Incorporating sustainability in NextGen: HN qualifications (centre-led developments) - Case Study

NextGen: HN Horticulture studentQualification: HNC Agriculture, HNC Agricultural Technology, HNC Horticulture 

The NextGen: HN project has a key aim to support the development of locally devised and specialist qualifications. Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) were the first to embrace the opportunity for a centre-led development. SRUC has developed HNC Agriculture and HNC Agricultural Technology, while UHI has developed HNC Horticulture. 


SRUC’s new learning and teaching strategy places sustainability, enterprise, equality, diversity, and active blended learning at the centre of their courses. In addition, SRUC aims to focus on real-world scenarios within their learning and teaching strategy.  

SRUC intends consideration of social, environmental, and economic challenges to run throughout its courses through use of an SRUC-devised scoring system. A key element of the SRUC-devised scoring system is focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, alongside real-world scenarios while promoting enterprising learner mindsets and behaviours.

through this strategy, SRUC aims for its learning and teaching to support students to develop the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes about sustainability, equality and diversity that will equip them to tackle the challenges facing our world today.

Dr Pauline Hanesworth, Head of Learning and Teaching at SRUC

NextGen: HNC Agriculture

Regenerative farming is a holistic system of farming principles and practices.  It seeks to regenerate land, soil, and water, alongside the wider environment, whilst ensuring production of high-quality food and supporting a diversified enterprise. These sustainability principles and practices are embedded in outcomes across the HNC Agriculture units. Learners are required to consider farm activities that potentially cause environmental damage and how to minimise the damage. An example of which could be the consideration of environmental maintenance and improvement measures, alongside improved agricultural and renewable technologies. 

Farmers are being encouraged to seek new income streams to augment their income. NFU Mutual’s Voice of the Farmer (June 2022) found that 33% of 1654 UK farmers surveyed have already diversified, and that 85% of those who have expect the importance of their non-farming activities to increase or stay the same in the next five years. Alternative income streams are captured within the Diversified Enterprises in Rural Businesses (J6FG 47) unit, where learners are required to investigate renewable technologies and diversified enterprises available to rural business. Within the unit, learners are required to identify how these can be integrated into a farm business, resource requirements (physical, financial, marketing, and human), environmental considerations, and sustainable practices. 

Lead developer for NextGen: HN Agriculture, Dr Jan Connell, reflected that “it has been so refreshing to be able to review how we deliver our teaching in Agriculture and NextGen allows us to fully integrate our subjects with the environmental and sustainability concepts at the core of everything we teach.” 

NextGen: HNC Agricultural Technology

Modern agriculture is energy-driven together with energy-intense, and has long depended on fossil fuels. However, demands can be reduced through utilising precision agriculture approaches. The HNC Agricultural Technology qualification will develop and assess learners’ knowledge and understanding of the application of Information Technology, innovative tools, renewable technologies, and sustainable management practices. Learners will gain knowledge and understanding about how these considerations can optimise agricultural production and profit while reducing resource use, cost, and environmental impact. 

The Renewable Energy Systems in Agriculture (J6FA 47) unit will develop learners’ knowledge and understanding of current issues and trends in the production and use (supply and demand) of energy for agriculture and the wider agri-food industry. Unit outcomes require learners to explore ways in which renewable energy sources relevant to agricultural technology can minimise global climate change risk, while considering the financial and environmental costs. 


NextGen: HNC Horticulture

Research by The Land Trust found that green spaces provide multiple economic, environmental, and social benefits to local communities and wider society. The commercial cultivation of plants for food, medicines, science, and art extends from small allotments and market gardens to parks, leisure and sports grounds, open spaces, and managed landscapes. This diversity of cultivation and use relies on the plants alongside good quality soil and its maintenance as a resource.  

HNC Horticulture develops an understanding of plant physiology and soil ecology alongside the benefits of horticulture to society and communities through green spaces while considering the therapeutic benefits of growing plants. Additionally, the course explores the future of growing practices while considering resources and recycling. 

The Ecology and Environment for Horticulture (J6F2 47) unit aims to highlight ecological and environmental issues learners must consider when designing, creating, and maintaining commercial gardens and green spaces. Learners will apply their knowledge and understanding of ecological and environmental principles and of sustainability to an actual or planned project.  

“In developing this new course, we have consulted with educators and industry to produce a curriculum that looks forward for the role of horticulture in attaining net zero goals and reinforcing a culture of sustainability across the industry in the future.”

Dr Robert Boyd, UHI Lead developer.

We have highlighted the development phase of the three centre-led NextGen: HN qualifications.  We will be approaching learners and practitioners for reflections on their experiences and will provide an update at the end of the pilot year. 

The approaches adopted in the three examples should ensure learners exit with a good understanding of the concept of sustainability alongside an understanding about how this is considered within the context of their own subject area.   This knowledge and understanding, alongside the skills and confidence developed throughout their qualification, will help learners drive change in the next stage of their lives and agricultural and horticultural careers.  

If you would like to explore opportunities to embed sustainability in your qualification, contact