Lincoln University has unveiled plans for what is expected to be a globally-unique Energy Demonstration Farm to help the primary sector meet its future zero-carbon obligations.
Lincoln sees it as positive first step in ensuring the economic viability of supplying skilled graduates into New Zealand's most important sector.
SAC funding is the Government's contribution to the direct costs incurred by a teaching institution in delivering a particular course and varies depending on course type. The fees paid by a domestic student for tuition only cover a portion of the total cost incurred.
Lincoln University has argued for some time that the current level of SAC funding was inadequate relative to the costs associated with delivering primary sector science and business programmes. Further, it was felt that the scale of funding did not adequately reflect the contribution the primary sector makes to the New Zealand economy, nor the importance of ensuring skilled graduates into primary industry professions. Under the current funding model, some Lincoln University agricultural programmes have to be cross-subsidised.
"Countries such as Australia, which also owe a significant part of their GDP to the primary sector, provide far more funding toward such programmes," says Lincoln university assistant vice-chancellor (scholarship and research), Stefanie Rixecker.
"For instance, in the case of Australia, this can be around $10,000 more per fulltime student than in New Zealand. That means their funding could sit at around the same rate as dentistry or medicine. This shows the value they place on ensuring functional, technologically advanced land-based industries with skilled employees," she says.
For Rixecker, the move by the Government to increase SAC funding for university courses aligned to the land-based industries is encouraging, and, when coupled with other significant initiatives, such as the Lincoln Hub, indicates a sea change in attitude toward the science and business of the primary sector.
"The contribution the primary sector makes to the New Zealand economy is, and always has been, significant, and so the increase in funding is welcome," says Rixecker. "As New Zealand's specialist land-based university, over 50% of our student cohort is involved in study or research in agriculture – whether in commerce, science or both – or life sciences. As such, the SAC increase will go some way to help Lincoln University continue to deliver high quality programmes in these key areas, thereby contributing to New Zealand's competitive advantage.
"It's important to realise that this may very well be New Zealand's century. Global population pressures mean more demand for food, and this means increased food prices; irrespective of any added value in our current exports. If we get this right, if we're smart across all aspects of the sector – production, environment, biosecurity, marketing – then the country stands to gain handsomely. But this means continual support for the primary industry as a whole and the training institutions that supply the graduates," she says.