Creating opportunities to expand into the world of food and drink is top of the agenda for Richard Frazier, head of department for food and nutritional science at the University of Reading.
Courses at the university are tailor-made to make industry as accessible as possible, he explains. “We offer a range of courses, from undergraduate to postgraduate, that are accessible at a number of levels,” says Frazier.
“We take students into our undergraduate BSc courses, which span food science, food science with business, food technology with bioprocessing, nutrition and food science and nutrition with consumer sciences.
“All of our courses are available with industrial placement years. That gives our students the opportunity to spend a year working in industry, gaining experience, which sets them up for their future careers. We have very good employability outcomes because of that.”
The university takes about 80 undergraduate students into its food science and nutrition courses each year, with the majority choosing to take courses in nutritional science.
Frazier comments: “The courses that have more of a nutrition focus are becoming increasingly popular. But one thing we’ve always stayed true to in our undergraduate courses is to ensure we have the food science content built in, so we’re producing graduates who have good opportunities in terms of working in the food industry. We’re very focused on our graduates’ employability in the food sector.”
Shaping future workers
Students also take placement years within the industry to build up their experience – an invaluable component in shaping the future industry workers. As Frazier says, this placement often creates a greater connection between the industry and students.
“When they return to study for their final year, you can see the transformation they’ve gone through – they get why, and how, what they have been learning is relevant and how it is applied in the industry. It really enhances how they perform in their studies and makes them much more employable because they have that experience.”
Of course, the challenge lies in enticing students leaving college into choosing the path towards a food and drink career – an issue hampered by existing preconceptions of the industry as not being glamorous to work in.
To counter this, the university has set up schemes to help show first-year A-Level students the benefits and opportunities presented by a career in food and drink.
“For a number of years we’ve run a summer school for A-Level students – who are looking at what their options are – to give them a flavour of what it’s like to study at university and to open up their eyes to the wide range of opportunities in food,” Frazier adds.
However, courses don’t just cater to younger students. As part of the AgriFood Training Partnership, a collaboration between many universities across the UK, Reading also offers a broad selection for people already working in the industry to top up their knowledge or pursue further education, explains Frazier.
“It’s postgraduate-level training for professionals who are already pursuing a career in the food industry and who want to take their skills up to the next level, particularly if they want to advance to a higher level, a managerial position or just want to update their knowledge in a particular area,” he says.
“That can be taken as standalone CPD [continuous professional development] courses or bolted together into a qualification, if that’s something they want to do. There are a lot of flexible pathways for different types of individuals from different backgrounds to be able to come in and study with us.”
One demographic that hasn’t needed any convincing to join the university has been women, who have been dominating food science courses of late, says Frazier.
“Over the past 30 years it has shifted to become more female-dominated, though I’d say there’s been a pick-up in the number of male students we’ve been getting more recently. Ideally, you’d like to see a balance in your student cohort, but it’s also very encouraging to see we’re promoting careers for women in science.”
The university works closely with major names in the industry – such as Nestlé and Mondelēz – to gain sponsorship for PhD research in food science. Looking forward, Reading is in the process of redeveloping its Masters degrees to provide a closer engagement between students and the industry during their training, with plans for the first students to start these courses next year.
“We’re looking at how we can tailor the research project element of those Masters to be more aligned with industry-led research project challenges, where we would work closely with industry and have them involved with supervision, so the students have a much closer interaction with industry,” Frazier says.
Entrepreneurship and innovation
The University of Reading is a leading member of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology’s (EIT’s) food network – a pan-European consortium that focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation in the food sector, adds Frazier.
“Through that, we are developing more professional development training courses that will feed into our offering and give more opportunities for companies to train their employees in the latest food innovations,” he explains.
“The whole idea of this EIT food community is knowledge transfer between industry and universities, and promoting innovation and business creation.”
Reading’s food science students have celebrated success on the international stage of late, placing second in last year’s pan-European student innovation competition Ecotrophelia. The team won the UK leg of the contest with its novel cauliflower rice sushi rolls.
“We’re very proud of the success we’ve had and it reflects the calibre of our students and the experience they’ve had here at Reading. In particular, the success last year’s team had surpassed all expectations,” says Frazier.
The university has used the principles of the Ecotrophelia competition and built them into its revamped product innovation courses. According to Frazier, those principles are important in conveying the targets and challenges in creating food products that are both sustainable and eco-friendly.
The University of Reading
Courses on offer: Undergraduate BSc courses in food science, food science with business, food technology with bioprocessing, nutrition and food science, and nutrition with consumer sciences. Masters degrees in food science, food technology, quality assurance and nutrition with food science.
Student capacity: 80 students on undergraduate courses each year; 42 on postgraduate courses.
Plans for the University: Redeveloping its Masters degrees to provide a closer engagement between students and the industry, starting in 2019. Providing more professional development training courses for people already working in the food industry.