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Forestry news

Joint effort to regrow forestry

Brendan O'Keefe The Australian September 05, 2009

AS the number of forestry students nationwide fell away like an old-growth stand, the federal government and a group of universities got together to regrow the discipline through a national masters program.

The program brings together the universities of Tasmania, Queensland and Melbourne, the Australian National University and Southern Cross University.

University of Tasmania course co-ordinator Jim Reid says the national program, which started last year, gave the discipline a "critical size" when undergraduate numbers were diminishing.

"The number of students who wanted to take undergraduate studies had been in decline for a number of years," says Reid, who set up the national program.

"It got to the point where undergraduate programs were not viable on a one-university basis so we got together as a consortium to offer a range of post-graduate level units."

There are two compulsory units: Australian forestry and Asia-Pacific forestry. Each university offers elective units in its own specialty. Students travel to the host university and study the elective together in two-week blocks.

The full-time program is two years. Students with forestry qualifications can enter at the six-month or 12-month stage.

There are also two core units, two electives (one may include industry placement), an industry partnership and a research project.

Masters student Mark Jones loves the travel overseas and to other Australian universities that the national program offers.

He recently returned from a study trip to the Philippines and is looking forward to studying in Thailand next year.

His major project in the masters is looking into potential biofuels from forest residues.

"I'm looking at all aspects; residue from plantations, sawmills and local council waste," says the ANU sustainability science and commerce graduate.

"I'm going out talking to people and getting a feel for what the resource is. I'll write a report and submit it in February."

Student Kirsten Dransfield, who has a bachelor's degree in natural environment and wilderness studies, enjoys the program "because it brings together people from industry as well as people like me who don't have a forestry background. It's an opportunity to learn from people in the field".

Funding from Canberra covers costs such as travel and accommodation for students studying a unit interstate.

Reid says the masters course has about 30 students.

"People doing forestry across the country get their networks developed while doing the postgrad course," he says.

An undergraduate degree in forestry is not necessary for entry, Reid says.

"We designed the course so that students from a broader section could get in ... say resource management or environmental science or applied engineering," he says.

He says there are more jobs than graduates and that the industry had imported foresters from South Africa to fill the gap.

Masters graduates could expect to earn up to $60,000 in their first year out.

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