Outrage at royal college name change

Hundreds of people have signed a petition against changing the name of England’s oldest agricultural college.


The Royal Agricultural College insists that changing its name to reflect “university” status will enhance its reputation – despite causing outrage among former students.


An online petition against the name change that would see the college’s name changed to the Royal Agricultural University has attracted 600 signatures.


The site has been viewed by 1,674 unique individuals, with more than 5,000 pages views since Wednesday (20 June).


The petition website is at www.racpetition.co.uk


Based at Cirencester, the Royal Agricultural College was the first agricultural college in the English-speaking world, granted a royal charter by Queen Victoria in 1845.


But college governors have incurred the wrath of former students after confirming they will apply to the Privy Council to change the college’s name later this year.


The move follows a government decision that the title “university” can be used by higher education institutions with more than a thousand students.


Cirencester’s governing council said it had given a “great deal of consideration” to the impact of changing the institution’s name, saying it recognised the importance of the decision.


Changing the name was a “very significant opportunity” for the college to build upon its 167-year legacy, while continuing to develop its position at the forefront of land-based education.


But the proposal has sparked a heated debate on the internet, attracting comments from alumni on the social network site LinkedIn.


A petition on the LinkedIn website has attracted 600 signatures. The site has been viewed by 1,674 unique individuals, with more than 5,000 pages views since Wednesday (20 June).


Former student Gary Markham, who is now director of agriculture at Grant Thornton, said college governors were in danger of damaging one of farming’s strongest brands.


“Although I understand why they have done it – they have got it wrong,” he said.


Rather than abandoning the college name, Mr Markham suggested adding the word “university” so it became the Royal Agricultural College University.


“Therefore we all carry on as normal as RAC with an optional U, and the powers that be have their magic word at the end to encourage international students.”


“Recognition of the work of the institution through the title ‘university’ is important, not least for students and prospective students. I am confident that the Royal Agricultural University will build on the reputation and legacy of its parent, the RAC.”
Professor Chris Gaskell.

College principal Chris Gaskell defended the name-change, saying the institution met the same criteria as larger universities in all respects other than numbers of students.


The college had the same degree-awarding powers for teaching and underwent the same audit process through the Quality Assurance Agency, he said.


“Recognition of the work of the institution through the title ‘university’ is important, not least for students and prospective students,” said Professor Gaskell.


“I am confident that the Royal Agricultural University will build on the reputation and legacy of its parent, the RAC.”


The important association with Cirencester would be maintained in the subtitle “at Cirencester”, while the brand and the logo themselves would change very little, said Prof Gaskell.


The institution offers more than 30 degree courses – including in agriculture, land management and business – at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.


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