Tertiary agricultural education in Australasia: where to from here?
Meinke, H and Batt, PJ and McKenzie, B and Bonney, L and Pratley, J and Botwright Acuna, T, Tertiary agricultural education in Australasia: where to from here?, Proceedings of the Agricultural Higher Education in the 21st Century, 15-17 June 2015, Zaragoza, Spain, pp. 67-79. ISSN 1016-121X (2015) [Refereed Conference Paper]
Agriculture, i.e. the ability to provide food reliably and efficiently for all, will remain the backbone of our economies. Although the relative economic importance of agriculture has diminished over time, its social and political importance has never been questioned. This special status of agriculture as a pillar of our societies means that we need to pay close attention to the way we teach and deliver agricultural curricula at university level. Agriculture is particularly important in Australasia, a region at the edge of SE Asia, where rapid population growth and demographic changes are putting unprecedented pressure on food systems. This paper examines the current state of tertiary agricultural education in Australasia and highlights some of the foreseeable trends that will drive educational policies for the next few decades. We conclude that the two major regional economies, Australia and New Zealand, share a responsibility and a desire to provide modern and forward-looking curricula that will equip graduates with relevant skill sets and make them 'employment ready'. In Australia such graduate attributes have recently been negotiated via a broad, consultative process that resulted in the Agriculture Learning and Teaching Academic Standards (AgLTAS). The standards describe the nature and extent of the agricultural discipline as well as a set of Teaching and Learning Outcomes (TLOs) that were identified by potential employers as 'business critical': Knowledge, Understanding, Inquiry and Problem Solving, Communication and Personal and Professional Responsibility. Australia and New Zealand also have the governance and institutional infrastructure that will allow them to act as educational hubs for the region and be responsive to the training and development needs of their nearest neighbours. This should also assist countries such as Fiji and Papua New Guinea to reform their curricula and upskill their academic workforce. Continuous and rapid changes in information technology requires constant curriculum review and renewal. Concepts such as on-line delivery, blended learning and flipped classrooms need to be part of curriculum delivery. A greater emphasis on pre-degree delivery and a greater responsiveness to articulated business needs is required to meet industry demand for a well-educated and skilled workforce. Satisfying market demands in the pre-degree space can create pathways for a future university education. The role of universities in providing tertiary education in agriculture that is aligned with market needs will require flexibility from administrators, staff, curriculum developers, industry and students.