Muresk under new management

Melissa WilliamsCountryman
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Management of Muresk Institute of Agriculture in Northam has been handed over to the Department of Training and Workforce Development (DTWD), which aims to continue using the facility for training, education and research.

The department took over the campus on July 1 and it will now come under the responsibility of Minister Murray Cowper, who replaced Peter Collier in the Training and Workforce Development Portfolio in last month's State Cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Cowper will be under pressure from WA lobby group Primary Advocates to ensure the Muresk facility continues to be used for agricultural education and skills building.

Group managing director Roy Duncanson said the State Government could not afford to ignore an historically high shortage of tertiary graduates and workers entering WA's agricultural sector.

"Agriculture and mining in this State are experiencing the biggest shortfalls in skills of any other industry and these wealth-creating sectors are hamstrung by a lack of graduates," he said.

"For example, there are an estimated 10 vacancies for every one person who applies for an agronomy job in WA.

"Overall there are about 400 jobs in this State's agricultural sector for about 60 tertiary graduates each year.

"And there is anecdotal evidence that the vocational education sector is under just as much pressure to attract people into agriculturally related skills training as the tertiary sector, but it is hard to gather data."

Mr Duncanson said Primary Advocates was pushing the State Government for a response to the recent Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations references committee report into Higher Education and Skills Training to Support Agriculture and Agribusiness in Australia.

This report outlined the dire shortage of skills to meet future demand in agriculture and agribusiness and made a series of recommendations to address the problem.

Mr Duncanson said the report highlighted the need for Federal and State governments to support training and education in agriculture, but the treatment of the Muresk campus meant governments were failing the industry in future workforce planning.

"Governments can no longer ignore this issue, which is being reflected worldwide in agriculture and has been a trend for more than 40 years," he said.

Mr Duncanson said if Curtin University had found it difficult to fund agricultural courses based at the Muresk campus, it was likely other education and training providers would also find cost a major prohibitive factor.

A DTWD spokesman said the new Muresk Institute would promote and market training, education and skills development to a range of industries and have a practical, skills-oriented approach.

He said key areas of delivery would include agribusiness, agriculture and mining.

The spokesman said Muresk Institute would not deliver training courses, but would broker and facilitate vocational training and tertiary education to a range of private and public sector training providers that could deliver courses at the facility.

"Several key recommendations from the Senate inquiry report will be supported by the transformation of Muresk into a multi-tenanted and multi-functional vocational training, tertiary education and research facility," he said.

"The report's recommendations also reflect a range of projects already being progressed by the department, such as a mapping pathways project and delivery of an agribusiness associate degree through Curtin University and CY O'Connor Institute."

CY O'Connor currently offers a certificate IV in agribusiness at the Muresk campus.

DTWD has advised that the final cohort of third-year Curtin University agribusiness degree students would continue studying at Muresk Institute under the tutorage of university staff until semester two finishes in October this year.

It said Curtin University would continue to manage the 1738 hectare Muresk Farm until the end of harvest, likely to finish in early 2013.

Curtin University pro-vice chancellor of science and engineering Andris Stelbovics has previously told _Countryman _ that the university would not cut ties with Muresk, despite moving its agribusiness degree to its Bentley campus.

He said the university was interested in meeting CY O'Connor and agricultural colleges to assist developing pathways into the Curtin agribusiness degree.

The Muresk Reference Group met last week and it is understood a Muresk Advisory Group will be set up to advise the DTWD.

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