Golf-course management is often cited as the kind of course title that undermines the status of traditional university degrees. But this jibe is made by people with little experience of modern horticulture. In all its facets - from turf care to tree care - the industry has a growing demand for graduates capable of applying theoretical knowledge to real-world challenges in the plant-based industries.
According to Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, director of finance and resources at Kent's Hadlow College: "Horticulture has always been an important industry but it has never quite received the recognition it deserves and is sometimes dismissed by schools and career advisers as of no interest to high flyers. That is a great pity and a fundamental misunderstanding of the very wide range of opportunities the industry offers."
He points to the prospects on offer to those who have successfully completed horticultural degree-level qualifications in horticulture. "They can expect new and expanding opportunities in virtually every branch," he explains. "Ex-Hadlow students span the globe and a remarkable percentage have achieved doctorates in their specific of expertise."
The directory on p2941 lists more than 25 different institutions offering nearly 100 Degree-level courses, ranging from Soil Management to Architectural Technology and from Arboriculture to Historic Garden Management.
Structure of courses
Postgraduate Diplomas, such as the University of Gloucestershire's Environmental Policy & Management and Myerscough College's Arboriculture & Urban Forestry, allow graduates in relevant subjects to attain higher-level qualifications in a shorter (and more affordable) time period.
As colleges expand their course ranges in this way, the boundary between "further" and "higher" education provision is becoming increasingly blurred. This is apparent from the growing number of partnerships between colleges and universities. Students at Hadlow now have their Degrees awarded by the University of Greenwich, for example, while the Degrees offered by the Scottish Agricultural College are conferred by the University of Glasgow.
Writtle College in Essex is the only higher education college in the UK to focus predominantly on horticulture, offering around 30 undergraduate and post-graduate courses, which include a BSc in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture, and a BA in Professional Floristry - the only one of its kind in the country.
The college's head of horticulture Martin Stimson says: "Numbers enrolling on both under-graduate and post-graduate courses have gone up consistently over the past few years. Education tends to benefit from recessions as people look for ways to re-skill or set themselves up in self-employment.
"Employers taking on one of our horticulture graduates are getting someone with skills in science, business management and IT, and the vocational skills they have gained in glasshouses and post-harvest laboratories."
This is borne out by employment rates of more than 90 per cent for Writtle's graduates. Stimson says: "They are taking up positions of senior supervisors and middle management in the industry." He adds that the trend towards greater numbers of career changers entering horticulture has served to widen the skills base further.
Horticultural studies do not need to stop with gaining a Degree. There is also a range of courses to MSc and PhD level. According to one horticulture lecturer: "Like any subject, you can go into it as deeply as you like. There really isn't any end to it."
A FIRM FOUNDATION
Offered by both colleges and universities, the Foundation Degree is typically a two-year qualification and is geared towards the needs of employers in the subject area. Employers contribute to courses' content to ensure their relevance.
There is a strong workplace element in Foundation Degrees. This is reflected in the fullor part-time, and even distance-learning formats available. They are also tailored for later conversion into a so-called "top-up" degree, by allowing entry into what is effectively the third year of a conventional degree course - which is not an option so readily available with the comparable Higher National Diploma.
Foundation Degrees in horticulture are mostly Foundation Degrees in Science. However, in the nine years since the format was introduced, the range of specialisms within horticulture has grown to include such diverse topics as Garden Design at Guildford College's Merrist Wood campus; Sports Turf at Moulton College, Northampton; and Horticulture and Global Plant Use, run jointly by Duchy College and the Eden Project in Cornwall.