Down on the farm across the water


WHEN ABIGAIL RYAN completed her certificate programme in agricultural science at Waterford RTC, she decided she would like to embark on further studies in the discipline.

Friends encouraged her to investigate the University of Aberdeen, where they were enjoying their undergraduate courses. Ryan, who is now a third-year student at Aberdeen, received a first year exemption and was accepted into year two of the university's BSc agriculture programme.

"I love the course and my life in Aberdeen," says the Tipperary-born student, whose ambition is to go into management with the Irish dairy board. "One-third of my class is Irish, and they all transferred from Waterford RTC with certificates in agricultural science. It's been very easy to settle in.

"The Scots have a great regard for the Irish and there's a great Irish influence on the campus - we even have a Gaelic football team."

Minimum entry requirements into the first year of the three- and four-year degree courses in agriculture at Aberdeen are one B and four Cs at higher level Leaving Certificate, to include two maths/science subjects - or one maths/science subject and either economics or geography.

In addition to the universities that offer degree programmes in agriculture and allied subjects, there are number of long established agricultural colleges in Britain, which are worth checking out. In recent years, increasing numbers of Irish students are opting to pursue agriculture courses at third-level institutions there - prompted by the shortage of suitable places at home.

According to representatives of agricultural colleges attending the recent Higher Options conference at the RDS, Dublin, the largest contingents of non-British students are now Irish.

One such establishment is Writtle College, Chelmsford, Essex, where up to 20 per cent of the 1,700 students are Irish. Writtle offers traditional agricultural subjects from national vocational qualification to degree level, as well as related programmes in engineering, equine studies, landscape and garden design etc.

The college's higher-national-diploma programmes facilitate progression into degree programmes. The three- and four-year degree course in agriculture offers the opportunity to specialise in either science or business management. Minimum entry requirements for the degree programmes are between 300 to 340 Leaving Certificate points plus interview, the college says. If you wish to study agricultural engineering or business management, you'll need maths.

Writtle will interview applicants in Ireland next February.

THE ROYAL Agricultural College in Cirencester, England, is almost certainly Britain's most well known agricultural colleges - largely because of its links with the British royal family: Queen Elizabeth is patron, Prince Charles president. It offers a diploma in agriculture and farm management, and one-year courses in both farming and rural business administration, as well as a wide range of three- and four-year degree programmes, the most popular of which for Irish students is thee honours programme in international agriculture and equine business management.

This course (minimum entry requirements five Leaving Cert Cs at higher level, plus interview) is designed to give students the skills needed to operate farms containing a dimension of equine enterprise.

Cirencester is widely regarded as a "top people's" college, with an extensive and highly placed old boy network. It is correspondingly expensive: one year's tuition and accommodation will cost you £7,000.

Public-sector agricultural colleges worth investigating include Harper Adams, Newport, Shropshire and Seale-Hayne, which is part of the university of Plymouth. Harper Adams offers an extensive range of four-year sandwich degree programmes and HND courses in agriculture - including agriculture with animal science, agriculture with land and farm management and agriculture with crop management.

It also has programmes in agri-food production and marketing and in agricultural engineering and engineering management. Minimum entry requirements are four Leaving Certificate Cs at higher level for the degree programmes and two higher-level Cs for the diploma courses.

Harper Adams has an enviable employment record. According to the college, between 80 and 90 per cent of graduates obtain full-time jobs within six months of graduation.

Seale-Hayne, which is located near the market town of Newton Abbot, Devon, is the University of Plymouth's faculty of agriculture, food and land use. The college offers a range of HND, degree and postgraduate courses. Honours degree courses include BScs in agriculture (three Cs at higher level, preferably including science subjects) and agriculture and countryside management (two Bs and three Cs at higher level).