Challenges and Opportunities
As a small and specialist higher education institution, Harper Adams faces a number of unique challenges and opportunities over the next few years. Foremost amongst these is the requirement that the University must continue to evolve in order to meet the diverse and changing needs of the rural economies and communities that make up the UK’s rural sector and, in particular, the agri-food chain.
The agri-food sector currently employs around 4m people (some 14% of the UK’s workforce) and is the largest manufacturing component of the UK economy. Higher education can be expected to be called upon to play a role in stimulating economic growth as well as in providing high quality graduates to serve the needs of existing and future rural businesses.
Global Trends and Issues
At the same time, the global challenges faced by rural areas are significant. Recent reports have highlighted that a key scientific challenge for the coming decades is to feed a growing world population by maintaining growth in agricultural productivity in the face of deteriorating environmental conditions, issues of food security, including animal welfare and disease, the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and changing diets because of global growth in per capita income. The UK’s departure from the EU, and the COVID-19 pandemic, are also expected to impact significantly on the agri-food sector, albeit in different ways.
The Government’s new agricultural legislation is intended to address many of these issues and its emphasis on improving productivity and environmental performance, and in using skills development and technology to help with these objectives, is expected to further support scientific and technological innovations in this area. The University’s specialisms ensure that it is in a very good position to create effective academic and business partnerships that combine resources to address these major problems.
Maintaining and Building on Success
At the heart of the institution is the need to ensure that Harper Adams continues to provide a vigorous range of excellent courses that are attractive to students and their potential employers. The University’s approach has been facilitated by the interplay between a strategic focus on the quality of the student experience and its resultant well rounded and highly employable students; a deep embedding in the rural and land-based industries and organisations it seeks to serve; and the continuous improvement and development of teaching, research and the learning environment.
A significant amount of work behind the scenes by academic and professional services staff has ensured that the quality of academic provision is amongst the best in the sector. The collegiate atmosphere fostered by the relatively small scale of the University has been a strength that the institution does not want to lose during the forthcoming period of development.
Growing the Research Base
The University must continue to grow its research profile to be able to contribute to policy and practice in the food security debate. Further work is needed to continue the development of the priority areas in which the University’s research can be harnessed and strengthened. The results of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework allowed a limited amount of new investment in support of these activities and further work to win new grants and consultancy income streams has been gaining ground as we have prepared for the next Research Excellence Framework exercise in 2021. One example is our world first ‘Hands Free Hectare’ project which was covered in the press in 86 countries.
Financial Sustainability and Growth
A sound financial strategy, along with critical economies of scale and academic breadth will be crucial for Harper Adams as it seeks to further its success and impact on the national and international stage. The pursuit of such areas as research, industry collaboration and growth in student numbers have all helped to create a more viable and confident long-term position, in the context of uncertainty surrounding recent national events and government funding over the next few years. However, further diversification of income streams will be needed in the future so as to facilitate growth. Hand in hand with this, the Harper Adams University Development Trust is playing an increasingly important role in fundraising for planned developments and has also been successful in attracting scholarship support for our students. The Trust is continuing a targeted fundraising campaign for capital and scholarship funds.
Responding to Changes in HE Policy
Other challenges faced by the sector include changes arising from the developing regulatory framework, the introduction of new outcome performance measures, the ongoing reviews of the National Student Survey, Teaching Excellence Framework and admissions processes and financial changes in the sector. There are also continuing developments arising from the impact of changing demographics in the UK, globalisation of HE provision and competition between institutions for the best possible students.
Harper Adams will need proactively to locate itself, and its voice, at the heart of developing policy and best practice so as to respond effectively and forthrightly to these and other issues facing the higher education sector.
Further Investment in Facilities and Staff
The University is well under way with the latest phase of its capital development programme. It is essential that the programme, which has recently included the construction of a new state of the art Veterinary Education Centre, is supplemented on an on-going basis, thereby ensuring that Harper Adams continues to remain at the forefront with the very best in terms of its estate (land and accommodation), its teaching and learning environments and the most up-to-date facilities for its research staff. However, the physical infrastructure will only be of value if staff and students alike feel that they work and study in a positive and vibrant environment. To this end, a key focus of the University will be to ensure that the University’s student community feels connected with its key objectives and the development of the institution.
Raising the University’s Profile
The University needs to ensure that it is also well connected at various levels with rural businesses, the agricultural industry, government and regional and local agencies. Harper Adams is the only ‘home grown’ higher education institution in Shropshire and, despite its national role and student recruitment base, needs to ensure that its interests are represented within the local community and that it is able to support local and regional development priorities. The University continues to contribute to the work of the local Business Boards in both Telford and Wrekin and in Shropshire, as well as working with partners to help deliver the key local economic strategies being developed and implemented by the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership. For example, the University has worked in partnership with Telford and Wrekin Council to help secure funding for the creation of NiPark, which establishes an innovation park to the south of the town of Newport. For more information please click here .
Activities such as the Regional Food Academy and the creation of the National Centre for Precision Farming have continued to provide a good foundation for the University, and support the potential for further development of a critical geographic ‘cluster’ of excellence in agricultural technologies with a significant national and international profile. With more than 380 students from overseas, including well established undergraduate courses in collaboration with a small number of Chinese institutions, and a thriving range of postgraduate courses, the University has a growing interest in developing a higher international profile.