UCD expands Ag Science degrees to include Big Data

UCD looks to the future following the opening of its €2.3m dairy research facility with a choice of 12 degree courses for its 1,800 agriculture student cohort

A student in one of the labs at UCD
A student in one of the labs at UCD

Ken Whelan

Anew 'Big Data' degree in agric­ulture to meet the expanding graduate require­ments of the country's expanding agribusiness sector is the highlight of next year's offering from the UCD School of Agriculture.

The faculty, which this year opened its €2.3m research centre at the Lyons Estate in Celbridge, Co Kildare, will have 12 degree courses for its 1,800 student cohort in 2017.

Student applications to UCD remain buoyant though slightly down on the record interest taken in agricultural studies in the immediate aftermath of the economic collapse eight years ago.

Then doing agricultural studies was the only game in town for young students as careers in banking, the construction industry and the public service seized up.

"North of 470 points from the Leaving Certificate were required in the immediate aftermath of the crash but they are now coming back a little as the economy improves and students consider alternative career paths," UCD registrar Damien Dempsey (inset) told the Farming Independent this week.

Nevertheless, agricultural studies are holding as a preferred student option, particularly for those from a rural background.

And the link-up between UCD and the broad agribusiness sector remains strong, as does student interest in pursuing careers in the sector, he added.

The new four-year 'Big Data' degree is a response to industry needs and covers a diverse range of agri-studies including precision farming, GIS and remote sensing systems, microbiology, applied biostatistics, and quantitative risk assessment. These are all studied alongside the established agriscience disciplines.

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Students here will have an option to spend one of four years of studying in UCD associate universities in the USA and Australia.

Dempsey said the degree was designed to address and manage technology for the agricultural and food sector, with a focus on design, numeracy and technology.

"The students will be engaged in food production and processing and specifically with technology ranging from computer systems, data management and networks and sensors, through machinery systems to precision farming," Dempsey explained.

UCD currently run various agricultural science programmes. As well as the Big Data degree, there is Animal Crop Production, Animal Science, Animal Science - Equine, Food and Agribusiness, Dairy Business, Agri-Environmental Sciences and Food Science, Human Nutrition, Horticulture and Sports Turf Management, and Forestry.

Dempsey said the new dairy research facility at Lyons Estate will strengthen the research and education avenues open to both students and researchers and to further secure the dairy sector's ability to increase its current €3bn plus export value and planned milk production rise to 7.5 billion litres over the next three years.

"The opportunities in the agri-sector at the moment are excellent and as long as that is the case it will be reflected in our student cohort," Dempsey said.

"Generally most of our graduates find positions within the agribusiness sector when they graduate, though many opt to go abroad for employment after college," he added.

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