14 May 1999

Snub for study of agriculture

THE current 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.

Alan Thomas of Harper Adams College said that, while final numbers admitted to courses could be down by only 6%, there had been an 18% fall in applications against the same figure last year.

"The introduction of tuition fees of up to £1000 a year could be one factor behind the decline," suggested Mr Thomas

"But according to University College Admissions Service (UCAS) figures, 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.

A spokesman for Newcastle University said the faculty of agriculture had seen a drop of between 30% and 40% in applications for agricultural courses.

He blamed the image of farming portrayed by the media. "Food scares and images of an industry apparently in decline are bound to deter prospective students.

"Parents seem to be telling their sons and daughters not to go into agriculture because they think farming has an unpredictable future," he said.

"Its ironic because, more than ever, farming needs well-trained individuals."

Chris Arnison, vice-principal of the Royal Agricultural College, said that while UCAS figures showed a 24.6% drop in applications this year for the college, and a reduction of 17% in final numbers, some courses, such as land management, were slightly improved on last year.

Chairman of the NFUs employment and education committee, Bob Fiddaman, said the figures were very concerning but sadly not surprising given agricultures difficult situation. &#42