London Connection Q&A: Dr Elizabeth Jackson

Dr Elizabeth Jackson tells us about food business management and her role in the MSc in Livestock Health and Production programme
Dr Elizabeth Jackson, Royal Veterinary College
Dr Elizabeth Jackson, Lecturer in Business at the Royal Veterinary College
Distance learning is not a solitary activity. Lecturers and students can learn from each other and share a considerable range of experiences – even though they may be hemispheres apart!

Dr Elizabeth Jackson studied for her undergraduate degree at Curtin University’s Muresk Institute of Agriculture in Western Australia and has an MBA from Curtin University’s Graduate School of Business. Her PhD, also from Curtin University’s Graduate School of Business, examined the behavioural determinants of farmers and their attitudes to using forward contracts for selling wool.

She worked in the grain industry in Australia for six years and was the Programme Director of the BSc Agribusiness Management degree at Newcastle University for four years, before joining the RVC as a Lecturer in Business in February 2014. Her new role includes providing academic support for the MSc in Livestock Health and Production

Could you tell us a little bit about your involvement with the MSc in Livestock Health and Production?
I hope to play an integral part in motivating students to appreciate the importance of business in animal health. With my experience in agribusiness management and marketing from my previous role, I hope to provide meaningful input into educating students on livestock management systems. I also want to help students appreciate consumers’ perceptions of quality and how this relates to livestock animal health.

What do you see as the challenges in teaching veterinary-related subjects via distance learning to working vets?
The most obvious challenge of teaching veterinary-related subjects via distance learning is to help facilitate students’ transition at the beginning of the course from their experiences of face-to-face learning (from school and university) to learning in a virtual environment. This is particularly the case for veterinary students who are used to learning in a very hands-on, practical style.

A further challenge is changing student perceptions that studying by distance learning is a solitary activity. It is so important for academics to create an inclusive learning culture where all participants (lecturers and students alike) can learn from each other and share a considerable range of experiences – even though participants may be hemispheres apart! 

"A real benefit of distance learning programmes is the exposure to international peers and the knowledge that is gained from learning from each other, sharing ideas and experiences"

What particularly interests you about working on these courses?
The most motivating aspect of teaching distance learning students is the fact that the students are located across the globe. It is absolutely essential that students are exposed to international issues due to the global nature of the livestock industry. A real benefit of students taking a distance learning programme is the exposure they get to international peers and the knowledge that is gained from learning from each other, sharing ideas and experiences. The benefit is not only realised by the students but the lecturers as well.

What research are you currently involved in and how might this inform the Livestock Health and Production course?
I am involved with the NEAT project which is a consortium funded by the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme. It aims to enable a wider core of people to teach economics and to create educational materials to promote the best use of economics by animal health professionals. The innovative teaching material developed from this project will greatly benefit students on the Livestock Health and Production Masters, in that the latest and most pedagogically advanced material will be used to help students to learn about the critical nature of animal health economics in livestock production systems.

In addition, my recent research into the competitiveness of European agribusinesses and power balances in milk supply chains will also be of relevance to the Livestock Health and Production students.

What are the big issues facing vets globally in relation to food supply chain systems?
This issue is all about food safety in terms of the maintenance of animal health for the provision of safe food for human consumption. Vets have a critical input into food chain systems as they provide food producers with essential knowledge on disease, disease management and humane, sustainable animal production systems.

sheepWhat future trends do you see in relation to agribusiness?
There is a variety of critical issues facing international agribusiness: cheap food vs safe food, food vs fuel, and local food vs imported food.  All of these issues principally revolve around the idea of resource allocation and where we should be concentrating our efforts. There are a lot of very clever people trying desperately to solve these hot issues. In the meantime, food supply chains are faced with the same problems of old, such as flooding in the UK, drought in the US, flooding and drought in Australia, disease in Africa and, of course, the general problems associated with processing and transport of perishable commodities. These problems are not isolated to the production of food but also impact on the distribution of food.

What has been the impact of the global economic downturn on food business management from a veterinary perspective?
Probably the most visible example of the pressures food businesses are facing as a result of the global economic downturn is the horse meat scandal in 2013. With consumers demanding inexpensive, readily available food, manufacturers and processors are under enormous pressure to streamline their systems in order to produce large quantities of products that incur low input costs. The horsemeat scandal highlights the difficulties of meeting consumer demands for inexpensive food from trustworthy and reliable sources, whilst keeping business costs down.