Time was when the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester- now the Royal Agricultural University - was perceived to be somewhat aloof and not an organisation which really related to Gloucestershire’s wider business community.
That impression is being changed by what I can only describe as a dynamic new broom sweeping through it. She is the new Vice Chancellor, Jo Price, who seems determined to ensure that the world’s first agricultural institution in the English speaking world builds on its global reputation.
That reputation mirrors itself in the fact that it has a powerful global alumni of 14,000 ex graduates.
Jo is a veterinary surgeon by profession like her predecessor, Chris Gaskell. Her father John Price was a student at Cirencester after the War.
Cirencester’s latest student prospectus boasts undergraduate courses - For the Real World - and I think that is a good summation of what this unique institution should be all about.
“It is important that we have the best talent and the best brains facing the challenges we have in agriculture, farming and the food environment sector”, Jo tells me.
“But we are not just about farming. We are a vocational university and we will always want to be close to industry and business particularly in the land-based sector.
“We do need to be more self-sufficient in food. Ironically, we were set up following the industrial revolution when the country needed to produce more food.”
“That is the same today. As we import more and more food we should be producing ourselves we should also be producing more high quality food for export to an appreciative world market. I think that Gloucestershire should be a major hub for agrifood in the way that Warwick University has become a major hub for specialist engineering.
“Agritech is just so important. This is a place for thought leadership and to embrace the latest knowledge and creativity in agritech and business acumen.
“Those who use the land these days need to have a whole set of skills. They need to understand sustainability agendas and we have to train them to think flexibly add value.”
Jo Price is right in the importance of agritech to Gloucestershire.
Food and the production of high quality food is one of the county’s unique selling points but in my view it is not marketed sufficiently with the associated tourism we offer.
With Jo Price at the helm, I think that the perceived eliteness of Cirencester will begin to disappear. We will then, hopefully, see far more students being attracted to what is still one of the world’s leading agricultural institutions.
Jo Price admits that attracting an increased number of suitable students is perhaps her biggest challenge.
“We want to be a little bigger. Currently, we have 1200 students and we would like to have at least 1500 which is challenging in the current demographic climate. We have a slightly more fixed market in that people know what we do, or at least think that they do. I feel we offer something very important in all the sectors we operate in post Brexit”.
“Lots of universities are struggling - and that is not happening to us”, she said. ”There are some advantages in these turbulent times in Higher Education to be small and specialist."
Before joining the RAU in September last year, Jo Price was Head of the School of Clinical Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol.