Comment: Evening of jargon, flag-waving and leathery beef

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I HAVE just had a call from a friend who wondered why I not had reported on the annual meeting of Scotland’s Rural University College (SRUC).

It was, he pointed out, the first anniversary of this new educational body formed from the former Scottish Agricultural College, Oatridge College, Elmwood College and the Barony, and there must have been lots to report.

As it happened, I was there, in the bowels of Murrayfield rugby stadium and I, along with more than one hundred assorted others with links to the organisation, listened to Professor Bob Webb, principal and chief executive, give a smooth and polished presentation on the achievements of SRUC.

I say that with a little hesitation. While I understood some parts, such as when he said it had been an impressive first year and it was the second-largest such educational organisation in the UK, there were other times when I was drowned by the jargon.

If you think I make this up, please explain what the following strangulation of the English language means: “Aim 3 – To create a new FE/HE model for Scotland with innovative delivery of academic and practical expertise to enhance articulation and progression opportunities”.

That little example also gives a couple of acronyms which may be bread and butter for the educational wallahs but it leaves the man in the street or the journalist with the notepad going “eh?”

Again, if you think I exaggerate, try a few of the following: HENGE, SRUCSA, NERC and QAA.

So, there were difficulties for the common man in translating the seamless paean of praise for the new college.

Unfortunately, and despite it being an annual review, there was no room for any financial figures. I apologise. There was one. The attendees were told the turnover of the new body was “circa £75 million”.

This left a gap on what the previous combined turnover had been. What was the profitability or otherwise of the organisation? Just the sort of information that would normally have been available at an annual review.

The press did ask Prof Webb later for these and other figures but he quickly deferred to SRUC chairman, Lord Lindsay, that most affable of men.

Sadly, his first reaction was one of being handed a hospital pass and he took some time before responding that the SRUC board would not see the figures until the following day.

Being easy-going press people, we said, “No bother, send them out after your meeting”. The response duly arrived next day but only to say the financial information would not be available until after it was signed off by the auditors. So, no news there.

The press then asked other questions, such as the number of redundancies that had come about as a result of the union of the four bodies.

Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Mike Russell, who was there to give the after-dinner speech, quickly intervened to point out any reduction in the workforce was through voluntary severance. Point taken. So how many were voluntarily severed? Approximately 50 apparently.

Trying another tack, we asked, “Are there any plans for new buildings or other facilities?”

Yes, but we cannot tell you, came the reply.

When will SRUC become a university as the name suggests? The response was after jumping through a large number of hoops and, as far as I could tell, it could take another couple of years at least. All through which the U will remain silent in SRUC.

Wearying of this game, we headed for the meal, where Lord Lindsay claimed many of the ingredients had been sourced on SRUC farms.

Most of it was very good, but I must check the SRUC research programme to see if there is any work going on that includes the production of very old and leathery beef.

The final part of the night was getting the notebook out ready for some pearls of wisdom from Russell. What the audience got was a speil on the benefits of Scottish independence and, as I looked around the room, I reckon there were more than a few SRUC people thinking this must be the downside to taking chunks of Scottish Government cash.

How much cash, you wonder. We were not told on the night but last year, SRUC received £54.1m from the Government.

So, my friend who phoned, I can tell you nothing much newsworthy
occurred. If it had it would have been reported.