Just 0.57 per cent of Year 12 students in Victoria studied agriculture last year, with 287 students choosing the Agriculture and Horticulture Studies subject out of 50,610 students. This is 81 less students than 2014.
Several Marcus Oldham students believe the statistics were reflective of a systemic challenge the industry has attracting and promoting agricultural education to young people.
Marcus Oldham farm management student Hannah Martindale, Tonimbuk, said students were often “counselled” out of undertaking agricultural studies.
Because of standardisation practices within the states’ curriculum, Ms Martindale said subject scores were marked down acting as a deterrent to students when considering subject selection.
“Being a downgraded subject it deters the more academic students from completing the subjects,” Ms Martindale said.
“While science is upgraded, Agriculture Studies is penalised like the arts and drama which doesn’t reflect the expectations of agricultural courses that require an understanding of sciences and math.
“If you’re an academic student that wants to study agriculture at university, you don’t select ag-studies because your ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) is penalised.”
Ms Martindale felt discouraged from pursuing agricultural studies at university because of her academic success, as well as the career councillor’s lack of knowledge about the potential career options.
“Teachers sell it as a farmers’ subject and I don’t think they even understand or promote the diversity of careers available which can lead from agriculture studies,” she said.
“This means many intelligent students that are interested in ag are being funnelled into other careers, such as medicine and law.”
The students believed the lack of promotion of agricultural careers was amplifying the urban and rural divide, leading to a poor defense of the industry when came to animal activism and political representation.
Marcus Oldham bachelor of agribusiness student Nikka Gilder, Merriwa, NSW, said the main issue was one of perception by the Australian community with Agriculture often associated with only the physical practice of farming.
“Agriculture is more than driving a tractor or shearing a sheep but it isn’t selling itself,” Ms Gilder said.
“Half the problems the industry is facing is because we are not educating people at an early stage of what agriculture is about and the different pathways there are to be a part of the industry.”
Marcus Oldham farm management student Sam Bunge, Coleraine, said most teachers were unaware of the diverse opportunities in the fields of agriculture and horticulture and often advised students to undertake more traditional academic courses such as Biology or Chemistry.
“Some regional schools, particularly private, are more focused on high ATARs, influenced by sciences and math, to boost their advertised academic results and student university acceptances rather than focusing on the health of agricultural jobs in their local area,” he said.
“Getting students to return to their home town to work among the regional network that supports farmers, rather moving to urban areas, would greatly benefit regional communities.”
The ramifications, Mr Bunge said, was an industry which was on the back-foot defending itself when it came to government or social issues.
He said the industry needed to be more proactive in promoting gap year employment opportunities to engage young people at an early stage in their career.
An initiative by the Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia (PIEFA) aims to combat the challenges attracting students to agricultural professions, by developing resources from across Australia for students and teachers.
“There has definitely been an increase in the awareness of the career shortages and the lack of skilled people entering the workforce and the broader lack of community understanding about modern agricultural practices, production and opportunities within the industry,” PIEFA chief executive Ben Stockwin said.
“Our current challenge is ensuring that educators’, including careers advisors’, knowledge about agricultural opportunities is strong enough to pass on to students.
“In the last 12 months PIEFA has had a concerted focus in student teacher learning, including career advisors, and this is something we aim to focus on in the next three years.”
PIEFA are seeking a three year funding agreement for the Agriculture in Education program which ended in June.
“There is a growing awareness out there but we feel the job is only half done,” Mr Stockwin said.
“Agriculture will continue to be one of the mainstays of the Australian economy. There will always be booms and busts in other commodities but with the growth of the middle class in China and the rest of the world, projections show the the need for high quality ethically produced, sustainable products will continue so job opportunities will only increase.”