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The history of Nuffield – part 3

Selection of Scholars

Scholars have been selected by a very prestigious Selection Committee ever since 1947, and the experience is one which has made a lasting impact upon us all!. The Committee is assisted when selecting for the Special and Regional Awards by representatives of the donors, and the whole process is carried out in March. Scholars are briefed both as a group and individually often at Wye College, and, since 1984 have travelled to Brussels as a group for a few days of instruction in EU affairs and mechanisms.

It has always been the policy of the Selection Committee to stretch the candidates and many have been startled by the range of questioning. The logic of this questioning is worthy of comment. What we were looking for was, firstly, the potential to benefit from a Nuffield award and, secondly, evidence that the applicant was not merely interested in himself but in some wider contribution and responsibility. We were not just looking for someone who had technical proficiency. For example one applicant, a specialist grower, said that no way would he share any knowledge he gained; business was far too tough for that! He failed!.

A candidate who, when arriving in America, was asked “what is really going on in Northern Ireland” should not reply that “Its nothing to do with me, I am studying calabrese”. Nuffield Scholars must be knowledgeable and fully conscious of the wider world. Selectors have always been selected themselves for their ability to probe into the deepest recesses of the candidates characters, and none was more adept at this than Professor Gordon Dickson. His question “Are you a committed Christian? If not why not? Answer in one minute!,” struck one candidate almost dumb. One can understand the candidate to study potato farming in France, being grilled about what steps he would take if appointed Minister of Agriculture that afternoon, wondering what was the relevance of the question!

Almost every candidate, during my term as Director, left the room certain that he or she had performed dismally, to weep on the shoulder of my secretary.

Looking back on that period I can only think of two or three candidates who should have been awarded scholarships, who failed to gain the selectors approval. Similarly only a very few of those selected have failed to make some mark, be it ever so small in some cases, on the agricultural scene, locally or nationally.

Overseas scheme

In 1950 the Nuffield Foundation started a parallel scheme in several countries of the British Commonwealth, under which farmers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Kenya, The Rhodesias and Tanzania, came to Britain for a study period of six months. In the early days scholars travelled by sea and when in UK by train and bicycle. Later developments in transport brought them by air and the Milk Marketing Board provided small cars for their use.

On their arrival scholars were allocated “First Farmer Hosts” by the NFU to whom they went for their first two or three weeks here. The hosts and guests were not always well matched, as noted by the Australian scholar who was sent to a Welsh speaking farmer who had no English. Being myself on the NFU Development and Education Committee which organised the hosting, I was able to exert an influence on the process and gradually took it over, using UK Nuffield Scholars as hosts and linking the two schemes together.

In 1976, the Foundation required the Commonwealth countries who were still in the Overseas scheme, namely Australia, Canada and New Zealand (the African countries of what were then Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia having dropped out for political reasons after their independence, and S. Rhodesia through UDI), to fund their own awards from their own resources.

All three countries took up the challenge, but, with the Foundation relinquishing all control, a vacuum was left in the management and control of the Overseas scholars. In response to requests from Australia, the UKFST, as it then was, undertook responsibility for arranging the UK programmes but there was still no overall co-ordination of the rules and conditions of the Scheme.

In agreement with George Wilson, who chaired the Australian Committee, a Conference was called in London, attended by Wilson himself; Charles Hilgendorf from New Zealand, both national chairmen, and Gary Carlson the secretary of the Canadian committee, as well as the UKFST Officers. A week of discussions with considerable hospitality from the High Commissioners concluded with an agreed set of conditions.

The principal result was that UKFST would manage the Overseas scholars when in Britain. All scholars would be selected and funded in their own countries and would spend at least six weeks in Britain for a corporate period when all scholars took part in a comprehensive acquaint programme arranged by UKFST.

Plainly scholars in some specialist subjects would not spend their whole six months in Britain which did not perhaps have the expertise in their chosen subjects. For instance, New Zealanders studying their lamb export market would need to travel extensively in Europe and a pineapple farmer would need to travel to tropical areas of the world.

UKFST, however, held no overall control and final authority was vested in the three yearly conference of national organisers to be held in participating countries by rota. The first conference was held in Australia in 1980 and in addition to the organisers, all Nuffield Scholars worldwide were invited as observers. A superb programme was laid on by the hosts. Subsequent Conferences have been held in Canada, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and the most recent in Queensland.

As a result of taking over the responsibility of the Overseas (Now called “Visiting”) Scholars and having achieved the objective of distinguishing between the UKFST and the Nuffield Foundation, it was decided to change the name to the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust.

The Overseas Scheme was by no means static. In 1981 the situation in S. Rhodesia had been resolved and the country became Zimbabwe. They immediately asked to rejoin the scheme and a Trust in the name of David Spain, (who was killed in a car accident) was set up. The Conference readily agreed to their re-entry and in 1982 the first Zimbabwean scholar came to Britain with the group.

At the request of the Conference, Overseas scholars were obliged to spend four weeks on the continent and it was decided that, as part of their joint programme, they should visit the Paris Agricultural Show and follow that with a few days of visits to French farms, before spending three days in Brussels being briefed at a high level in the working of the EEC. During the second of these visits John Cyster and I visited all the representatives to EEC of the principal European members, to sound them out on the possibility of their joining the scheme.

Most of the representatives felt that their farmers, mostly being one man operators, would be unable to afford to spend six months away from their farms, but the French representative – M. Collet – was vastly enthusiastic and went off hot foot to Paris to discuss the matter with his boss – M. Clavel of the Bureau d’Agriculture. A few weeks later we were summoned to Paris for a meeting with M. Clavel and the Chairman of Credit Agricole – the French farmers bank. The latter agreed to fund one scholar per year and procedures were agreed for selection and briefing. Obviously the main pre-requisite was a working knowledge of English and so the selection committee transacted its business in English, with the Director of NFST in the chair.

The Conference readily agreed to the input from Europe and the first French scholar joined the group in 1982. This leavening of the scheme has proved one of its greatest successes. Discussions are in progress about the admission of other countries but there is general feeling “Down under” that the intimate nature of the scheme might be destroyed if it were to be enlarged.

Go to: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4

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