Jayden Holmes: Is NZ's education system doing enough to encourage young Kiwis into rural career

Jayden Holmes: Is NZ's education system doing enough to encourage young Kiwis into rural career

OPINION: The end of 2023 marks the time for the young of Aotearoa to finalise their education pathways for 2024.

While it's common practice for most high schools to hold open days, to show students the wide range of options available for tertiary education, it got me wondering why rural options are often left out? I’ve seen this firsthand, in the country's biggest urban centres.

Those who might have an interest in some sort of agricultural-based career but didn't grow up on a farm or rural part of the country miss the opportunities. And it turns out there are A LOT, you just have to find them first.

As someone who grew up in Auckland almost my entire life and having spoken to a number of others who went to urban-based colleges, I can't remember there being much, if any, opportunity to study or explore a potential career in farming or agriculture.

Even at the University open day when Tertiary Education Institutions filled our school,   advertising their study options to the senior students, I don't remember seeing or hearing of any career opportunities in farming. After speaking to a number of others, it seems the consensus is that most urban schools don't do much to offer or encourage students towards a career in agriculture or a similar field.

After doing a bit of digging, I found that most of New Zealand's biggest tertiary institutions also offer little to no support to those wanting to study agriculture or rural-based education programmes in the way of scholarships or additional funding.

While this doesn't come as a massive surprise, it does beg the question, is New Zealand doing enough to encourage young Kiwis to consider a career in the rural sector?

The likes of Auckland University, AUT, the University of Waikato and other similar institutions located in large urban centres tend to specialise in other areas, so should most of the responsibility fall on high schools and even intermediate schools to push agriculture as a realistic career path?

While people living more rurally might expect to relocate in pursuit of further education, urbanites are less likely to, so that extra offer of support and financial aid could be the difference between someone deciding to take the leap and pursuing some form of ag-related study.

For those who know what rural-based field they want to study and are potentially already ingrained in rural communities, there are plenty of options … you just have to know where to look.

Massey University alone offers nearly 100 Ag-related scholarships for those wanting to gain tertiary education, from biotechnology to horticulture, to agribusiness they've pretty much got it all covered. Aside from Lincoln University, which also has around 50 scholarships for Ag-based study each year, no other major Universities seem to offer much if any significant additional funding for these courses.

Having scholarships available is one thing, but making sure those who would benefit most from them know they exist is another thing entirely. The onus cannot be put wholly on these institutions to find the right people but possibly is a discussion to be had throughout the wider education system across the country, particularly in urban towns and cities.

Of course, there are also a number of specialist institutions and businesses that offer scholarships to support young rural students, but are they offered the same opportunities to come and share their scholarships with the hundreds of thousands of students within the greater central Auckland area for example, as the Marketing and tourism department at the University of Canterbury? Or the business department at the University of Auckland? 

Shouldn't they be?

Farming, as a greater sector, can be argued as being the backbone of the New Zealand economy and is one of the highest-earning sectors for the country. According to statista.com, in the year ended March 2022, the gross domestic product of the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries amounted to over $13.5 billion.

At a time when we are in a cost-of-living crisis, have seen the worst inflation since the 1990s and so many Kiwis are being tempted across the ditch, shouldn't we be doing everything we can to sustain and grow one of our most prosperous and successful industries?

Farming is the past, present and future of New Zealand, surely the least we can do is encourage our young Kiwis to keep that legacy going strong.