Student Numbers Falling but Colleges Are Fighting Back; SURVEY: New-Style Courses Designed to Give Would-Be Farmers Extra Skills the Severe Crisis Facing the Farming Industry Is Having a Marked Impact on Agricultural Courses in Colleges across Wales, According to a Survey by the Farmers' Union of Wales. Sheila Coleman Takes a Look at Its Findings
Byline: Sheila Coleman
FEWER students are being attracted to mainstream farming courses for a variety of reasons, not least of which are falling farm incomes and rising university tuition fees.
In some cases the number of students has fallen by 30pc in the past five years.
A general shift among young people against studying sciencebased subjects coupled with cynicism over the role of multinational agrochemical companies has also had an impact, the Farmers' Union of Wales has found.
At the same time colleges are fighting back by expanding and diversifying the range of courses available for people interested in an agriculture-based career.
They are providing more vocational training and courses designed to provide would-be farmers with additional skills which would enable them to diversify.
The union consulted with agricultural colleges throughout Wales to discover how the crisis in the industry has hit recruitment.
All the colleges reported a general decline in the number of people enrolling for traditional full-time agricultural courses, with some down by between 20pc and 30pc.
The decline in the fortunes of the industry, linked with the introduction of tuition fees, poor national strategic planning of courses and the image of farming in the media have all been blamed for contributing to the problems.
The chairman of the FUW's education, training and research committee, Robert Davies, said, "Given the severe problems facing the farming industry, it would be wrong to say everything in the garden is rosy, but while there are undoubtedly problems the survey does not paint an entirely bleak picture.
"Many colleges say they have adapted to fit the stated needs of local students and employers to provide new-style courses. Some are providing more vocational courses to allow people to train for a specific career in an agriculture-related topic.
"There is cause for long-term optimism among the short-term gloom that surrounds agricultural higher education."
FUW land-use officer Rhian Nowell-Phillips says the crisis in the industry features prominently in most responses and it is undeniable that falling farm incomes have taken their toll on recruitment.
Those choosing courses now tend to opt for combined courses such as those offering farming and business management, she says.
"It makes sense in this day and age for those keen to pursue a degree course in agriculture to also obtain qualifications in a related subject, " said Rhian Nowell-Phillips. …