9 March 2001

Ag colleges batten down the hatches

LIFE at agricultural colleges around the country has been disrupted as the foot-and-mouth crisis deepens.

Students have been sent home, lectures have been abandoned and college farms have become no-go areas as the disease spread last week.

Restriction movements were phased in at Sparsholt, Hants, after the initial outbreaks. And last Thursday all classes – apart from horticultural lessons – were suspended. "All other courses presented an unacceptable level of risk," said principal Tim Jackson.

At Rodbaston, Staffs, similar action was taken last week. The proximity of the institutions farm to the campus – and the rural connections of many of the students – prompted the move, says principal Ralph Alcock. "It was a precautionary step."

Students around the country are fully co-operating with action to halt the disease, according to Howard Petch of Napaeo, the Association of Land Based Colleges.

"There is a very responsible attitude prevailing. There is always going to be the odd rogue but, substantially, students are being ultra-cautious."

And while work can be sent to students, problems could be looming for those in their final year who are due to take exams soon, added Mr Petch.

William Curtis, a farmers son and first-year NDA student, was one of those forced to leave Bishop Burton, Yorks. He was sent home initially for a week but, speaking to farmers weekly last week, said he feared it may be longer with the epidemic "snowballing".

"We can do some work but, without access to college facilities, it will be difficult. Itll mean a lot of catching up when we get back if it goes on for long and it will be worse for final year students," he said. "They could have problems."

College farms, meanwhile, are battening down the hatches. The unit at Harper Adams in Shropshire was sealed off as a "precautionary" measure, according to Ian Robson, head of student services.

"No students are allowed on it. Even members of staff are not allowed onto it. Only essential workers are," said Mr Robson.

Homework…web-sites, e-mail and faxes could be a big help to students kept away from ag colleges in the wake of foot-and-mouth outbreaks.