National approach to ag education needed
A NEW national approach to agricultural education is needed if Australia is going to be able to meet the expected agricultural production needs by 2020 according to a report released by the peak industry body for agricultural and natural resource management professionals.
According to a report released by the Ag Institute Australia (AIA), Victorian agriculture has been challenged to double agricultural production by 2020 thanks to the Asian population explosion, but this will not occur without the best possible agricultural education.
Currently in Victoria, a student can study agriculture at the University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, Northern Metropolitan Institute of TAFE and Box Hill TAFE.
Instead of “spreading resources thinly over all universities” the AIA believes the resources should be concentrated to achieve critical mass in each of the institutions.
“Think how much stronger the offering of agricultural education would be if a virtual faculty was created where by the resources of both universities can be combined to avoid duplication and wastage.
“Surely this would create a stronger faculty,” the report states.
The AIA, together with other interested parties who support the call for consultation between the University of Melbourne and the wider agricultural community including the Victorian Farmers Federation, Agribusiness Association, Grasslands Society of Victoria and Southern Farming Systems, aims to ensure that Australian agriculture has an adequate supply of bright young people who are suitably equipped as agriculturalists or agricultural science researchers.
The report noted that universities, including Melbourne, “will need to ensure that good fundamental science and a sound knowledge of the multiand inter-disciplinary activity known as agriculture underpin curricula”.
“This is particularly needed in the narrower, specialist disciplinary areas such as meat science, soil science and animal production and medicine,” the report stated.
“Employers observe that students graduating from the University of Melbourne (and many others) Department of Agriculture can do so without appearing sufficiently trained in agriculture nor the science of it.
“Inevitably, in the modern educational environment, characterised by shrinking pools of talent – both of potential students and existing staff – universities will need to combine their specialisations and strengths and co-operate in hitherto unprecedented ways to provide high quality training for agriculturalists and agricultural researchers in the future.”
The report also stated that there is a shortage of graduates that are equipped to enter the areas of international trade negotiation, domestic policy development and project management.
Meanwhile, Independent member for Indi Cathy McGowan recently called on the Federal Government to meet with the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture to discuss the proposed budget changes and the impacts on tertiary agricultural studies.
Ms McGowan said the proposed changes will have a detrimental effect on a $30 billion industry if it was not supported with world-leading science.
“Not only will increasing fees make it less attractive for students to choose agriculture, but it will make our agricultural courses less competitive, internationally.
“It’s already hard enough to attract post-graduate researchers because of the cost and the 100 percent proposed increase in fees for post graduates will become an even greater disincentive,” McGowan said.
The Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture has just appointed its new president – Holger Meinke from the University of Tasmania.
Professor Meinke said he would continue to help the industry towards sustainability through the provision of a world class education system.