College Connect October 2023

Askham Bryan College has a long and proud history. As one of the top specialist land based colleges in the UK, it provides the qualifications and skills that land based students and employers need.

This year, the College is marking 75 years of providing land-based education and training. As celebrations get underway, Tim Whitaker, Chief Executive Officer and Principal, reflects on the College’s legacy and how it is preparing for the future.

What are the foundations of the College’s early history?

The College welcomed its first cohort of 40 residential students in 1948.

However, the original proposal for a land based college in Askham Bryan village near York was made in 1934.

We know that the first foundation stone was laid in 1936. Between 1936 to 1939, the main building and dairy block were completed.

Interestingly, when the Second World War broke out in 1939, the facility had not quite been completed. However, it was still put to good use, training the Women’s Land Army.

A mobile, agricultural labour force, the Women’s Land Army comprised women and girls who were recruited to assist in increasing the production of home-grown food.

Recruits received four weeks of training in the skills needed to produce essential food supplies for Britain.

They learnt about market gardening, caring for and milking cows, by hand and machine, and about how to grow and harvest field crops and animal fodder.

It wasn’t until after the war ended that the College opened in 1948 to its first 40 students; back then, it was known as Yorkshire Agricultural Institute.

The first cohort studied a two-term course in January 1948. One-year courses in general agriculture and horticulture began several months later in September 1948 with 58 students.

How has the College grown over the years?

During the last 75 years, the College has developed a regional and national reputation and significantly grown its student and staff community and course offer.

As one of the top specialist land based colleges in the UK, it has increasingly developed and grown to provide the qualifications and skills that land based employers need.

From welcoming its first cohort of 40 residential students in 1948, the College now educates around 4,000 students and 800 apprentices a year at sites across Northern England.

Over the decades, our facilities and estate have expanded at our main campus in York with additional sites located at Middlesbrough, Saltaire, Newcastle Gateshead and Wakefield.

A wide range of full and part-time further and higher education programme are offered and we continue to provide residential provision to around 300 students a year.

Graded by Ofsted as ‘good’ for teaching and ‘outstanding’ for our residential care and provision, we pride ourselves on providing a high quality industry relevant curriculum and making all of our students feel welcome.

We have also seen growth in our degree courses for undergraduates and postgraduates through our exciting higher education offer at University Centre Askham Bryan York.

Today, compared to 1948, there is a much broader curriculum offer including agriculture, animal science and conservation, arboriculture and forestry, engineering, equine, horticulture, motorsport, uniformed public services, sports coaching and veterinary nursing.

What are some of the key milestones during the last few decades?

The 1960s saw a major building programme with a conference hall, machinery workshops, residential accommodation for students and the conversion of the old dairy building into applied science labs, as well as the expansion of horticulture.

In the 1980s, student places increased from 70 to more than 250. The College began offering a higher national diploma in agriculture to provide in-demand land and countryside management specialist skills and knowledge.

The 1990s saw the development of the College’s higher education offer with the launch of a BSc in Land Management and Technology affiliated to the University of Leeds.

With the turn of the millennium, the College entered a new era opening a new equestrian centre in 2005. Five years-later it hosted its first British eventing horse trials in 2010.

Meanwhile, in 2017, the animal management centre and Askham Bryan Wildlife and Conservation Park opened.

One of the largest build projects in our history, the £6.8 million facility showcased a two-storey animal management building featuring a range of world wildlife habitats and modern teaching facilities.

During the same year, a £2.4 million agricultural and engineering hub opened. The agri-tech centre was built to provide a practical and innovative space for students featuring lecture rooms with the latest technology, a farm information room and workshop with specialist equipment.

Known as the Lance Gilling Building, it is named after the College’s longest serving Principal (1954-1984) and leading agriculturalist.

How is the College preparing students for the future?

We have ambitious plans for the future. Our Vision 2030 is to become a leading college nationally for animal science and conservation and sustainable food production.

We are committed to providing an industry relevant curriculum that enhances students’ skills and career prospects and meets employers’ needs.

Equipping students with high tech skills to meet the current and future challenges for the economy and environment is a top priority.

In order to do that, it is important that we review our curriculum and facilities in line with industry needs.

In light of that, we are delighted to have opened a new £1.7 million precision livestock facility and a £1 million Digital Skills Academy in September 2022.

The £1.7 million precision livestock facility has been funded by the Yorkshire and Humber Institute of Technology.

The £1 million Digital Skills Academy is funded by York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership through the government’s Getting Building Fund.

Meanwhile, the College has also been awarded a government grant of over £1 million to refurbish and develop its main teaching block in preparation for the delivery of T Levels.

Designed and delivered with employers, students completing T Levels spend 80% of their learning in the classroom and 20% on a 45-day industry placement.

Askham Bryan College is offering T Levels in agriculture and animal care and management from September 2024.

The funding will be used to continue our sector leading approach to digital learning and innovation and to enhance the Digital Skills Academy.

The grant will enable the creation of a new CyberScape concept and builds on our award winning virtual and augmented reality developments.

The funding will enable us to combine the many early technologies that we have invested in such as virtual reality, drone technology and data capture.

The CyberScape project involves creating a new augmented and virtual reality space and a simulator lab as well as digitally enhancing six existing classrooms.

The funding will also be used to launch a sustainable data collection hub, where students will develop ‘micro farm’ resources.

Students will learn about artificial intelligence and machine learning, and work with atmospheric and environmental sensors to develop understanding and decision making.

The government cash injection will support the creation of individualised learning spaces focusing on student work experience, progression and employment opportunities.

As we start a new academic year and celebrate our 75th anniversary, it is very exciting to see these new opportunities for our college community which support our long term vision.

Find out about our next open evening on 18th October 2023.

Askham Bryan College Video