Food industry well-served by first-class third-level courses
Ireland’s universities, institutes of technology, and Teagasc provide a range of programmes designed to meet the needs of the sector
Third-level courses, programmes and research activities will have a key role to play as the food industry faces up to the challenge of Brexit. Photograph: iStock
The Irish food industry is well-served by a first-class range of education and training courses available through the higher and further education sector and organisations like Teagasc.
At the food industry level, these include degree programmes such as the BSc in Food Innovation from DIT, the BSc in Food Science and Nutrition from Letterkenny Institute of Technology, the BSc in Food Quality, Safety and Nutrition from Queen’s University Belfast, BSc programmes in Food Marketing and Entrepreneurship and in International Development and Food Policy from UCC, and a BSc in Food and Nutrition from Ulster University.
There is also a variety of masters programmes specifically designed to meet the needs of the food industry available from these third-level institutions. These include an MSc in Nutraceuticals Functional Foods and Supplements from Ulster University, a Masters in Food Microbiology from UCC, and an MSc in Culinary Innovation and Food Product Development from DIT.
For programmes specifically geared towards farming, UCD, Maynooth University, NUI Galway and no fewer than eight of the institutes of technology offer agriculture courses. There are also several private colleges and online providers offering agricultural and farming education.
Teagasc is the main provider of further education in agriculture, food, horticulture, forestry and equine studies in the Republic of Ireland. Many of the organisation’s courses incorporate management practices and technologies on the home farm, supervised project work and discussion groups. Further education courses are delivered at Teagasc colleges and local centres around the country, while higher-level courses are delivered in partnership with third-level colleges. Adult courses and food industry development training takes place at centres throughout the country.
Teagasc’s activity is not confined to education and training, however, and it extends cutting-edge research across the broad spectrum of agriculture and food. The organisation currently has about 100 PhD students across a range of different scientific disciplines in food, according to Mark Fenelon, head of the Teagasc food programme.
This research feeds into a range of industry technical training courses and seminars, which are provided in key areas of emerging technologies and legislation such as food safety, quality management systems and food processing, ingredient and packaging innovations. A number of these courses are certified under the National Further Education and Training Awards Council.
In addition, Teagasc provides product development supports to food businesses, with a special emphasis on supporting SMEs, artisans and start-up businesses. Supports include access to modern food processing plants, and product testing in microbiological, chemical, physical and sensory analysis. Companies that are using the product development supports also avail of the expertise and outputs from the extensive ongoing food research programme at Teagasc.
Ulster University’s support for the food industry includes a range of short courses aimed at helping producers in areas such as product development and exporting. “We holding an event in Belfast in April for the industry on how to use sensory analysis to build competitiveness,” says consumer management and food innovation lecturer Dr Lynsey Hollywood. “We are also holding a one-day course in June to give small producers a practical guide to get started on social media. We have seen some local producers build global networks on social media and we hope this course will help others do the same.”
Also in June, the university is holding a starting-to-export course. “This one-day course will provide producers with an overview on exporting and help them see if it’s a viable option for them,”says Dr Hollywood. “Even if it is not a realistic option for them, they might meet people on the course and end up collaborating to build networks to export together in partnership. We have already seen that happen with a food hampers firm, which is sourcing local produce.”
In September, the university will run a very interesting course, particularly in light of Brexit. This one will look at hedging of risks in the agri-food industry. “We will have experts in from the CME Group Foundation Financial Innovation Laboratory in the Business School to show how derivatives can be used to mitigate risk. This will be very interesting for companies of all sizes,” says Dr Hollywood.
These courses, programmes and research activities will have a key role to play as the industry faces up to the challenge of Brexit, according to KPMG partner David Meagher. “Teagasc and SFI, the universities, and the institutes of technology are doing a very good job in supporting applied research that can help companies develop new products to help enter new markets.”