Agricultural colleges fear for their future

Fifteen colleges providing agricultural courses in Wales could find whole areas of work stripped away under proposals being drawn up by ELWa, the post-16 funding body.

Plans to establish two centres of excellence in Wales in the north and south of the country are spelled out in a draft document discussed at the Royal Welsh Show last week.

The disclosure has caused some embarrassment for ELWa, which has been quick to reassure agricultural and further education colleges in Wales that their future is not threatened by the review.

However, Jo Banks, ELWa's senior rural development manager, made clear that "there are some difficult decisions to make in areas where student numbers have declined quite steeply in recent years".

An overhaul of spending and a "new funding mechanism" for agriculture courses is also pledged in the report, though details of what ELWa has described have not yet been given.

Mr Banks, who is co-ordinating the review, tried to quell colleges' fears that they will lose out. "We are not talking about shutting anyone down," he said. "We are setting up a structure which enables certain colleges to take a lead role in liaising with the industry and co-ordinating activities between college providers and specific subject areas."

He stressed that the plans were still subject to consultation with the colleges which deliver agriculture or land-based courses. "The draft recommendations emphasise that FE colleges have a key role to play in lifelong learning for the agriculture and land-based sectors."

The colleges greeted the plans with caution. Ian Rees, principal of Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor, said: "The contents of the draft proposals make interesting reading. We look forward to responding to the recommendations and discussing the report in its entirety over the next few months."

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