Save Creswick, Home of Forestry
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The former Victorian School of Forestry, currently the University of Melbourne’s Creswick campus, is the last institution in Australia that offers a dedicated program for specialised forestry education. The future of forestry at Creswick has been thrown into doubt, with the University’s School of Ecosystems and Forest Science (SEFS) recently proposing to replace the current Masters of Forest Ecosystems Science (MFES) – primarily based out of Creswick – with a new program, the Master of Ecosystem Management and Conservation (EMC). The EMC will not be a forestry program, replacing the current suite of forestry subjects with topics such as “Landscape Governance” and “Communities and Ecosystem Management”. The new program is intended to be based in Parkville rather than at the historic campus in Creswick. If implemented, the proposed changes represent the end of specialised forestry education in Australia, and Creswick will no longer be “the home of forestry”.
What has happened?
- For a number of years, enrolments in the MFES have been low and getting lower, with fewer than 10 domestic students graduating each year for at least the last four years
- This means that SEFS has been struggling to justify the continuation of the program in its current form, as student numbers in most subjects are below the acceptable minimum
- The proposal to replace the MFES with the EMC program is the school’s solution to this problem
- However, the changes fail to address the underlying issues facing forestry education in Australia, or the real reasons why enrolments have been declining in Creswick
What’s wrong with the proposal?
- The Ecosystem Management and Conservation program (EMC) is an attempt by SEFS to broaden the Masters and appeal to students primarily interested in ecological sciences and environmental conservation
- The proposal is a deliberate pivot away from the land management focus that the MFES has held in the past – this fails to recognise the great demand for forestry professionals in the land management and forestry sector
- If implemented, the changes will also mean that the course will no longer be based at the historic home of forestry in Creswick, but “mostly out of Parkville”, the University of Melbourne’s main campus
- By basing the new course in Parkville, SEFS hopes to attract students who would not otherwise be willing to study in Creswick – however, Victoria’s forests are almost entirely located in regional areas, so why should the program be based in Melbourne?
What’s the real problem with the forestry program?
- Enrolments have been declining because of a changing societal landscape, broader issues in the forestry industry, and a failure by the University to effectively market the program through industry partnerships and other initiatives
- Across the whole of Australia, forestry has been faced with a crisis of public trust which has unfolded over the last few decades and has meant that fewer young people actively seek out a forestry education
- Enrolments have declined and courses have been shut down across the country, up to the present day when the University of Melbourne is the only institution continuing to offer a specialised forestry education
- Traditional employers of forestry graduates have been forced to take on staff from other backgrounds or forestry graduates from overseas, and this has meant that there is less incentive for people to undertake a formal forestry education
- Over time, SEFS and the forestry program have lost their connections with industry, and the course syllabus has come to emphasise core forestry skills less and less
What should the University be doing instead?
- SEFS should be seeking to increase enrolments by working more closely with government and the forestry industry, the main employers of MFES graduates
- The School of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences has shown that by adopting an industry-focused model of education based out of the Dookie campus, enrolments can be strengthened and the relevancy of an agricultural education based in regional Victoria can be maintained
- If the University is determined to no longer offer a forestry education based out of the Creswick, the University has a moral obligation to transfer the forestry program and the Victorian School of Forestry to another educational institution, preferably one based in regional Victoria
What can we do?
- Urgently lobby the University of Melbourne not to implement the proposed changes – you can take the SEFS survey on the proposed changes here:
- Help SEFS develop a sound proposal for the future of the MFES program, one that maintains the character of the program as a Masters of Forestry
- Support the Creswick community by highlighting the importance of the School of Forestry to the local economy and Creswick’s historic identity
- Encourage government agencies and the forest industry that have traditionally relied on Creswick graduates to generate continued demand for places in the forestry program
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