Muresk report 'waste of time'

30 Dec, 2012 01:00 AM
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Hendy Cowan:
Hendy Cowan: "The government paid me to prepare the report, people were interviewed and professional assistance was provided to prepare the document, but as no one in government has paid any attention to it, it was a waste of my time and its money".

"MURESK is not saveable with this current State Government" was the considered view of former National's leader and deputy premier, Hendy Cowan, when asked about the prospects for the institution.

He clarified his statement by restricting his views to the chances of Muresk again offering university degrees, adding that "there is no sign of any will within the government to do anything".

As a farmer and son of a Muresk graduate as well as being the current chancellor of Edith Cowan (his grand aunt) University, he is well qualified to comment, but as he was commissioned by the current government to prepare a report into the future of Muresk, his views are doubly relevant.

The CY O'Connor Institute of TAFE at Northam has been given charge of Muresk and even called for expressions of interest by universities to offer undergraduate degrees at Muresk.

"It appears that the best offer came from Charles Sturt, the regional university based in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory but it was vetoed by Minister Collier, apparently because it would have offended Curtin University," Mr Cowan said.

"It demonstrates that there is no appetite within government to allow other universities to offer undergraduate degrees at Muresk."

So could CY O'Connor provide that option?

"Recent changes to the relevant Act now allow CY O' Connor to offer undergraduate degrees if it receives the approval of its Minister, which is an interesting point given that Premier Barnett assured those attending this year's Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days that 'Muresk will continue'."

So, will it continue?

"It's all been 'pie in the sky' stuff to date, there is no policy statement from the government and although it was announced that Royalties for Regions (RFR) would provide $10m for infrastructure, it was not to be used for teaching," Mr Cowan said.

The $10m would provide a good start for Muresk, but this appears to be a shaky promise as "it is my understanding that no money from the RFR has ever been paid," Mr Cowan said.

Curtin walked away from Muresk because it believed that it could offer the Muresk Degree courses cheaper at the Bentley campus, which in itself is true, but of little assistance, as only about seven students have opted to study that degree in the city.

The Cowan Report pointed out the realities of running a remote campus and recommended that the extra cost needed to be removed from education suppliers if they operated at Muresk.

So, did the government endorse the report's findings, particularly the comments about the costs associated with running a remote campus?

"I have never even received a comment from the government or minister, either to endorse the report or to disagree with it," Mr Cowan said.

"And although there have been media reports about an action plan for Muresk, nothing has happened."

Although the government has come in for justifiable criticism, Mr Cowan is also concerned about the lack of community anger and action.

"The Friends of Muresk and Muresk Old Collegians have been very active in trying to save Muresk but a wider community action is needed," he said.

"Although the demand for Agribusiness graduates far exceeds the supply, there has been a market failure as the supply of would-be graduates is adversely effected by the perception of agriculture.

"The demand for action needs to come from a wider cross section of the rural community, from the banks, stock firms, consultants and farm input suppliers, as too many associate agriculture with droughts, fires, hardship and poverty.

"Although the PGA and WAFarmers both expressed regret over the passing of Muresk, neither considers it a major issue.

"The public needs to be aware of a positive career path into agribusiness, for Muresk isn't the only victim of this perception.

"During the 1950s and 60s, agriculture was the second biggest faculty at the University of WA (UWA), while today, it is the second smallest UWA faculty."

Mr Cowan said governments needed to take the initiative and show some commitment to rural education.

"Muresk is just one of the regional agricultural campuses that have closed, with the same story happening in the other States," he said.

"Academics, students and the general public all need to be aware that there are also pluses in living in rural areas and the complaints by some academics about working in the country need to be seen in context.

"The government needs to commission some basic research, like how many students does Muresk need to become viable?

"And where would that number of students come from?"

Even so, was the initial report commissioned by the (then) Education Minister Liz Constable a worthwhile exercise?

"The government paid me to prepare the report, people were interviewed and professional assistance was provided to prepare the document, but as no one in government has paid any attention to it, it was a waste of my time and its money," Mr Cowan said.

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READER COMMENTS

Alice
30/12/2012 1:24:21 PM, on Farm Weekly

Terry Redman has done a woeful job. While he hands over millions of taxpayer dollars and public asset plant-breeding to partner overseas chemical corporations with their secret GMO pipedreams and patents, our food supply dwindles and our rural and regional youth are encouraged to abandon home for the city. Yet it is important to provide for them on their homeland as they are the lifeline that feeds the city. To become dependent on imported food is lunacy. Muresk is not the only thing unsavable with this current government. On March 9 we must vote for change.

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