Devon ag college defiant over future

Troubled Bicton College has sent out a defiant message and declared closure is “not an option”.

The institute – Devon’s last agricultural college – has amassed debts of £3million.

It will hear on Friday (19 March) whether the The Learning and Skills Council will rethink its decision to withdraw its pledge to pay off the debt.

A Bicton College spokeswoman said she was still “hopeful” that the LSC would reconsider its stance and offer to provide the funding for free.

“We are hoping that the LSC will have a rethink and go through with its funding promise,” said the spokeswoman.

“But even if the LSC does pull out, closure is unlikely – it has never been an issue for us.”

If Bicton College fails to secure funding from the LSC, the college plans to stay open and seek funding from another partner.

Despite the threat of closure, the college has just secured £700,000 in funding from Devon County Council for regeneration of its farm.

“Devon council and our local politicians have given us tremendous support,” added the spokeswoman.

“We are expecting Bicton College to stay open and the regeneration of our farm to go ahead.”

Meanwhile, around 3,000 people attended a lambing event at Bicton College on Sunday – and many signed a petition to keep it open.

Bicton College had been working on a plan to federate with nearby Exeter College, which would have seen it retain its name.

The LSC said Exeter would have to shoulder two-thirds of Bicton’s £3m debt burden with a loan to make the deal work, which Exeter ruled out.

However, a spokeswoman for the LSC was adamant that the offer of funding would only be given as a loan.

“We expect the costs of the proposal to be borne by the merged college when it is able to re-pay funds invested by the LSC,” said the spokeswoman.

“(The LSC) has offered financial support on this basis and is continuing to work with both colleges to ensure that a long-term solution can be reached to secure high quality cost-effective learning and skills provision for young people, employers and individuals in the local community.”