, although 'nervous to go as a mature student', applied to study for an HNC. “I knew I needed to go back and study to really push forward in doing something fulfilling with my working life,” he said.

“I have always been a keen bird watcher, hill walker and lover of animals, and thought why not learn about something that is worthwhile preserving and possibly make a career in something that I care about, and that can have a positive impact on our world, no matter how small.

“I find the subject of how we farm our land – and how we can do it in a better way to feed ourselves while preserving our nature and biodiversity – fascinating. I would love to work in this field in some way.”

Many of the courses offered by SRUC can be studied part-time, allowing those with additional commitments time to complete their studies while maintaining a home life.

With more than 100 courses to choose from, ranging from NC to postgraduate level, there is also a considered approach to mature applicants and their previous qualifications. Life experience, voluntary work, self-study and a passion for their subject area are all valid for those choosing to return to learning, meaning lack of prior qualifications should not be seen as a barrier to entry.

Improving skills and adapting to changes in more traditional sectors like agriculture can be an impetus to returning to learning for some, particularly with emerging technologies in farming.

With the Ag Tech market set to grow exponentially from £6bn in 2020 to £16bn by 2025, embracing ‘Smart Agriculture’ allows farmers to upskill and enter new markets.

The new BSc (Hons) Agricultural Technology course offered at SRUC’s Barony campus, in Dumfries, is a prime example. The applied technology degree is designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills to improve the sustainability and efficiency of agricultural systems, with topics ranging from crop and soil science and livestock science, to robotics, animatronics and mechatronics, helping future farmers be more productive, competitive and adaptive in a challenging marketplace.

Postgraduate courses offer opportunities for mature students to diversify their skillset and solidify many years of experience in their field.

Organic farmer, Philip Day, decided to return to education at the age of 54 to consolidate his experience into a recognised qualification and learn more about organic farming. Having completed an MSc by distance learning, he said: “The course has been stimulating in terms of content and has given me the opportunity to share views and experiences with fellow participants from various backgrounds. Already I have a better understanding of organics – but there’s always more to learn.”


Organic farming was the choice of topic for Phillip Day to take on in a distance learning course

Organic farming was the choice of topic for Phillip Day to take on in a distance learning course


With an ever-changing global economic climate and a significantly changed UK labour market, skills, knowledge and passion are the driving force behind change, and it’s an exciting time to embrace a challenge.

Hannah D’Mellow, SRUC's marketing and student recruitment manager, said: “We introduced the 'Change Your Path' bursary a couple of years ago and we are delighted to be able to offer it again for students starting in September.

“In the past, we have had applications from people working in a wide range of careers, including warehouse workers, graphic designers, bankers, teachers, artists, engineers and even a bingo caller. Mature students and career changers are drawn to the whole range of SRUC’s subject areas, but particularly environmental and conservation courses and horticultural subjects.”

* Applications for the Change Your Path bursary close on August 31.

* Find out more about SRUC’s courses at and support for adult learners at