Askham Bryan college campus earmarked for closure

Askham Bryan College’s Newton Rigg Campus in Cumbria has been earmarked for closure due to financial losses and falling student numbers.

The campus near Penrith is due to close in July 2021, subject to a 45-day consultation with staff and unions, after an independent review found the site financially unviable.

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The college – which specialises in land-based further education – will also be consulting individually with affected staff.

Students, parents and carers, applicants, employers, local MPs, civic leaders and community groups have been informed of the proposed closure.

College principal Tim Whitaker said: “We understand the strength of feeling about Newton Rigg and the fact this will be upsetting news to our staff, students and the local community.”

Difficult decision

He explained: “This has been a very difficult decision. We regret putting staff at risk of redundancy.

“However, the review has confirmed that the campus is not financially viable from the college’s perspective and would require ongoing investment to keep pace with industry skills.”

He added: “Given the current economic climate, and the fact that no capital or revenue funding is available, we have no other option but to propose closing the facility in July 2021.

“We will do all we can to support our staff and students at this difficult time.”

Student recruitment, enrolment and learning planned for the forthcoming academic year starting September 2020 will commence as intended.

All current and prospective students will be informed of the closure proposal.

Training provision

Apprenticeships for 2020/21 will continue as planned at Newton Rigg until July 2021, with an alternative location sought for ‘off-the-job’ training provision after the closure.

Around 888 learners are based at Newton Rigg in Penrith. They include 667 further education students, the majority of whom are enrolled on one-year programmes, and 221 apprentices.

A review by the further education commissioner of educational provision at the site concluded this month that the college faces a number of challenges.

They include a low population density in rural Cumbria, and low demographic growth of 16- to 18-year-olds, with falling student numbers due to low demand for land-based education.

Newton Rigg has an annual operating deficit of around £1 million and lacks a sustainable business model due to declining student numbers and demographics, said the review.

Investment needed

A £20m capital investment was needed to keep pace with land-based sector skills needs, it added.

Newton Rigg was established in 1896, but has been owned or governed by four different corporations, including two universities, since 1992.

Courses currently offered include agriculture, gamekeeping, animal and equine management, forestry, horticulture and agricultural engineering.

The campus also offers general further education courses such as uniformed public services, sport, hairdressing and beauty therapy, childhood studies and health and social care.

Askham Bryan College is one of the largest specialist land-based colleges in the UK, with more than 5,000 students and training around 800 apprentices at sites across northern England.

The main campus is near York, with campuses of varying sizes at Middlesbrough, Saltaire, Newcastle Gateshead, Wakefield and Newton Rigg, Penrith.

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