Newton Rigg Campus in Cumbria is earmarked for closure in July 2021 after an independent review found the site is not financially viable.
The closure proposal is subject to the outcome of a 45-day consultation process with 117 staff (79 full time equivalent roles) and the trade unions, which has started today (May 21 2020).
The Askham Bryan College’s governing body has decided to propose the closure of Newton Rigg after considering the findings of a Further Education Commissioner review of educational provision at the campus and in the wider area.
The College will also be consulting individually with affected staff.
Students, parents and carers, applicants, employers, local MPs, civic leaders and community groups are being informed of the proposal, made on May 18th 2020, this week.
A final decision on whether or not the campus closes in July 2021 will be made following the completion of the statutory consultation in respect of College staff.
Tim Whitaker, Chief Executive Officer and Principal, Askham Bryan College, said: “We understand the strength of feeling about Newton Rigg and the fact this will be upsetting news to our staff, students and the local community.”
He explained: “This has been a very difficult decision.
“We regret putting staff at risk of redundancy.
However, the review has confirmed that the campus is not financially viable from the College’s perspective and would require ongoing investment to keep pace with industry skills.”
He added: “Given the current economic climate, and the fact that no capital or revenue funding is available, we have no other option but to propose closing the facility in July 2021. We will do all we can to support our staff and students at this difficult time.”
Learning planned for the next academic year, from September 2020 to July 2021, will commence as intended.
Student recruitment and enrolment will also continue and all current and prospective students will be informed of the closure proposal.
Apprenticeships for 2020/2021 will continue as planned at the Newton Rigg Campus until July 2021.
In the event of campus closure, the College would seek to identify an alternative location for ‘off the job’ training provision in Cumbria.
Around 888 learners are based at Newton Rigg in Penrith.
They include 667 further education students, the majority of whom are enrolled on one-year programmes, and 221 apprentices.
The Further Education Commissioner’s review, which started in March 2020 and concluded in May 2020, involved a wide range of stakeholders and identified the following challenges:
- Demographic challenges: The College faces low population density in the rural location of Cumbria, and future low demographic growth of 16 to 18-year-olds.
- Student recruitment: Over the longer term, this is falling with insufficient local demand for specialist land-based provision, compounded by the declining demographics.
- Financial losses: As a result of the above factors, Newton Rigg has an annual operating deficit of around £1 million and lacks a sustainable business model due to declining student numbers and demographics.
- Estates reinvestment: In order to keep pace with the latest land based sector skills needs, the estate needs around £20 million capital investment.
The timing of the proposed closure for next July 2021 gives a window of opportunity for an alternative group or organisation to provide a potential solution.
During discussions with various groups from Cumbria over the last few weeks, there has been a high level of support expressed for Newton Rigg from various Cumbrian organisations and groups.
Askham Bryan College would welcome working with these groups, over the next couple of months, if they wish to explore how they could deliver a Cumbrian-based solution for Cumbrian students should the campus close next summer, pending the outcome of the staff and trade union consultation process.
The importance of the uplands farm at Low Beckside is recognised and the College would look at the viability of transferring it to an appropriate body or group, on the basis they continue to preserve it for educational and potential applied research relevance.
Newton Rigg was established in 1896 to serve the needs of agricultural and rural industries in Cumbria.
Since incorporation in 1992, Newton Rigg has been owned or governed by four different corporations including two universities.
During this 28-year period it has not been possible to develop a sustainable business model that would enable Newton Rigg to maintain the necessary investment in its infrastructure and resources to compete successfully with other specialist land-based and general further education colleges.
Courses currently provided include agriculture, gamekeeping, animal and equine management, forestry, horticulture and agricultural engineering.
The campus also offers general further education courses such as uniformed public services, sport, hairdressing and beauty therapy, childhood studies and health and social care.
In terms of new students starting in September 2020, the College would work in partnership with other FE colleges to map progression routes beyond 2021.