Reflecting on the ag student experience

This being my last column writing as an actual, bona fide student, I thought I’d reflect on the past few years and see what paltry scraps of advice I can offer to anyone contemplating further or higher education in the future.

I thought I should probably do this now rather than later for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the past few weeks have been spent in the library writing a dissertation and the most interesting thing that has happened in that time is that some drains have been excavated outside my window. Secondly though, just like you should always thank the judges before announcing the winners of a competition, I haven’t got my results yet. This means that my review will be completely free of the bitterness that would arise should it turn out that after three years I miss a grade boundary by 0.05%.

So if I were to be 16 again now, what path would I have taken? Well, one thing that would make us all think twice about going down the university route is the now £9,000 a year tuition fees that are a prerequisite to your studies.

I’ve been thinking about what you could do with that £27,000 total. You could expand your own mini empire by acquiring yourself little more than a hectare of very average arable land in the UK, or the entirety of Greece with £26,999 back in change. If you wanted to expand your machinery fleet you could buy yourself a nice secondhand tractor with that amount of cash, or perhaps a set of spare wheel nuts for your new combine.

It’s a lot of money. But are all those hours spent in a lecture theatre really worth it? Well, it depends on what your aims and ambitions are. If you’ve got the potential to be a manager or an applied scientist at the forefront of the agricultural industry, a degree could well be for you. Most, if not all, of the big agricultural companies run graduate schemes specifically for this purpose, and there aren’t many people in my year who haven’t got on one if they have wanted to.

Going to college though is an equally sound option. You’ll get yourself qualified in areas far more important to most farm managers than learning about the intricacies of genetic engineering. That’s not to say that you won’t be able to get these qualifications if you go to university, but it’s unlikely that they’ll be part of your course or paid for entirely. Plus you’ll be saving yourself exactly £9,000 a year.

Choosing what route to go down should be about playing to your strengths. The top colleges and especially universities attract people from a huge range of backgrounds and nationalities, and you’ll have to work with all of them at some point. I have no doubt that I am a far more rounded person than I was three years ago, and this can only be a good thing.

But whatever it may be, make sure you broaden your horizons. Get some experience in another area of the industry, working for a grain merchant, meat processor or chemical supplier. In the past three summers I’ve had jobs outside of the family business, and I’ve learnt far more than I would have done had I stayed at home. Indirectly it actually makes your course a lot easier too.

So would I have changed anything if I’d just left school now? I don’t think I would. But I can offer some advice to any current or potential student:

1) Learn how to brew your own beer – just don’t drink it all at once.

2) Bring a tool kit with you. Practical jokes are far funnier when you can remove household fittings and car parts.

3) No matter what your parents think, you’ll have to work really hard to get a good grade. Enjoy first year while it lasts.

4) Get involved with any society/club/Student Union you can. I’ve just booked a house-sized inflatable pub for the Summer Ball next month and I now feel that my life is complete.

5) Learn how to cook. But more importantly, learn how to clean too. Remember that amoebic dysentery is not a medically accepted form of dieting.

20-year-old Michael Neaverson is heading into his third year as an undergraduate Crop Science student at the University of Nottingham. Michael is from a farming family in South Lincolnshire and is involved in all aspects of the 600-acre business – wheat, barley, sugar beet, cress seed and marrowfats.

Read more of our College Calendar writers’ columns on our dedicated page.


See more