AGRICULTURAL students will be able to study vocational and short courses offered by CY O'Connor Institute (CYOC) at its new Centre for Agribusiness and Farm Technology (CAFT) at the Muresk campus near Northam for the first time this year.
The courses on offer are the first step in the move towards Muresk becoming a multi-use facility offering agricultural higher education qualifications, TAFE qualifications, short-term industry training and farm-based research, following a recommendation in the Cowan report to Education Minister Liz Constable last year.
CYOC managing director John Scott said they would be relocating their agribusiness courses to Muresk which would give them the opportunity to expand the courses offered in future.
Vocational qualifications would encompass all agriculture-related programs within the institute and a broad range of short courses would be delivered on a commercial basis according to market demand.
"The strength of this year's programs is that they are grounded in real farm skills," CAFT director Peter McGlew said.
Mr Scott said the agricultural industry wanted graduates to be farm ready, which was an important factor influencing their approach to agribusiness training.
"There are more than 6000 graduate jobs vacancies in Australian agribusiness with starting salaries over $60,000, so there is an enormous shortfall in the capacity of Australian universities to produce people qualified in agribusiness," he said.
Mr Scott said the move to Muresk would allow CYOC to fully develop pathways from the schooling sector into both vocational and higher education training.
Mr McGlew said he was keen to explore pathways for students from the metropolitan area to find work in rural areas.
"Having a facility like Muresk allows us to give them a range of hands-on skills to make them farm-ready to get work," he said.
CYOC is also developing an Associate Degree in Agribusiness and expects it to be accredited this calendar year ready for 2012.
"The first year of the associate degree is a higher education Diploma of Agribusiness which provides an exit point for first year students into employment, then rolls into the Associate degree in the second year," Mr Scott said.
Because the degree has not been accredited yet, CYOC is offering a Certificate III and Certificate IV program this year which Mr Scott hopes to repackage into a Year 13 program in future to allow students to progress directly to university upon completion.
Mr Scott said the model for delivery of higher education was a residentially-based course to preserve the benefits of a practical farm-based environment.
"These are the lessons we've learnt from the past when Muresk was a very strong institution," he said.
To make sure CYOC is positioned well as a tertiary education provider, Mr Scott said he had commissioned a consultancy to write a tertiary education plan.
He is in the process of establishing a steering committee and hoped to attract high calibre people for this task.
After signing a MOU between Murdoch University and CYOC last October, Mr Scott said he had last week started discussing pathways from their proposed Associate Degree of Agribusiness into Murdoch's Animal Science and Environmental Science bachelor degrees.
He expected to complete the same exercise with Curtin University with their Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Commerce degrees.
Mr Scott said the courses would have strong international appeal.
"We would expect to receive international students, particularly from the Middle East market, because Muresk has a history of supporting people from such places," he said.
Mr Scott said recent work experience in the Middle East market had showed him that the Middle East culture viewed Australian training very favourably.
Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls has invited CYOC to submit its funding requirements for next year's programs, specifically the higher education programs, which Mr Scott anticipated being available in March.
A Muresk Advisory Committee chaired by a former director of the Muresk Institute, Dr Ian Fairnie, has also been established to oversee the development of the higher education program in agribusiness.
Dr Fairnie is also the president of the Muresk Old Collegian's Association.
Courses this year start on February 7 with 16 people already having expressed interest in enrolments.