Feature Article - Agricultural education - past, present and future
Contributed by Professor Rob Clark, University of Tasmania
Over the last 100 years, the face of agriculture in Tasmania has changed from one more characterised by a “way of life” philosophy and a subsistence farming approach to an industry which needs to be internationally competitive and which needs to focus on whole of supply chain issues. In this global market, successful agricultural industries will build on the State’s comparative advantages of abundant natural resources, island status and southern hemisphere position. To capture these opportunities, it is essential that Tasmania develops and invests through education and training, in its richest resource - people.
Increasingly, the skills and the knowledge base required to support agriculture cannot be acquired by experience or from previous generations, since much of the skills and knowledge base is new, technologically sophisticated and rapidly changing. Issues such as food health and safety, training in safe chemical handling, quality assurance, integrated pest and disease management strategies, sustainable resource management, genetically modified plants and animals, greenhouse gases and global warming, a changing business environment and international trade, etc. are all issues at the forefront in agriculture. As a result, the investment in education and training to deliver the science knowledge, business management and the technical skills base required by those engaged in agriculture, to turn our comparative advantages into competitive advantages, is increasingly important.
The outcomes of the national review of agricultural education in Australia (McColl, 1991), along with a Tasmanian review (Lazenby, 1992) and commitment from all stakeholders in Tasmania have all been catalysts to bring about major change in the provision and focus of agricultural and related education and training in Tasmania over the last 5 years. Perhaps the most significant outcome has been the establishment of a network of stakeholders within the Tasmanian Board of Agricultural Education (TBAE). This Board is comprised of representatives from the University of Tasmania, TAFE, Department of Education, Department of Primary Industry, Water and Environment (DPIWE), the Tasmanian Rural Industry Training Board (TRITB), the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association and representatives from agri-industry. Along with the TRITB, the TBAE has overviewed several significant outcomes for agricultural education and training in Tasmania, namely:
- introduction of new 3 year applied science courses in agriculture and horticulture;
- introduction of traineeships, certificates of agriculture, diplomas and vocational education in schools;
- development of articulation pathways between TAFE and the University;
- agreement on a “State Plan” for agricultural and related education and training in Tasmania - with undergraduate agricultural science training focused in Hobart within the School of Agricultural Science and skills training in agriculture based at Burnie within the School of Rural Industries;
- as part of the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research initiative, establishment of research laboratories at Burnie, to focus research into vegetable and dairy industries; and
In addition to the traditional agricultural education and training, in recent years there has been an increased emphasis on professional development and training using flexible delivery packages. These programs have been delivered by a variety of private and public providers and have been resourced through commonwealth and industry based training schemes.
Despite the increase, both in education and training opportunities available and in participation rates within these programs, there is still concern in agri-industry that the supply of new entrants into education and training programs is not sufficient to meet either current or forecast demands by industry.
Recruitment of new entrants into agriculture remains a challenge. This issue of recruitment of sufficient quality and quantity of new entrants to all levels of education and training within agriculture is recognised locally and nationally as one of the largest impediments to today’s agriculture capturing its future potential.
Too often, agriculture is portrayed in a very negative manner and there is failure to promote the scope, diversity and extent of career opportunities that are available to those who have the required skills and knowledge base. Agriculture and the related natural resource management professions will be increasingly looked to when seeking solutions to future management of our food and fibre systems, while managing our natural resources.
- introduction of competency based training and national frameworks for vocational education.