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Saturday 3 December 2016

Teagasc plans overhaul of agri-education sector

Published 21/06/2016 | 02:30

Teagasc Director, Professor Gerry Boyle
Teagasc Director, Professor Gerry Boyle

Teagasc's education system is set for a 30-year overhaul as a special advisory group assesses the state of the country's agricultural academic sector.

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"We need to question whether our programmes are fit for purpose for the next 30 years," said Teagasc's director Gerry Boyle at the student of the year awards in Dublin last week.

"The farms of the future are going to be very different, and that's why we've a steering group engaged in forming a strategic vision."

However, the Teagasc boss and former college professor believes that not just the content of courses, but the way that they are delivered should change.

"We can teach a student to dehorn a calf, but maybe we should be training them in entrepreneurship - almost like training them to develop their level of ambition," he said.

He pointed to Finland's switch from subject-based to phenomenon-based learning.

"I'm very taken with the idea of the farmer as an entrepreneur, who faces the challenge of developing a farm. It really struck me when I was in New Zealand that farmers out there see themselves as resource managers," he said.

However, Mr Boyle acknowledged that the courses could not lose sight of their target audience.

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"Ag students tend to be practically minded, so there's no point in telling them to learn off a profit monitor. It's got to appeal to them," he said.

Record numbers of students enrolled in third-level courses in agriculture following millions from CAP funds being ringfenced for young farmer schemes.

In order to avail of the top-ups, young farmers must have completed a level five course in agriculture - the modern equivalent of the Green Cert.

The influx resulted in a tripling of intake at Teagasc courses, with another 3,500 applicants on waiting lists.

"The benefits of a third-level education cannot be overstated, with research showing that family farm income is 30-90pc greater on holdings where the farmer has a third-level qualification," said Mr Boyle.

He added that the increased economic activity created by more productive farms generates a social rate of return close to 25pc. "So education is an investment that pays handsomely," he concluded.

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