Ambitious plans to secure the future of the rural economy in Devon and the wider South West have been unveiled at a stakeholder meeting at Bicton College. Specially invited guests, who included some former students, heard that quality and success rates had improved dramatically and that a programme of improvements to the campus was complete.
In addition a major investment in plant and machinery in partnership with Heart of the South West LEP was nearly complete. Enabling the college to build on its agricultural engineering expertise and offer construction plant operating and maintenance qualifications. Visitors were offered a tour of the impressive estate-based campus and met with staff and students.
The event was hosted by the Chair of the Community Council at Bicton College Jeff Beer, Principal of Bicton College Dr Phil Le Grice, who also leads all land based provision at Duchy College and Acting Principal of The Cornwall College Group (TCCG) Raoul Humphreys.
Dr Le Grice said: “We’ve just completed the first full academic year since the merger .and we wanted to show what progress we’ve made and set out our priorities for the next 12 months and beyond. A pillar of the merger proposal was the power and synergy of joining Duchy with Bicton. We are delivering on that and it is working.
The visitors heard about the new courses offered at Bicton College and those planned for the future, alongside the reintroduction of Higher Education. Dr Le Grice continued: “A plan for the farms estate has been agreed across both Duchy and Bicton Colleges and we see the site here as a key component in developing a world class agri-tech research hub. We want our staff and students to be pioneers in the rural economy; shaping future policy through research and innovation.”
The gathered audience heard from each member of the Community Council, a panel of local land-based experts who have given up their time to advise and help shape Bicton College for the future. Leader of the Community Council, Jeff Beer, thanked members of the Council for their enthusiasm and passion for the College and said: “There is so much potential here, we have fantastic facilities and a great team of teaching staff; our role is to advise and to drive the rural economy in the region.
“What we would like to do is to engage with more businesses in Devon and Cornwall, discovering the key skills they need to grow and then we can help shape our curriculum to meet that need.”
Richard Soffe, Head of the Rural Business School, which has a base at Bicton College, laid out his plans for the development of a Rural Leadership and Management Centre at the College and outlined the breadth and depth of skills training that his team offer to land-based businesses each day, from short courses to the prestigious Challenge of Rural Leadership programme; this impressive offer led to Duchy College and the Rural Business School being awarded the Queens Anniversary Prize in 2013for services to land-based education and training.
Plans for the next five years also included a new partnership and progression route with the Eden Project, development of a new dairy unit and growth in both the Military Academy and the apprenticeships being offered at Bicton College.
Dr Le Grice concluded: “18 months after merger we have secured the financial position of Bicton College, we have received a rating of ‘good’ from Ofsted, but the work is only just beginning. We want Bicton College to be at the heart of the rural economy and we are reaching out to businesses across Devon and asking them to engage and challenge us to help meet their needs.”