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Hansard Transcript, June 25, 3 min statement - Ag Education

Posted June 25, 2014


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (10:22):  My topic today is education, agriculture and the deregulation of university fees. I want to use the example I know best: Australian agricultural research and development. We have a documented shortage of professional tertiary educated agriculturists in Australia and demand for these people far outstrips supply.

Coupled with this excess demand, we have an ageing research workforce and an industry-wide inability to build a pipeline of graduates into postgraduate study and early career positions.

Proposed budget changes will accentuate what is already a major national issue. We do not have enough graduates now. How will increasing the cost of these courses give us more? Clearly agriculture is important to the Australian economy. Between March 2013 and 2014, agriculture had a gross value of $30,263 million. The government's plan is that agriculture will grow in exports, in employment, in manufacturing, in business, in production—and tertiary education is essential to that growth. The irony is that demand exists for agricultural graduates—we have the jobs.

The Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture report demand for more than 4,000 jobs in agriculture last year matched by only 800 actual graduates. The Weekly Times reports, however, it will be cheaper for students to undertake this tertiary study in New Zealand, Canada and the US with the proposed changes. Melbourne University estimates that three years of its agricultural degree while staying on campus will cost between $97,000 $112,000 with the changes. While at Lincoln university in New Zealand, exactly the same course will only cost $60,000.

So, sadly, it is not just the cost of an undergraduate degree that will be affected by these changes and the brain drain that will result; even more importantly, from my perspective, are the long-term impacts on the future of agricultural research and development.

The problem is that our postgraduate students do not get paid enough, they do not stay in the industry long enough and they get poached by overseas companies to work with multinational companies. We cannot hold them and we think that, with the 100 per cent increase in fees that we are proposing with this legislation, they will just not stay.

I understand the assumption behind the changes, that competition and markets will deliver a better result. However, I do not believe that in this case. We already have market failure.

In closing, I call on the government, particularly on my National Party colleagues opposite: would you please meet with the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture, take their advice and make the appropriate amendments to this legislation.

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