First among equals

The BBC reports today that first class degrees are soaring.  What are employers to make of this?  Does it mean there are more top class graduates than ever?   More committed students?  Better teaching?  Easier assessments?  More teaching to the test?  Dumbing down?  Any, all, or more.  Expect the usual comments, debate and lack of any meaningful conclusions or changes.  Meanwhile how helpful are degree classifications in choosing a new professional trainee in rural surveying or similar professional consultancy work?  The safe answer is probably, not a lot.

There are excellent examples of graduates who are now leading members of their professions, yet showed little inclination or sign of this as undergraduates.  There are also examples of top-class graduates who have made little headway in commercial, professional or for that matter academic life.  And of course there are low grade graduates who have achieved relatively little since and high grade graduates who have indeed gone on to great things.  Firm relationships prove elusive.

How would I address this today if I were recruiting a new professional assistant?  Here are my tips:

  • I would ask to see the profile of final marks they got for all the modules they studied on each year of the course.  This may highlight relative strengths and weaknesses (but don’t be too sure – you may just be looking at normal variations between one subject and another despite increasing attempts to homogenise these profiles).  These profiles are routinely issued to graduates by all universities.
  • Ask the candidates to prepare some work beforehand.  Perhaps an article for the firm’s newsletter of 500 to 1,000 words, on a given topic.  This could even be useful alongside an announcement of the arrival of the new recruit in due course.
  • Warn the candidates they will be asked to advise a client on a particular subject in exam-like conditions as part of the recruitment process.  Provide some warning of the subject, eg contentious rent review on a let farm, claim for a water-pipe burst or something which is relevant to the work they will be doing.  Allow reference material.  Ask the candidates to draft a short email or letter to the client or other party setting out their advice, by hand.
  • Meet the team: but make sure the team is briefed for whatever feedback you want from them on the candidates.
  • Use the interview imaginatively – include a mix of technical and problem-solving questions; ask candidates to perform a task which they might encounter in their working life with you.
  • Try to find the class position of the candidates.  For example in the top 10%, 25%?  On a reasonably sized course this at least gives an idea of relative performance within the cohort.  It’s not information that is routinely issued to graduates nor readily available, but there’s a growing case that it should be – perhaps to the nearest decile for courses with 50 or more graduates, and quartile for smaller courses.

And if you must persevere with placing any reliance on degree classifications it might be worth checking the statistics for yourself.  The Higher Education Statistics Agency produces the data that underpinned the BBC Report, and UniStat can give you information on individual courses at individual universities.  Comparison of classifications is not the only or the most useful way to compare potential graduate employees.

 

Land Management Today

Masthead design

Land Management TODAY – LMT – is published for the first time today.  The first edition is the work of a group of postgraduate students at Harper Adams University who came together at the end of June to study a module called Land Use and Management.  The first edition contains 28 short articles covering a range of topics.  Download your copy of LMT here: Land Management Today July 2017.

Here is the full contents list:

  1. How farming is set to lose its flavour
  2. Buying into Ecosystem Services – whetting the appetite for diversification
  3. Battery storage, the next big thing for energy production?
  4. Branding: Rural Estates in the head and on the ground
  5. Bringing Back Britain’s Trees
  6. Avoiding Failure with Forwards and Futures .
  7. Smother With Cover: black-grass .
  8. A Tale of Two Leys
  9. Will Dairy Cows Ever See a Human?
  10. Conventional v Organic: Breaking Down Barriers
  11. Diversity & Inclusion; The £24 billion boost
  12. Farm smart in the hills
  13. The Drones are Coming
  14. Finding your perfect partner: Relationships not Rules for land tenure success
  15. State Open for Business
  16. Tax simplification; anything but simple
  17. Spring Budget Basics for Taxation on Rural Estates
  18. Brexit for Breakfast
  19. Agricultural Trade: “Preparing for the Worst, Hoping for the Best”
  20. Soil Health Subsidies
  21. Countryside Stewardship Scheme
  22. Telecommunications-The Implications for Rural Land Owners
  23. Telecoms and the Rise of Statutory Powers
  24. Compulsory Purchase: RICS mandates practice with new PS
  25. Make sure you don’t lose out with Business Rates
  26. No Growth in the Greenbelt
  27. Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship and Capital Grants – are you missing a trick?
  28. H-App-y Maps
  29. Contributor Profiles

This is the first in what we hope will continue as a series of occasional papers on current topics of concern to land management today.

The Prince of Wales, Country Life and our countryside heritage

The Conversation is a website sponsored by several universities and others, with the aim of combining academic rigour with journalistic flair. Environment Editor Michael Parker asked me to appraise Prince Charles’ editorial in the Country Life, and this is the article published by The Conversation on Friday 15 November 2013.

Charles: the future

king with retro-

vision

By Charles Cowap, Harper Adams University

In this week’s Country Life HRH Prince of Wales writes of the social and economic importance of farming. It is, he says:

the bedrock of our rural communities, making post offices, pubs, public transport and local health care absolutely vital to the production of our food and the protection of the landscapes we all benefit from in so many ways. This is why the countryside’s contribution to the national good has to be cherished and sustained. Without it, we will all be very much the poorer.

Elsewhere in his editorial HRH writes of the British countryside as the backbone of our national identity. Setting aside for a moment just what the 21st century British identity might be, what about the many generations of seafaring, war, empire, trade, or the industrial revolution? We need only go back to 1701 to see Daniel Defoe’s characterisation of “The True Englishman” in his typically satirical way.

HRH identifies several champions or “heroes” of the countryside, and what an interesting and in some ways inspiring group they are. But heroes? Have they unflinchingly stepped forward to meet terror, risking all for their peers? And can we really say that using helicopters to ferry in material for dry stone walls is a sustainable way to manage the countryside? Here are a few others who we might also recognise for championing the countryside:

  • WG Hoskins, 1908–1922, who taught us to understand the countryside, not least through his The Making of the English Landscape.
  • Octavia Hill, Hardwicke Rawnsley, and Robert Hunter, founders of the National Trust.
  • Kenneth Watkins, founder of the Woodland Trust.
  • Countless agricultural pioneers and innovators including the likes of Bobby Boutflour who did so much to revolutionise dairy farming and cattle nutrition.

Who would be on your list?

HRH rightly recognises the vital role farmers have in feeding us and as custodians of the countryside. But there is a contradiction when he goes on to lament the decline in genetic diversity in livestock, the deteriorating condition of soil and the short herd life of some cows. The Irish potato famines are blamed on lack of genetic diversity with no mention of good rotational practice and other vital aspects of crop husbandry. Can this be a description of the “best farmers in the world” as Prince Charles says?

Contrast this with the views expressed by Allan Wilkinson, Chief Agricultural Adviser to HSBC at the Linking Environment and Farming Conference (LEAF) this month. Wilkinson noted that the performance gap between the best farmers and the rest has always been large – it is now enormous. Wilkinson’s menu for success included attention to detail, good up-to-date knowledge, personal development, looking for ways to collaborate, recognising and respecting the competition.

Price pressure

Prince Charles makes the point that the “big retailers and their shareholders do so much better out of the deal” than the farmers they buy from. He also laments the enormous waste of food in the UK every year. Perhaps some of these retailers understand farming and consumers rather more than we recognise. Increasingly we see the big supermarket groups working with preferred groups of suppliers. During the recent milk price crisis, Tesco was recognised for being more supportive of its producers. In addition Tesco has also just produced its own analysis which revealed the waste of 30,000 tonnes in the first six months of 2013, a vast tonnage lost along the supply chain “from farm to fork”. Losses start in the field, and continue right through to the final consumer.

Waste is not the only problem with food: overconsumption leads to health problems, as are changing patterns of consumption in developing countries. But while many have plenty to eat we have also seen the rapid growth of the Food Bank movement in response to a shameful economic and social need. The Trussell Trust has seen its work triple. It is now rumoured that the publication of Defra research completed in the summer is being suppressed because it links the boom in food bank demand with welfare reforms. Perhaps our list of heroes needs to include Carol and Paddy Henderson for establishing the Trussell Trust in 1997 (named after Carol’s mother whose legacy made it possible).

Like much of what HRH has written about the countryside and farming, there is little to grasp in the way of a broad view of the future of the countryside, much less how to get to that future. The countryside as romantic idyll certainly seems central to his view of the countryside, yet how will that idyll be maintained?

Investing in the countryside, but where?

There are some surprising omissions from Country Life’s editorial. For example, the government is currently consulting on the implementation of the latest changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Here is something which really does shape the countryside, and Defra has given us 28 days to respond to its consultation exercise.

Should we move the remaining money “up the hill” to support the beleaguered upland farmers mentioned by Prince Charles? HSBC’s Wilkinson and Tesco would both probably tell us that there is plenty more that the lowland farmers can do for themselves to improve profitability and farming sustainability. There is a strong case for diverting more of the public money to the marginal farming areas – not to support agriculture as such, but to maintain its value in supporting the rest of the industry “down the hill”, and for the numerous environmental and social benefits it can bring us all.

It is a shame that HRH does not seem to tackle this central issue of the extent to which public money should continue to support farming, what value we get in return for it, and the considerable amount of work which is currently underway looking at how we can reflect the much wider value of nature in the management of natural capital and the “purchase” of natural benefits from ecosystem services. All vital considerations in establishing a rural vision which builds on the best of a rural idyll.

Charles Cowap is a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, and non-executive Director of Management Development Services Ltd. He works as a rural specialist and land consultant for various companies and on various projects developing ecosystem service approaches, and providing training.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

If you live in the countryside, don’t go to school there

Defra has published its latest update to its Statistical Digest of Rural England 2013 today.  The education section has been updated this time.  Key conclusions to emerge seem to be:

  • If you live in the countryside you’re as likely as anybody else to get 5 or more GCSE’s at Grades A* to C (equivalent to an old O level pass)
  • But if you go to school in the countryside, you’re slightly less likely to get 5 or more GCSE’s at C or above
  • However, having got your GCSE’s while living in the countryside, it seems that you’re slightly more likely to go to university than if you live elsewhere
  • The moral of this digest seems to be to live in the countryside and go to school in the town

Defra updates its Digest of Rural Statistics one section at a time.  June’s update is the education section.

CPD Changes for Chartered Surveyors: Blogging doesn’t count

New CPD (Continuing Professional Development) Rules for chartered surveyors came into effect this month.  They are simple and straightforward, commit us to a minimum of 20 hours CPD a year and a requirement to record our CPD on the RICS website.

The new rules are a welcome simplification of the previous somewhat complex requirement concerning Lifelong Learning.  The sound thinking behind lifelong learning is retained, but its application is simplified.

All chartered surveyors, full time or part time, must achieve at least 20 hours of CPD a year and this must now be recorded online on the RICS website.  The process of recording is simple and straightforward, and you get the option to download a record of your CPD in pdf or spreadsheet formats.  I tried the new system for the last few months of last year and found it easy to use.  You can see my pdf file record on this link.

At least 10 hours of the annual 20 hour requirement must consist of ‘formal learning’.  Formal learning is distinguished by a clear statement of ‘Learning Outcomes’, ie a clear statement of what you should be able to do or know at the end of the session.  Here are examples of Learning Outcomes from some of the sessions I have run for clients:

  • Enhanced familiarity with DCF (Discounted Cash Flow) approaches to appraisal in the context of the Red Book, associated guidance, and its concepts of ‘value’;
  • Enhanced familiarity with modern applications of the Investment Method of Valuation;
  • Appreciation of the scope for marriage, or synergistic, value arising from different investment approaches;
  • Understand the implications of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001 for professional advisers involved in insurance matters
  • Understand the RICS Designated Professional Body Scheme
  • Comply with the requirements of the scheme
  • Distinguish insurance advice, recommendations and arrangements
  • Deal appropriately with commission and disclosure
  • Comply with the regulation’s training requirements
  • Advise on matters to be considered in establishing a new tenancy agreement, both Farm Business Tenancies and succession tenancies under the 1986 Act
  • Evaluate alternative tenure arrangements including contract and share farming, grazing and other agreements
  • Supervise matters requiring attention during the continuation of a tenancy, eg repairing responsibilities and other tenancy obligations of landlord and tenant
  • Prepare for and undertake Rent Reviews in accordance with legal requirements and published guidance
  • Advise on the termination of farm tenancies
  • Consider the valuation requirements which arise on the termination of a tenancy
  • Advise on succession issues following the death or retirement of a tenant farmer
  • Understand the various dispute mechanisms available to resolve matters which cannot be settled through negotiation, and the surveyor’s role within them.

And so on!  All the RICS Web Classes include Learning Outcomes (including my rural ones) so perhaps this would be a good year to try this very cost effective form of CPD for the first time.  The details can be found in one of my previous blogs and on the RICS website.

A new requirement is for CPD to include an update on professional ethics at least once every three years, starting from 1 January 2013.  A straightforward way to cover this is via the RICS Online Ethical Standards Walkthrough Module, which is also free and provides about an hour of Formal CPD.  But other forms of CPD will also touch on ethical standards, as my own CPD record shows.

A helpful summary of the new CPD requirements has been issued by the RICS on its CPD webpage.

Sadly the guidance makes it clear that running a personal website, blog or newsletter cannot count as CPD.  Yet I have found that blogging on new developments has been enormously helpful in developing my own understanding of them.

Nevertheless I’d be delighted to hear from you if you would like to discuss your own or your organisation’s CPD requirements, tailored to specific requirements and designed to qualify as ‘formal learning’ for CPD purposes and including the ethical aspects where required.

Ode to DEFRA, happy retirement to Steve Latham and who was Ralph Robinson?

Steve Latham, Chris Cartwright and I became Senior Lecturers at Harper Adams in January 1990.  Steve in Marketing, Chris in Business Organisation and me in Land Management.  Together we were inducted into the ways of higher education – analysis, evaluation, synthesis.  Steve retires this week, fondly remembered I am sure by 21 years-worth of marketing students at the college.

Steve has been clearing out his office, an amazing collection of old books and videos.   One item, published by Putnam in 1927 in their Whitehall Series is The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries by Sir Francis Floud KCB, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry 1920-1927.  This gripping opus contains the following Departmental Rhyme, originally published by Punch on 20 April 1927 which might at least provide some wry amusement at the contrasts and similarities between the MAF of then (the second F for food came later) and the DEFRA of  today.

The Ministry of Ag and Fish

Does Everything that one could wish

To foster, guide and chaperon

Those industries it calls its own;

And it would be unkind to chaff

The members of its faithful staff

Who seek no rest and find no peace,

But labour always to increase,

By deeds of departmental derring

Corn, flesh and fowl and good red herring.

-oOo-

No slackness is allowed to smirch

Their splendid record of research,

No doubts molest their firm reliance

On methods blessed by modern science.

One expert, in his spacious lab,

Observes the habits of the crab;

Another takes his grain of wheat,

His whiting or his sugar beet

And tries by some ingenious test

What mode of living suits it best;

While others dedicate their lives

To proving how the ploughman thrives

Who mitigates his dull vocation

With intellectual recreation,

And spends an hour of leisure daily

Playing upon the ukelele.

-oOo-

The farmer strolling around his paddock,

The fisherman in quest of haddock,

Unite to sing with grateful glee

The praises of their Ministry.

Rude simple souls, they lack that store

Of expert scientific lore

On which alone success depends,

And this their kind Department sends.

For, if calamities befall

The men who till, the men who trawl –

If beasts contract the foot-and-mouth,

If blizzards blow from north or south,

If prices slump and credit fails,

If nets are rent by sportive whales,

The Staff is ready in a trice

To help them with its best advice,

On land or sea, in drought or storm,

Sent free of charge in pamphlet form.

–ooOOoo–

And a last obscure question for readers who have stayed on this far.  Ralph Robinson was the pseudonym of an active farmer and contributor to Arthur Young’s Annals of Agriculture in the late 1700’s.  He was better known as King George III, Farmer George, and became the founder and patron of the Board or Society for the encouragement of Agriculture and Internal Improvement which was created on 23 August 1793, by Royal Charter.

University funding and the future of upland farming

“Blogging”, “blogging” or just plain blogging?  This is my first venture into blogging so let’s try to keep it plain.  The general theme of my blog is going to be education and the rural economy.  What is the blog: the individual article, or the collection of articles?  Is there another collective noun?  Until I know better I will assume that Blog=Article as well as collective noun.  In my first blog I want to look at the future of higher education funding and the future of upland farming (yawn – still with me here?).  They have both been in the news this week because the government has responded to the Browne Review of higher education funding, and the House of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking at the future of upland communities.  As a rural educator currently charged with developing work-based education, what’s going to happen?

The Browne Review and the government’s response: it will cost more than ever to go to university, up to £9,000 in fees alone.  Loans will be available to cover this, repayable once salary hits £21,000 at higher interest rates than previously, over a maximum period of 30 years.  Any outstanding debt is then written off.  There will be penalties for early repayment.  Universities won’t actually get any more money, because the funding burden shifts to the students themselves and direct government funding will be cut. 

Impact on agicultural higher education: Higher education for agriculture is very concentrated at two or three specialised university colleges.  A significant proportion of higher education for the rural land-based sector is offered in local colleges, accredited by a partner university.  The specialised colleges have a distinctive ethos.  It is likely they will continue to attract significant numbers of students, for social and environmental as much as academic reasons.  The colleges can be very pleasant places to be.  Economic analysis in this sector is far from straightforward.   Farmers are often classified amongst the lower social groups for statistical purposes.  Income levels can be very low, despite high asset values in the industry (this in itself is a significant economic challenge in the sector).  Self-employment, or progression within the family business, may be the future for young men and women brought up on farms.  Higher education may be less expensive to members of these groups because low incomes mean access to student support.  On the other hand, those studying closer to home may be doing so because they are a key worker on the home farm.  One trainer in the North East told me that the cost to the farm of such a youngster leaving to study was in the order of £50,000 to £60,000 a year (value of lost labour input, additional cost of replacement labour, cost of support while away etc).  The new fee proposals jsut increased that to £56,000 to £66,000 a year – about 12%.  So this picture is complex.

Future of upland farming: For years we have supported upland farming through various government schemes.  Increasingly we have asked the recipients of this largesse to provide us with a widening range of benefits: environmental management, landscape, leisure opportunities and so on.  But the outlook for such support is doubtful.  Most are agreed that it is important to keep farmers in the uplands because they provide a cost-effective way to manage extensive tracts of land.  We value its appearance and environmental value as a farmed landscape.  Food security has now re-emerged as a key issue, and the upland areas can make significant contributions here too.  However, much of the national infrastructure that supported technical development in hill and upland farming has quietly withered away over the last 20 or more years: specialist research stations, experimental husbandry farms, and a consequent dispersal of specialist hill farming expertise from the northern colleges.  At its simplest the outlook for public support is this: less if any at all; certainly not more.

Putting these two streams together we must face up to this question: if young men and women from the hills will no longer afford to go away to university, if other support for farming in the hill and upland areas is going to reduce, what can be done?  Are we willing to see abandonment of upland holdings?  Does this mean there will be economic opportunities, or will holdings be abandoned for good reason? Those who remain committed to, and passionate about, the future of upland farming will have to look to their own resources.  It is also clear that hard evidence will be needed to justify continued public investment.  The abolition of the Commission for Rural Communities also sees the loss of an independent rural voice to government.  So how can the people in the hills help themselves?

One idea we have been working on is the idea of locally-based self-help groups.  Without taking up too much space here with the evolution of this idea, our current thinking is to establish learning groups of leading farmers and others whose work brings them close to farmers.  It’s hard to avoid educational jargon at this point, but the general idea would be for the group to work together to:

  • Identify the technical challenges – coupled with the opportunities (for example the potential role for upland peat areas in carbon management)
  • To prepare together a development plan under which each member of the group will take the lead in exploring and sharing the latest information and data.  The group will sort out the formats for this guidance, and individual members will then draft it.  The group will then moderate the draft material.  This could be conventional technical notes or papers, but it could also be short videos or other useful presentation material.
  • Along the way, members of the group will learn about the importance of ‘advocacy’ and how to function effectively as rural advocates.
  • A group like this could also act as its own research unit, building up the evidence base needed to underpin its advocacy role.

The challenge now is to test this idea in the real world, and if it stands up to that to turn it into an educational reality.  Graduate Certificate in Upland Farming Development anybody?