An MSP is calling on college bosses to come clean on the future of the Barony campus after a ‘shambolic’ performance by senior management in the Scottish Parliament.
Four executives from Scotland’s Rural University College (SRUC) appeared in front of the parliament’s rural affairs committee last week and said the Barony, at Parkgate outside Dumfries, was not their preferred site for the future.
They were grilled after Joan McAlpine MSP first raised concerns in parliament in October about SRUC plans to run down the Barony and sell off its assets - while executives awarded themselves huge pay rises.
Acting chief executive Janet Swadling told the committee: “Continuing at the Barony campus is not the currently preferred option,” and indicated that talks were underway to move to the Crichton, where SRUC has a dairy farm and research centre.
She failed to give reassurances that all courses currently delivered at Barony would continue if the college moved to the Crichton.
Commenting, the Dumfries based MSP said:
“Many staff at the Barony and in the land based industry will be shocked that this move is being planned without any real consultation.
“Several members of staff at Barony have contacted me to say the SRUC board is remote, high handed and operates a culture of fear.
“After I first raised the issue in Parliament one employee told me they were afraid to speak up, the person said: ‘There is a great fear around that people that rock the boat will lose their jobs.’ ”
During the parliamentary committee meeting the SRUC chiefs were pressed to offer guarantees that no courses available through the Barony, such as forestry and agricultural engineering, would be diminished by any structural changes – but none were forthcoming.
Ms McAlpine commented:
“The Crichton farm focuses on the dairy sector and is a world leading research centre that can of course benefit students.
“But any move would have to enhance the educational offering, not reduce it. The Barony has been operating since the 1950s and offers a wide variety of courses as well as accomodation for students. Will there be the same space and facilities at the Crichton?”
The MSP says she was particularly concerned about the future of training in forestry industries.
“Forestry is booming sector right now – production and jobs have increased by half since 2008. It would be totally unacceptable if people in Dumfries and Galloway, a centre for forestry, were denied the training to take up employment in a growth industry on their doorstep.
“I would urge SRUC bosses to have a serious re-think about these plans, and to include the staff and local land based employers in any discussions about the future delivery of education in Dumfries and Galloway.”
Ms McAlpine has written to Ms Swadling accepting an offer of a meeting to have her questions answered.