Muresk vision 'unclear'

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Former Muresk students have criticised the State Government's latest plans for the Northam site, claiming that without change it will do little to deliver agricultural leaders of the future.

WA Training and Workforce Development Minister Peter Collier launched his new vision for Muresk at a gathering of about 100 people last Thursday.

Mr Collier said the facility would no longer offer tertiary training from next year. It would instead become a self-financed "centre of excellence", offering vocational training across several industries.

"The future for Muresk requires diversity and developing a modern campus that provides a variety of new training options, while recognising and investing in its traditional training focus," he said.

"I am committed to Muresk bringing new courses online and developing a centre of excellence in agricultural and agribusiness education at Muresk involving vocational education and training providers and universities."

The announcement triggered mixed reactions from the audience and many doubted the vision would address the critical shortage of agribusiness professionals.

Author of the Cowan Report into agricultural education, Hendy Cowan, said he hoped Muresk's new business model would solve the crisis agricultural education faced.

"A review of agribusiness education facilities revealed that Muresk was very underutilised," he said.

"Every year there is unmet demand in agriculture - to the tune of 3500 people. While there is unmet demand, there does need to be promotion to encourage young people to go into agriculture."

New courses at Muresk on offer from 2012 include horticulture, mining, conservation and land management and fire fighting.

About $10 million of Royalties for Regions funding will be invested in capital infrastructure at the Muresk facility.

Vocational training facilitator Steve Cooper, appointed managing director of Muresk Redevelopment, said the key to securing a strong future at Muresk was attracting investment from other institutions.

"We will be putting a business case to industry that will provide funding for Muresk," he said.

Mr Cooper earmarked Aboriginal training, civil construction and courses for international students as a part of the revamped Muresk.

"There needs to be a mix because we need to multi-skill people for the industry," he said.

Curtin pro vice-chancellor of science and engineering Andris Stelbovics said the university would not cut ties with Muresk, despite moving its agribusiness degree to its Bentley campus.

"We are interested in meeting with (Muresk facilitator) CY O'Connor Institute and agricultural colleges to assist in developing pathways into the Curtin agribusiness degree," he said.

"We haven't stopped teaching what we are teaching here, but have relocated to Bentley."

Mr Stelbovics signalled a credit point arrangement with Muresk, in that the university could recognise Muresk students' prior learning.

But members of Muresk Old Collegians Association (MOCA) were dismayed by the Minister's announcement.

MOCA board member Louise Draper-Sevenson called on Mr Collier to address the association's concerns.

"We are frustrated by the lack of response to our proposals," she said.

"We want industry to be consulted on what they want rather than to have something thrust upon them.

"We also want Muresk to have its own independent board, as recommended by the Cowan Report."

MOCA board member Gavin Crane said industry consultation was crucial to the success of Muresk.

"Graduates from Muresk end up as parts of the supply chain, so the whole supply chain needs to be consulted as to what they need from graduates," he said.

In a letter to Mr Collier, MOCA argued that the plan's lack of clarity in terms of tertiary education linkages could weaken enrolments for 2012 and limit the ability of CY O'Connor to attract students.

"While we acknowledge your good intentions with regard to the announcement … the basic thrust of your announcement may well result in the reverse effect to that which you intended," the letter stated.

MOCA secretary Roy Duncanson added that while the intent of the new proposal was probably fine, the concern was that without any changes, the legislation would prevent it from delivering the outcomes industry needed.

The letter went on to say that while the new Muresk might get support from a segment of the market that was focused on Vocational Education and Training (VET) outcomes, the direction proposed could signal to the agricultural industry that their graduates' needs could not be delivered through a Department of Training and Workforce Development-Muresk.

Mr Collier denied MOCA's claims that his government ignored the group.

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