Curtin confirms Muresk interest

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Plans for Curtin University to re-engage with the Northam-based Muresk campus to enhance its agribusiness degree course have been confirmed by vice-chancellor Deborah Terry.

The responsibility for Muresk's operation was transferred from Curtin University to the State Government in 2012, amid falling enrolment numbers.

Meanwhile, Curtin's agribusiness degree was shifted to the Bentley campus in Perth, with practical experience gained through field trips to rural areas, including Muresk's Northam campus.

However, after the strong upturn in agriculture in recent years, there is now a healthier appetite for agribusiness courses and Curtin sees that a closer link with the Muresk campus could enhance educational opportunities.

Professor Terry, who joined Curtin two years ago from the University of Queensland, is working with Muresk Institute to develop a memorandum of understanding, and recently hosted a luncheon with members of the Muresk Old Collegians Association to discuss issues and gain their input.

"Curtin has retained significant teaching and research programs in agriculture through science and agribusiness courses in particular," she said.

"We are looking at how the outcomes of those programs could be enhanced by having stronger engagement with Muresk Institute into the future.

"Re-engaging with Muresk would provide us with the opportunity to provide enriched educational opportunities."

Professor Terry said the draft MOU did not recommend reinstating the full agribusiness course at the Northam-based campus, rather envisaging a "living laboratory" for trials and research based at Muresk. Meanwhile, block courses could be offered on the campus.

"The most realistic outcome is that subjects would be taught in blocks - what we call a winter or summer school," she said.

"So students would be up there taking one or two units - but in a concentrated delivery."

Professor Terry said she hoped the MOU would be finalised early this year, with a view to the re-engagement starting in 2017.

She said also under consideration was for Curtin to collaborate with other education providers to offer an Advanced Diploma in Agriculture Technologies, which is offered by the University of Queensland at Muresk. This could be transferred to Curtin, and could act as a pathway into the agribusiness degree course.

She said offering a pathway into the degree course through the advanced diploma could increase agribusiness enrolments.

Another option is to offer a fourth-year industry honours course, possibly part-time.

"The industry is often keen to have fourth-year graduates, so we are looking at an industry honours course that could be done over two years," Professor Terry said.

"Not only is interest in agribusiness courses increasing, students are securing jobs in the lead-up to graduation.

"The industry is saying they do like the skills gained in the fourth year, but recognise also they are the ones seeking to recruit graduates in their third year.

"Therefore it could work to offer a fourth year industry course over two years part-time."

Although Professor Terry joined Curtin after its decision to exit Muresk, she was reluctant to be critical of the decision.

"I understand the issues of the time, which were significant in terms of infrastructure," she said.

Professor Terry said in 2013 enrolments in Curtin's agribusiness course were about 33, doubling to 66 in 2015. Current preferences indicate enrolments would increase further in 2016.

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