Jump in third level agri-food courses mirrors growth in sector

Over the last 10 years, the number of agriculture and agri-food courses has increased significantly, while during the same period the value of food and drinks exports increased from approximately €9 billion €13.5 billion

Dr James Breen, joint programme director of UCD’s Masters in Food Business Strategy: a key benefit of a degree in the agri-food area is the mobility it provides, both within the sector or to move to other sectors

Over the last ten years there has been a significant growth in the number of third-level agriculture and food focused degree programmes with many of the third-level institutions now having some form of offering, said joint programme director of UCD’s Masters in Food Business Strategy, Dr James Breen.

“Typically, these courses are offered through a School of Science or the School of Business within these institutions, UCD is unique amongst third-level academic institutions in Ireland in that it has a distinct School of Agriculture and Food Science.”

“This has enabled UCD to offer the widest range of degree programmes for students who wish to pursue a career in the agri-food sector. With 14 different undergraduate degree programmes, UCD covers the full range of the agri-food supply chain from farm to fork and includes programmes in Food and Agribusiness Management, Animal and Crop Production, Food Science as well as Horticulture and Forestry to name just a few.”

Over the past 10 years the agri-food sector has seen significant growth with the value of food and drinks exports increasing from approximately €9 billion in 2012 to €13.5 billion in 2021 and this has been reflected in the strong employment opportunities within the sector despite the challenges posed by Covid and more recently the conflict in the Ukraine and its impact on energy markets.

The leading Irish agri-food processors continue to be strong employers of agriculture and food graduates, said Breen. “In many cases they also offer opportunities to work in an international setting, while strong growth within the small and medium-sized food enterprises also provides a wide range of diverse employment opportunities for graduates.”

The growing awareness of the need to enhance the environmental sustainability of food production has seen many recent graduates enter this area of employment within the sector.

“While many of our graduates will still enter traditional roles in areas such as production management, quality assurance and sales and marketing, other emerging trends in areas such as nutrition and digital marketing are providing a range of new and diverse career opportunities for graduates,” he said.

“The growth in the value of the agri-food sector has also led to increased demand for services supporting the sector, and in recent years the financial services companies have been keen to hire agriculture and food graduates to deepen their expertise in this area and strengthen the quality of the services they are providing to their clients.”

From speaking to graduates over the years, one key benefit of a degree in the agri-food area is the mobility it provides, whether that is to move within the same employer, to move within the sector or to move to other sectors, said Breen.

“I think that is an important consideration for both school leavers and also for those considering postgraduate study.”