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Education failings dire: inquiry

Claire TyrrellCountryman
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WA must act now to address the "crisis in agribusiness education", according to key players in the sector.

A Senate inquiry into higher education and skills training to support future demand in agriculture and agribusiness in Australia came to WA last week.

Representatives from Muresk Old Collegians Association (MOCA), Murdoch University, the University of WA, the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture and Primary Advocates addressed the inquiry.

MOCA president Floyd Sullivan said a joint approach between agricultural institutions was necessary to address the issue.

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"It has come to a crisis point," he said.

"The Government can't ignore it anymore."

Mr Sullivan said one of MOCA's aims was to ensure agribusiness education pathways for young people from rural and regional WA.

The association also aims to encourage collaboration between education providers in Australia and overseas and to source the funds to upgrade the Muresk campus to ensure its infrastructure meets the education and training needs of regional Australia.

Mr Sullivan said he was pleased with comments made at the inquiry, but he hoped it was not "just another talkfest".

"Even if the Government does take some action, it will not take effect until 2014, and the flow-on graduates won't finish until 2020," he said.

"In the meantime there is a plethora of people in the industry who want to retire."

Mr Sullivan said there were just eight people completing a certificate four in agribusiness at TAFE in WA this year, and about 40 agriculture and agribusiness graduates each year from WA tertiary institutions.

Australian agribusiness council chief executive Roy Duncanson expressed concern about the ageing farming population and the lack of young people gaining education in the sector.

"The education sector is not posting winners when it comes to attracting people into areas that create our wealth," he said.

Mr Duncanson said that across Australia, just 700 people graduated from agriculture-related degrees each year, which was one sixth of what industry required.

He said agribusiness education required a "joint agency" approach to improve.

"The agribusiness sector is so large and so fragmented that nobody takes it upon themselves to promote it," Mr Sullivan said.

"Universities promote their brand, rather than the courses themselves."

Mr Duncanson said financial constraints meant many institutions had shied away from agriculture in recent years.

"Agriculture is very expensive to teach - the profit margins aren't there, which is why a lot of institutions are pulling out," he said.

The Senate inquiry has heard from 69 proponents so far.

A report on the inquiry is expected in June this year.

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