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In conversation with David Llewellyn

We talk to David Llewellyn, Vice Chancellor at Harper Adam University about his role, what makes him passionate about the countryside, and what he’s looking for in the Quilter Cheviot Rural
Innovation Programme

What does your role as Vice-Chancellor at Harper Adams University entail?

The Vice-Chancellor is the chief executive of the University. I am responsible for setting the strategic direction of the institution and for overall management of its staff and resources to deliver the best possible educational experience for our students, as well as the research and knowledge exchange activities in which we are engaged.

Universities are independent bodies, but they receive public funding and are, in many respects, regulated by the government. I therefore have to ensure that we take account of rapidly changing policies in higher education as well as the specialist areas in which we operate, not least agriculture and land management.

What makes you passionate about the countryside?

I love living in the countryside and seeing the wide variety of landscapes and environments that the UK has to offer when travelling around the country. I happen to work alongside a large group of enthusiastic young people at the university, whose commitment to the future of the countryside is also bound to have a positive effect on your view of the world.

In my role I come into contact with a lot of rural businesses and it is always good to see those who are working hard to help protect our amazingly varied and beautiful countryside for future generations, whilst also producing some of the best food available anywhere in the world!

What are the most urgent challenges facing rural areas?

Much has been said about the need to improve the productivity of our food systems. However, we need to make sure that we have the right sets of skills – across operational, technical and managerial roles – to deliver this objective. Businesses tell me that it is not always straightforward to find people to work in food production so we have engaged with industry to try to address this issue.

It also concerns me that many areas of public policy do not take rural factors into account. This is as true in higher education as it is for access to healthcare, transport and other community services, so we are working hard to ensure that issues of rurality are raised with the government in its policy thinking on education.

How will rural areas need to change over the next five to ten years?

The UK’s departure from the EU, however it is implemented, will drive significant change in rural areas, particularly in businesses involved in food production. Not only will we need to adapt to a new set of international trading relationships, but we will also have to ensure that we compete effectively in domestic markets to meet consumer demands for high quality UK-produced food at an affordable price. That will require a mix of exceptional business and technical abilities for future business leaders.

Another major change will be the inevitable adoption of technological innovations. Harper Adams is leading the way on researching new technologies but their wider use will also require new techniques, and new skills, in managing large datasets to support business decision-making.

What type of business would best apply for funding?

The judges will be looking for ideas, from an individual or an organisation, that will have long-term positive impacts on those who live and work in rural communities. It really does not matter what background or business sector your idea comes from, but it must be pioneering, innovative and inspirational. I would like to see proposals that can demonstrate that they have got off the ground, but just need some help to move on to that next stage where they can broaden their impact, perhaps by becoming transferable from one locality to other rural settings.