Scotland’s Rural College is on a mission to boost the country’s agricultural productivity but is battling its own issues along the way, as Ewan Pate finds out.
Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) has had several attempts to achieve university status, including a proposed, but later abandoned takeover by Edinburgh University.
The latest moves under new chief executive Professor Wayne Powell are aimed at creating a ‘Knowledge University’, following the example of others across the world, notably Wageningen
University and Research (WUR) in the Netherlands.
It came as a report by independent economic consultancy BiGGAR Economics found such a university could bring a £4.5billion boost to Scotland’s rural economy.
Prof Powell told a recent press briefing: “In just two decades, Wageningen UR has become a global leader in research and education and it has done it by working more closely with government in the Netherlands. All the analysis shows that universities of this sort are engines of innovation.
“The biggest challenge facing Scottish agriculture is that productivity is falling behind many other countries, for example New Zealand, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.
“We have to make big improvements if we are to support Scotland Food and Drink’s ambitions.”
Prof Powell has already started the process with a radical structural reorganisation, including a comprehensive recruiting exercise to key posts.
Some of the new posts have been filled through internal promotions, but many have been external appointments.
Colin MacEwan, formerly based in East Anglia in the arable sector, is the new director of commercialisation and innovation.
“We are looking outside our existing portfolios and creating a scaffolding which will foster innovation,” he said.
“We are no longer looking for funders but for investors in disruptive technologies. Our research has to deliver economic and social benefits.”
Mr MacEwan’s team will encompass knowledge exchange, SAC Consultancy and new business development.
An example of cross industry working was the co-location of SAC Veterinary Services at the Moredun Research Institute campus at Penicuik.
Academic director, Prof Jamie Newbold, who has been in post for just over a year said: “There is a need for a different type of university with a new faculty model which will boost performance in the agricultural sector.
“I see real potential in combining further education and higher education. We will achieve degree awarding powers through achieving university status.”
SRUC currently teaches degree level courses, but the degrees are awarded through Glasgow University.
The new SRUC plan includes staying with the three campus model with Deans already appointed with responsibilities for North, East and West of Scotland.