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University fee rise a concern for agriculture body

Ag Institute Australia has expressed its concerns changes to university fees would have a detrimental effect on the nation's agriculture sector.

JARROD WHITTAKER June 12, 2014 3:37am

The head of a key agriculture body has criticised the impact of higher education changes on agriculture graduates, saying the changes will undermine plans to become the food bowl of Asia.

Ag Institute Australia national board chairman Mike Stephens slammed the changes, which could result in students paying double the current fees for their degrees.

‘‘Don’t try and make sense out of something that’s nonsense,’’ Mr Stephens said.

‘‘It just beggars belief that on one hand we can have politicians saying we’re going to play our part in feeding the world and on the other we’re going to make the cost of education much higher.’’

He said in recent years the number of students studying agriculture-related degrees had increased.

‘‘There was a major problem up until three or four years ago, but we’ve now got good people coming into the system,’’ Mr Stephens said.

‘‘But we won’t keep them with this nonsense about fees.’’

He said if fees increased, more people would be attracted to study in areas such as business, where higher wages meant people could pay off their education costs quicker.

‘‘It will put it out of the financial reach of a significant number of potential candidates,’’ Mr Stephens said.

His comments come as The Weekly Times newspaper revealed it would be cheaper to study an agricultural degree in New Zealand and pay for living expenses than study in Australia.

The Weekly Times said an Australian degree could cost $112000 following the changes, compared with $60000 for the same degree and on-campus living in NZ.

Mr Stephens said while he had not seen the figures, cheaper costs would drive students overseas.

‘‘You’d go to New Zealand, you wouldn’t stay here and you might come back or you might not,’’ he said.

Mr Stephens said there were benefits to agriculture graduates gaining overseas experience.

‘‘There’s a lot we can learn about New Zealand and in some ways it’s good for students to spend time overseas,’’ he said.

‘‘But our institutes in Australia have to be able to attract the best and the brightest.’’

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