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Rural colleges count cost of farms crisis

Funding bosses are keeping an anxious eye on the impact of foot-and-mouth on Scotland's agricultural colleges.

As reported last week, Barony College in the crisis centre of Dumfries and Galloway is particularly hard hit, with only 50 of 1,200 students on campus amid growing concerns about recruitment for next session. The 420 cattle, 550 sheep and 200 red deer on the college's farm face the threat of slaughter.

These are also anxious times for other colleges that specialise in land-based studies - Oatridge in West Lothian, Elmwood in Fife and Aberdeen's Clinterty campus in Aberdeenshire.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Further Education Funding Council told The TES Scotland that it was not taking action at present, but would monitor the situation. "We are sympathetic to the problems being faced by rural and other colleges as a result of the foot-and-mouth crisis. We are in touch with affected colleges and are being kept up to date on the impact.

"It will be difficult to assess the overall impact until the crisis is over since colleges may be experiencing adverse financial impact in one area while incurring lower costs in another."

Oatridge has restricted access to its farm, half a mile from the campus, which is home to 75 cows, a beeding herd of 45 Simmental cattle, 120 breeding sows, 600 breeding ewes and 400 January lambs. Half of its150 full-time students are now having to study at home with the help of distance learning materials, e-mail and telephone support.

Penny Skett, head of marketing, says Oatridge is considering whether to extend the college year beyond mid-June.

Like Barony, it is concerned at the impact on student recruitment, and therefore on funding. One open day has already been cancelled and another due in April is being reviewed.

Short courses in specialist areas such as forklift training, chainsaw handling and pesticide safety have also been cancelled.

Elmwood College in Cupar, Fife, has closed its farm which is on a separate site. With all practical classes cancelled, students have been placed in classroom-based activities. Visits by conservation and gamekeeping students to environmental sites and estates have been postponed.

The Scottish Agricultural College, which is in the higher education sector, has suspended teaching at its Aberdeen and Ayrshire campuses, which both have farms. Teaching at the Edinburgh campus is continuing, but students who live at farms with livestock have been asked to find alternative accommodation.

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