The new school marks another milestone in the history of Harper Adams — long renowned as the UK’s leading specialist agricultural institution. The university still occupies a single site on the Shropshire country estate where it was founded in 1901, taking a global perspective on tackling the challenges relating to agriculture from its rural English setting.
The university is under the new leadership of Professor Ken Sloan, the vice-chancellor, previously deputy vice-chancellor of Monash University in Australia and formerly chief operating officer at the University of Warwick. An advocate for social inclusion and equality in education, he also provides mentorship and leadership in the LGBTQ+ community.
Sloan joins a university that underwent a period of growth under his predecessor, Dr David Llewellyn, during which it became one of only two institutions to achieve gold in successive years in the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Having earned gold in 2017, it did not need to be reassessed — but the university wanted to test its performance against the latest measures. The TEF panel praised course design, delivery and assessment practices, which challenged students to achieve their full potential, and gain knowledge and skills valued by employers.
However, Harper Adams has tumbled 23 places for student satisfaction with teaching quality to rank 37=, according to our analysis of the results of the latest National Student Survey, published in summer 2022. Satisfaction with the wider undergraduate experience has fallen less sharply from 11th in 2021 to 21=. It may prove to be a bump in the road: the university ranked in the top ten for both measures before the pandemic and largely maintained its seal of approval from students in 2021.
In June 2021 the Princess Royal, the university’s chancellor, officially opened the Harper and Keele Veterinary School. The school, a joint venture with the University of Keele, has been accepting students since 2020. There is a £8.6 million Veterinary Education Centre on campus, featuring two lecture theatres, clinical teaching rooms and diagnostic facilities.
The facility is used by veterinary nursing and veterinary physiotherapy students as well as those studying for their bachelor of veterinary medicine and surgery degree. Funding of £500,000 has been secured to invest in new equipment for animal handling and housing large animal anatomy models, as well as an expansion of the veterinary nursing building.
Campus facilities include the modern Bamford Library, which holds one of the largest specialist land-based collections in the UK, and the Weston teaching and learning building. Students also get to learn “in the field” at the university’s 627-hectare farm. A functioning commercial farm, its livestock includes 390 dairy cows and 280 followers (young cows that will replace the milk producers), 230 sows, 70,000 hens, two sheep flocks and an intensive beef unit.
Students have placement years and accredited part-time programmes in industry, meaning that only about half of them are on campus at the same time.
The demand for undergraduate places at Harper Adams reached a record high in the 2021 admissions round, up 26 per cent year-on-year, while student enrolments swelled by 29 per cent in the same cycle — returning them to a level last seen in 2016. A curriculum review is under way at the university, with new degrees in the fields of engineering, business and food science. Six new degrees will be rolled out in September 2023, including food science and innovation — with specialisms in product development, nutrition, food technology, marketing, and business, agri-business management, and food quality with retail management.
Harper Adams offers four degree apprenticeships in rural surveying (offered as Level 6 and Level 7 qualifications), food and drink engineering, food industry technical professional, and senior leader (food business management). Programmes for vet technicians (livestock) and a Higher level programme in food and drink engineering are in development, which should bring the number on courses to about 300 by September 2023.
Harper Adams, granted full university status in 2012, is building its research pedigree. Sixty per cent of the body of research submitted to the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) was rated world leading or internationally excellent (the top two categories) — improving on the results of the previous assessment in 2014. However, even greater improvement elsewhere means that Harper Adams now falls outside our top 100 for research quality, ranking 116th.
Recent funding awards have been earmarked to further research, including a project investigating the production of food products from grass — led by Harper Adams alongside the University of Bath. Another project is testing the technology to remove and recover phosphorus from cattle slurry. The university maintains links with four agricultural universities in China and one in the Netherlands.
Scholarships funded by philanthropic and industry donations totalling over £500,000 were awarded to more than 130 students in 2020-22. None are made at admission: instead students qualify for awards as they study.
There are two gateways to study veterinary medicine. Undergraduates may take an extended degree in veterinary bioscience (with access to veterinary medicine) before being assessed for entry to the vet school, and more recently the university announced that outstanding performance in the first year of a range of other animal science degrees will also count as a preparatory stage before assessment.
Student accommodation, more than half of it catered, is guaranteed on campus to those from abroad, or who are disabled or have left care. The university is almost always able to accommodate all first-years who want to live in.
The rural setting does not diminish the vigour of the social scene and the campus has its own local, the Welly Inn, as well as the students’ union Main Bar. Sports facilities include a shooting ground as well as a gymnasium, heated outdoor swimming pool, rugby, cricket, football and hockey pitches, tennis courts and an all-weather sports pitch. A rowing club operates from nearby Shrewsbury.