New farming degree for Norfolk college

A major initiative to train farming's brightest students will be launched today at the showcase of the county's agriculture, the Royal Norfolk Show.

Easton College will be offering a degree course in agriculture for the first time, with support from the University of East Anglia.

A one-year masters in sustainable agriculture and food security will be run from this autumn, while students who have already done a two-year foundation course can take a one-year course to gain a BSc degree in agriculture.

New students can start the three-year BSc degree course in agriculture from September next year.

The cost of tuition fees will be �5,900 a year – significantly less than the �9,000 which will be charged by most universities, including UEA, from next year.


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College principal David Lawrence said: 'This is probably the most significant step we've ever taken. We want to give the brightest young students the chance to study for an agricultural degree on the doorstep.'

It has taken three years of planning to get formal approval to run the BSc and MSc degrees, which will be validated by the UEA and are the only agriculture degrees in the region.

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Prof John Turner, who is director of the Centre for Contemporary Agriculture, a collaboration between UEA and Easton College, said: 'I'm absolutely delighted that this collaboration with Easton College has really started to take off. And the jewel in the crown is the agriculture courses.'

He added that it also broadens the UEA's appeal as students will have training opportunities through the umbrella of the Centre for Contemporary Agriculture from GCSE all the way through to higher degree level.

And by working with institutions on the Norwich Research Park, it will enhance opportunities to train students for careers in agricultural and related sciences.

Over the past decade, Easton College, which was established as the School of Agriculture in 1949, has been transformed by investment of more than �32m in new facilities and buildings. In the latest project, which cost about �350,000, a new agricultural engineering centre has just been completed. Last week it announced merger proposals with Suffolk's Otley College, which would bring them together as one operation but with each college retaining its identity, name and campus.

Mr Lawrence, who joined Easton as head of part-time studies in 1989 and became principal in 1992, is confident that the college's first agricultural degree course will be a success. Around 50 students are expected to start the new courses this autumn. 'We want students to have a chance to study without having to head out of Norfolk to get a degree,' he said.

The course fees are �5,900 a year, or �2,900 a year for a five-year part-time course.

Mr Lawrence said: 'Our cost is going to be very realistic. We're going to set a very competitive fee rate.'

Prof Turner described the new degrees as a major move in agricultural education, which build on Easton College's achievements and expand the UEA's range of courses. 'In a primarily agricultural county, here is an opportunity to train the graduates of the future,' he added.

'It bucks the trend across the country, especially in higher education, when courses are closing. And given that much of the primary industry in the county is based on farming, it makes sense.

'By offering an opportunity instead of having to go half-way across the country to get a good agricultural education, students can take advantage of an opportunity on the doorstep,' said Prof Turner.

'The challenge is to make the skills escalator really work for the local community. We will attract the very best students from the region who are keen on agriculture, so there's no need to trek across the country to other agricultural colleges.'

A formal agreement or a memorandum of understanding between Easton and the UEA, which binds each party, has been signed.

Easton, which has 1,110 full-time and 2,500 part-time students, has an annual budget of �12.5m and 330 staff. It has 122 residential students and 120 high education courses.

Easton will offer a BSc Honours in equitation and coaching in September.

Mr Lawrence and Prof Turner will be addressing industry leaders tomorrow at the Royal Norfolk Show. And details of the courses can be found on Easton's stand, number 231, near the grand ring.

COMMENT – Page 18

Norfolk Show preview – Page 12

michael.pollitt@archant.co.uk

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