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Review of AMRC, MRC & MLA Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme

Meat and Livestock Australia and its predecessor organisations have, since the 1960s provided funds to support a postgraduate training program relevant to industry needs. In the period 1975—2000 some 187 scholarship awards were provided, with at least another 20 students funded separately to the program from within specific research grants provided by the organisations. Based on present day values for stipends and support funds, the estimated total investment of approximately $5.6m represents an annual investment of the order of $225,000 to support on average about 7.5 students per year.

A database of student information was assembled containing complete or almost complete information on 167 students, records for the balance being too incomplete for inclusion. A majority (80%) of students studied in Australian universities, the balance in the USA and Europe. Most students were enrolled in PhD (70%) or Masters (12%) programs, the remainder in Graduate Diploma/ Graduate Certificate courses.

On-farm disciplinary areas were most heavily supported, two thirds of all students being in the areas of animal production, animal health or plant sciences. Significant numbers of students studied Economics, Extension and Meat Science and Technology, while a diverse range of other disciplinary areas were also represented. A subjective ranking was made of contributions to the red meat industry of awardees, some 75% of these being judged to have made high level contributions during their careers. Whilst a majority (76%) of scholarships were awarded on a merit basis, other awards were targeted for specific programs, particularly Animal Breeding and Extension. A surprisingly high proportion (67%) of all awardees were still involved in various segments of the red meat industry, whilst others (12%) were involved in other aspects of Australian agriculture. This industry retention rate is extremely high by any standards, and indicates a very high level of industry interest and commitment by awardees, which, together with the high levels of contributions made, validates the selection processes used over the years. Movements out of the industry over 25 years of only one third of all awardees represents a very low annual attrition rate which, together with the other criteria mentioned, leads to the conclusion that the scheme has been successful in providing a very significant amount of intellectual capital to the red meat industries.

Trends toward a decline in enrolments in the traditional “agricultural science” areas, together with internal university targeting of other areas of research strengths, pose potential problems for the future for education for the industry. Any reductions in MLA support could exacerbate this decline, which could be partly alleviated by using some MLA funds as top-up grants for APA and APAI awards, thereby increasing both quality and quantity of postgraduates. As part of its overall strategic planning activities, MLA should undertake a review of intellectual capital needs to 2020 in order to best plan future needs for industry research, extension and support staff.

University staff emphasised the need for education expenditure to be seen as a long term investment for the future, with suggestions that the program be broadened to include support for Honours students and postdoctoral positions, the latter preferably linked to projects. Consideration also needs to be given to linking a small proportion of awards to ongoing research projects, but a majority should be stand-alone though in areas of relevance to the strategic directions of MLA.

Current levels of stipend support should be reviewed with a view to small increases to take them to the top of the range of stipends provided by other RIRDCs. A biennial review of stipends and operating allowances should be undertaken. A majority of awards to date have been for PhD or Masters programs. This approach should continue but changing and/or emerging training needs in specific areas mean that other training support at Graduate Diploma/Graduate Certificate levels should continue to be made available where appropriate.

A recent innovation by another funding agency has been an annual workshop for scholarship holders to enable them to present research results to and interact with program managers and other staff, as well as providing opportunities for briefings on funding agency activities. This approach is worthy of consideration by MLA.

Overseas postgraduate training was not considered to confer any special advantages to students or to the industry, other than when specific disciplinary areas are not represented or are not available within the Australian university sector.

Future levels of investment in education need to be carefully considered by MLA in the context of its other portfolios of investment. The Australian grains industry is investing significantly greater proportions of funding in developing its intellectual capital for the future than MLA is currently doing. This aspect should be examined as part of any strategic planning activities.

In summary, a considered view is that the operations of the postgraduate scheme have been very successful and that MLA, should be congratulated on these successes, and see these benefits as a valuable investment return. Continuation and indeed expansion of this investment will help to secure the future intellectual capital needs of the industry.

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215.6KB 01/12/2002

This page was last updated on 10/11/2014

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