Having well-educated people to take New Zealand’s land-based industries into the future is a priority for Lincoln University as it helps to address the shortage of a suitably skilled primary sector future workforce.
In his address to a NZ Institute of Agricultural and Horticulture Science forum, Lincoln University Vice-Chancellor Grant Edwards focused on building human capital that will drive NZ socially, culturally and economically into the future.
“One of the most immediate threats for our agriculture and horticulture production systems is the availability of people with appropriate skill sets to address the major disrupters and enablers distinctive to NZ farming systems; those of climate, markets, global shifts and technology,” Edwards said.
“My simple premise is that we need more graduates with appropriate skill sets to grow a resilient, more productive economy while protecting and restoring the environment.”
The future of the land-based sector won’t look the same as it has traditionally.
“As the sector is transforming to meet the demands of a changing world. Issues like biosecurity, climate change and animal welfare require us to find new ways to work,” he said.
“Growing populations, complex trade and a move toward sustainability pose new challenges that the sector needs to respond to.
“As the sector evolves to meet these challenges, so will the need for graduates skilled in engineering, robotics, artificial intelligence and other technological areas.
“Skills will also need to manage wellbeing and need an understanding of sustainability, Te Ao Māori and Māori values.”
Edwards said while parts of the land-based sector will continue to provide opportunities for people without formal qualifications, much of the growth in demand will be in highly skilled roles.
This is what will drive demand for diplomas through to degrees, levels 5 to 10 the qualifications framework in NZ.
There are many reviews pointing to significant issues regarding the land-based sector workforce, Edwards said.
“We have an ageing workforce in the productive sector, industry demand for graduates is rarely met and the skill sets required are becoming more complicated.”
Growing the volume of graduates is not an easy task.
“To get graduates into the land-based industries we must compete with other … discipline workforces.”
Employment rates are high and the international borders have been shut, restricting the supply of international students, many of whom contribute significantly to the food and fibre sector through accessing post-study work rights.
National tertiary student numbers for 2022 show 5955 agriculture and horticulture, environmental, forestry and fisheries students in the tertiary education system at Level 7, undergraduate degree.
That is just 4.2% of the total 141,755 students and in comparison, there are 4730, or 3%, doing performing arts and more than 12,000, 8%, in communication and media studies.
At Level 10, just 180 of the 10,000 PhD students are in the land-based industries.
So what are the steps to encourage more students into agriculture and horticulture-related studies to meet the needs of the industry’s growing demand for more skilled graduates?
“At Lincoln University we are making a difference, mostly directed toward getting students to enrol and complete qualifications, working hard to impact accessibility, affordability, availability and relevance.
“Our mahi and investment have gone firstly into improving accessibility whereby 12.5% of students study online and have no touch point with campus.”
Lincoln is providing a fee waiver to domestic postgraduate students, so removing the cost barrier to study and to help meet growing need for experts in the food, fibre and environmental sectors.
“Students have responded strongly to this.”
The university is constantly refining and modifying its programme offering, he said, drawing heavily on industry input as to what skills are required in the future workforce and ensuring students work within a research-rich environment that is globally connected.
The rebuilt campus is also proving both an attracter and retainer of students.
“Put together we hope to contribute to resilience by producing Lincoln graduates that arrive at their careers globally connected, forward thinking and ready to shape tomorrow.”
Despite the significant challenges that NZ’s tertiary sector has and is still facing, Edwards said, Lincoln’s growth trajectory continues with 45% growth in the domestic student population since 2019 and the current headcount, at 4100, the largest the university has experienced.
Lincoln has the highest employment rate of the NZ universities with 84% of its graduates in full employment within six months of leaving the university.
The amount of funding is not adequate for tertiary education and this, together with greater international student support, are key points Edwards wants on the agenda to address with the incoming government.