14 May 1999
Farm students numbers plummet

by Jonathan Riley

THE plight of the farming industry is being blamed for a dramatic fall of up to 40% in the numbers of students applying for agricultural courses this year.

A spokesman for Newcastle University blamed the portrayal of farming by the media for a 30-40% drop in applications to the faculty of agriculture.

Food scares and images of an industry apparently in decline are bound to deter prospective students, he said.

Parents seem to be telling their sons and daughters not to go into agriculture because they think farming has an unpredictable future. Its ironic because, more than ever, farming needs well-trained individuals.

Alan Thomas of Harper Adams College said there had been an 18% fall in applications compared with last year and admissions could be down by 6%.

The introduction of tuition fees of up to 1000 a year could be one factor behind the decline, he suggested.

Mr Thomas said figures from the University College Admissions Service (UCAS) showed application levels for courses as a whole are marginally higher than last year.

Clearly courses in other subjects are not suffering to the same extent, he said.

Chris Arnison, vice-principal of the Royal Agricultural College, said UCAS figures showed a 24.6% drop in applications this year for the college.

But although final numbers had reduced by 17%, some courses, such as land management, were slightly improved on last year.

Bob Fiddaman, chairman of the NFUs employment and education committee, said the figures were concerning but not surprising given agricultures difficult situation.