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Ulster University Business School has announced the setting up of an Agri-food Business Development Centre with the aim of providing sector specific support through the promotion of agri-food business education, research and innovation.

Professor Mark Durkin, Executive Dean of Ulster University Business School explains:

“The agri-food industry is Northern Ireland’s key indigenous industry worth over £4bn per annum and employing over 21,000 people. In pursuing its aims of achieving sustained business growth, finding new markets and creating a meaningful research agenda the sector faces a number of strategic challenges such as Brexit, currency volatility, and a reliance on the UK and Republic of Ireland for export.

“In meeting these challenges it is critical that the sector has access to an appropriately educated and trained workforce who can add value to business growth and productivity through skills in international buying and trading, marketing and communications. Evidence shows that agri-food businesses are facing skills shortages. Some 15% of the sector’s workforce are qualified to graduate level compared to 33% for the national average and 42% have no qualifications compared to 14% for all sectors. Given our role as a leading provider of entrepreneurial education and research it was an obvious move to fill this much-needed gap in a key sector of Northern Ireland’s economic profile.”

The Agri-Food Business Development Centre will offer specialist teaching on aspects of agri-food business and engage with industry and policy-makers to provide businesses with educational offerings and evidence informed research to help improve the competitive position of the NI agri-food industry. With regard to skills development the Centre will deliver bespoke courses targeted

to meet industry requirements in areas such as export development, sales and selling, and managing stock market price volatility. Future plans include a Master’s qualification based on industry needs. Research and innovation activity will focus on developing and improving products and processes, and seeking new market opportunities for agri-food business development and commercialisation. Research informed evidence will be undertaken to support policy decisions for Government departments, food body associations and other key industry stakeholders.

In delivering its support Ulster University Business School will use its links with local and international stakeholders such as CAFRE; St Joseph’s College of Food Marketing, Philadelphia; the Centres for Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship at Babson and Harvard; IDM Nations University, Sri Lanka.

Visiting Professor at the Business School, and Director of Mash Direct, Tracy Hamilton, said:

“I congratulate the Business School on this excellent initiative. The new Centre will provide much-needed support for the agri-food industry at a time of great change, and will greatly support skills development.”

“This international centre of excellence in agri-food business development will make a clear impact in terms of the Business School’s civic contribution as it focuses on the social and economic development of Northern Ireland, establishes meaningful agri-food industry networks and creates and enhances employment opportunities. We look forward with enthusiasm to welcoming our first students and to initiating our inaugural research projects,” concluded Professor Durkin.