Hungry to Learn: Lifelong Learning Pathways for the Agri-food Sector

Publication Details

This report by the Lifelong Education Institute, kindly supported by Harper Adams University and the School of Sustainable Food and Farming, addresses the opportunities and challenges facing skills provision in the agri-food sector. It explores how innovative structures of learning and skills training can help generate and attract the learner talent that the sector needs to help establish the UK as a global leader in agricultural production and sustainable food systems. It outlines a new approach to lifelong learning that integrates skills and career progression, which can help overcome the long-term mismatch between workforce skills and industry needs.

The report closely examines the experience of Harper Adams University, one of the UK’s leading higher education institutions providing specialist learning and skills training for the agri-food sector, in setting up sectoral partnerships and undertaking curriculum reform to bridge the gap between teaching priorities and industry needs. It assesses what is needed for the future development of an advanced, precision-oriented agri-food sector capable of meeting the UK’s imperatives for industrial strategy. This includes a radical new model of Lifelong Learning Pathways, an equitable portfolio of financial responsibilities, the importance of integrating new pedagogical means and methods, and an interdisciplinary approach to agri-food education, research, and knowledge exchange.

Using these findings, the report develops a series of policy recommendations for reforms to skills policy in the UK that can help to integrate lifelong agri-food learning and skills training as a vital component of the UK’s mainstream education system. It proposes ten strategic recommendations for future national and regional legislation around skills training for the
agri-food sector, and ten tactical action points for the leadership of Harper Adams University and other agricultural education providers to prioritise in their course development.

Key Recommendations include:

  1. Categorise food security, accessibility and sustainability as a public good, and give the agri-food sector the status of a strategic industry.
  2. Develop a system of Lifelong Learning Pathways as the primary framework for skills and career progression in agri-food and expand this framework to all UK strategic industry sectors and employment areas.
  3. For skills areas covered by Lifelong Learning Pathways, expand the Lifelong Loan Entitlement into a Pathway Premium combined tuition and maintenance grant, set at the equivalent of six years’ worth of full-time tertiary education (currently £55,500 p.a.) and living costs.
  4. Add a ‘strategic innovation rate’ to SME R&D tax relief (at an extra 64% of qualifying costs deductible from profits), and a ‘strategic innovation credit’ band (at an extra 5% of qualifying expenditure) to R&D expenditure credit, to cover business innovation activity within strategic priority industries such as agri-food.
  5. Add a ‘strategic innovation multiplier’ of 1.5 to the Annual Investment Allowance, to cover business investment in capital projects in partnership with tertiary education providers.
  6. Introduce a ‘strategic skills tax credit’ at a rising rate proportional to the number of industry placements and employees undertaking ‘on the job’ training and upskilling.
  7. Unify the system of disparate local skills funding pots into a single resource under the auspices of the Local Skills Improvement Fund tied to the operations of Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs), made available to all education providers across the relevant LSIP area, and with a mandatory agri-food funding and strategy strand.
  8. Recognise agri-food as a growth industry for the UK and convert the Rural England Prosperity Fund into a ‘Breadbasket of England’ strategic fund designed to support innovation, knowledge exchange, and training developments in key agri-food growth regions (South West, South East, and West Midlands), following similar models operating in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  9. Develop a single sector-wide accreditation, quality assurance, credit interoperability, and credit transfer system for agri-food qualifications.
  10. Create a UK-wide network of agri-food incubators and Living Labs test sites, supervised and operated by a consortium accountable to The Institute of Agriculture and Horticulture (TIAH).