Traditionally agriculture has been perceived as a career choice for students who are practically orientated but not necessarily strong academically. Secondary students have been under the impression 'that a career in agriculture means driving a tractor' for too long. This dilemma session will outline whether or not there is a need to attract high achieving students from metropolitan schools into agricultural courses at university. A report on the two year pilot study that eventuated will also be summarised.
This study is also unique in that it involves the collaboration of two universities quite distinct in their agricultural courses and will outline any problems and conflicts that arose. Actual examples from the five day agricultural camps will be presented and ideas for further development explored.
The University of Western Australia (UWA) and Curtin University of Technology (CUT) both offer courses in agriculture although they emphasise different aspects of agriculture. Typically UWA concentrates on agricultural science and economics (at the Faculty of Agriculture) whereas CUT emphasises agribusiness and management of agricultural industries (at the Muresk Institute of Agriculture) In this paper we present the collaborative efforts between these two universities with campuses 100 km apart which aimed at increasing the awareness of high achieving high school students about the diverse careers in agriculture.
Letters were sent to principals, science masters and counselors in every metropolitan high school (54). They were asked to inform students of the camp and select the best student with some interest in Agriculture. The general term "Careers in Agriculture" was selected but brochures sent to schools included information on the range of career options - for example aquaculture, viticulture, soil science etc and the degrees offered at both campuses. Students were asked to provide their last year's academic record, a short reference from a teacher and to write a paragraph outlining what they thought they would gain from the camp.
Applications were received from 57 students in 1996 and 42 students in 1997. Students were selected on three criteria: adequate grades in english, maths and science for university entrance, preferably one student per school and a balance between boys and girls. Thirty students were selected to participate in each camp and represented both public and private schools. The response for the first camp was much higher and attracted more scholarly students in general. This was thought to be due to the application forms and fliers going out earlier in the first year as compared to the second year.
|% of students responding|
|strongly agree||agree||neutral||disagree||strongly disagree|
It should be pointed out that some students who attended the camp may have been from a rural background but were boarding at a Perth school. Should the camp be confined only to metropolitan schools? Many students from rural areas may also benefit from attending the camp. Rural students may be equally unaware of the full range of careers available in the agricultural industries.
Students were introduced to each other, their mentors and camp organisers as the first activity and the week's program was outlined. Within each University, a range of activities were organised representing the disciplines taught such as tissue culture, pollen germination, yoghurt making, soil health, tree planting, sheep handling and market analysis. A number of university professors and academics attended the camp and brought with them a wealth of information and cultural variety. Guided tours were given for each of the campuses. Excursions included visits to Alcoa, the Sumich Group, Bank-West (Perth), Agriculture WA, a free range emu farm, mixed farming, alpacas and a visit to the Minister of Primary Industries (Monty House). Recreational activities included wall climbing, various games and agricultural quizzes.
Recent graduates presented seminars on life as a student at UWA or Muresk and career paths leading to their current positions. Recent graduates took great pride in their place of qualifications and needed to be monitored closely as they tended to be very biased, recommending their place of study strongly. Some discomfort/conflict arose between UWA/CUT during these sessions. A reunion dinner at the second camp in 1997 was attended by 12 students which was very worthwhile although more time should have been taken to welcome these students and make them feel special.
The students were impressed with the broad spectrum of careers available to people with backgrounds in agriculture and the contrast of BankWest to AgWA was useful in emphasising this diversity. Information about entry requirements for University admission and entry preparation (TEE) was also discussed. Students who applied for a place on the camp (and their teachers and parents) but missed out were invited to a tour of the Faculty of Agriculture (UWA) and afternoon tea and to the Muresk Open Day later in the year.
By the end of the camp survey, all students thought they knew much more about agriculture and related degree and career opportunities. There was some interest in new courses such as natural resource management, wool science, viticulture and aquaculture.
Students enjoyed the experience of both campuses. The two Universities have a different emphasis on agriculture (business vs science) and this was exploited by both universities. This could have been a problem with both universities potentially trying to win the students over but overall the liaison between both universities was extremely positive and helped to reduce the workload. All pre-camp meeting were scheduled at the UWA campus which resulted in more travel for the Muresk coordinators. However this was offset by the large administration role the Faculty of Agriculture undertook.
Some students have written letters of thanks to the organisers, attended careers functions and open days at both universities and brought their friends. Some of the campers have given talks about their experiences in school classes and written articles for their school newsletters. Past campers were very positive at the reunion function. This camp is an excellent way to promote agriculture within metropolitan high schools. All students were keen to have an address list of participants and many friendships seem to have developed.
The camps appear to be a success in terms of the immediate goals but the questions still remain. Will they study agriculture at university ? Will they enrol at UWA or CUT? Would they have come anyway? Unfortunately we will not know until enrolments in 1999. It is highly likely that the school camp will result in enrolment by students who may never have considered studying agriculture. The camp was an expensive exercise in terms of dollars and also staff time. The cost per student versus future returns need to be determined. The future holds the answer as to the success of this program.
Planning should be carried out as early as possible in the calendar year which is critical for getting a larger pool of high quality applications, particularly in state schools. Letters should be addressed to teachers who have recommended applicants in 1996 and 1997. There is a need to strongly emphasise the need for high scholarly achievements. Some of the teachers seemed to think of the camp as a remedial exercise (i.e. tractor driving 101) indicating that teacher education is also important. Rural schools should be included in 1998 as rural students may have misconceptions regarding the range of careers in agriculture, evident by the work of Elliott (1997) and the camp surveys. Minor improvements such as meals, accommodation and various activities have not been discussed in the scope of this paper.
Postle, G. D., Clarke, J. R., Skuja, E., Bull, D. D., Batorowicz, K. and McCann, H. A. (1995). Towards Excellence in Diversity: Educational equity in the Australian higher education sector in 1995: status, trends and future directions. Queensland: USQ Press.
|Please cite as: Pritchard, D. and Longnecker, N. (1998). Should agricultural courses at university be targeted at rural students only? In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 274-277. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/pritchard.html|