MSP Joan McAlpine has welcomed assurances that farming and forestry education will continued to be delivered in Dumfries after forcing the management of Scotland's Rural College to explain their plans to Scotland's Education Minister.
Ms McAlpine of the SNP secured the crunch meeting between Cabinet Secretary Angela Constance and SRUC managers after being approached by worried staff at Barony College.
At the meeting Ms Constance told SRUC - which is independent of government - she was keen to ensure the future delivery of education was good for the local economy in Dumfries and Galloway.
She also emphasised her commitment to further education, apprenticeships and the need to ensure that young people could access training in land based industries in rural areas.
Ms McAlpine told the college’s Acting Chief Executive and Principal Janet Swadling that courses currently offered, including agriculture, forestry, engineering and animal care must continue – and that staff and students should be fully involved and consulted about future plans.
The SRUC have indicated they wish to move to Crichton Campus but Ms McAlpine said that any plan to do so must replicate, if not enhance, current course provision and provide purpose built teaching and learning facilities as well as residential accommodation for students.
Ms McAlpine said:
"By agreeing to the meeting the Cabinet Secretary showed her commitment to land based education in Dumfries and Galloway and made it very clear that she saw further education and vocational training as being just as important as University education.
“While the meeting itself was constructive, and while I’m fully aware of the challenges faced by SRUC, the education Barony College delivers is critically important to south west Scotland’s economy. I was pleased to hear assurances that any future changes to the delivery of that education will maintain local access to the full breadth of land based courses.
“Dumfries and Galloway is the most heavily forested region in the whole of the UK and it is a focal point for Scotland’s dairy and red meat agricultural sectors. It is absolutely essential that local access to forestry, agriculture, engineering and animal care education continues in Dumfries in order to meet the growing workforce needs of our land based industries.”
Joan McAlpine will now write to SRUC to request a copy of plans for the Barony estate, the financial justification for change and costed details of the proposed move to the Crichton when these become available. She will repeat the need to maintain and enhance current educational provision, including access to land itself for learning purposes. She will re-emphasise to SRUC the need for better communication about future plans:
“There must be meaningful engagement from SRUC with the staff, students, local businesses and the wider rural community who will all be impacted by any changes to land based education provision in Dumfriesshire.
“I will ask SRUC to provide me with a detailed plan outlining both their plans for the current Barony estate, and their plans for a relocation to the Crichton, including full details of the courses that will be offered.”