A $2.8million upgrade of the University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus is expected to be completed by July, in time for an influx of 45 students in this year’s second semester.
The upgrade, funded by the university, includes improvements to 60 bedrooms in the dormitories and the redevelopment of an existing building to be fitted out with the latest technology.
‘‘It will become a collaborative teaching space where the students will be able to connect real-time here with peers at Parkville campus and be able to access and monitor on-farm data,’’ Dookie campus director Ros Gall said.
‘‘The work space will have room for 80 students and it could lead to improved production decisions on farms.’’
Ms Gall said second-year Bachelor of Agriculture students primarily based at the Parkville campus in Melbourne had the opportunity and were encouraged to take on full-time studies at the country campus.
This year, 45 students have chosen that path and are coming here in July for a more hands-on experience, swelling student numbers at the campus to about 100.
‘‘It gives them the opportunity to engage in production agriculture and industry in situ, and as a part of that there is the industry mentoring program,’’ Ms Gall said.
‘‘While most will end up in the service sector of agriculture, people in the industry believe it’s important for them to have an understanding of production agriculture.’’
The Dookie campus also has 40 students studying a diploma in general studies (DIGS) that allows them to have an articulation pathway to further study in agriculture, biomedicine, commerce, design or science.
‘‘It was introduced in 2014 and is like other first-year programs but is delivered in a supported environment and allows the students to explore university studies and find out what they’re interested in,’’ Ms Gall said.
‘‘Probably 85 per cent of students who have completed DIGS go on to further tertiary study.
‘‘We’re aiming for 60 students enrolled in DIGS each year and are now accepting mid-year enrolments.’’
Ms Gall said they were looking forward to 2018 with first-year agriculture enrolments in Parkville at 200 that would feed into the Dookie campus, with more students in their second semester next year hopefully deciding to study there.
‘‘Agriculture is a vibrant industry across a broad range of sectors and both here and internationally for students who might want to work overseas, the campus is well placed to provide research and production experience for students,’’ she said.
Some of the research projects at the campus are using microwaves for the control of weeds, new practices in cropping legumes and cereals along with trials from time to time in animal nutrition and heat stress, particularly in dairy cattle.
Livestock nutrition and grazing management lecturer Dr Paul Cheng, who has been at the campus for three months after arriving from New Zealand, is also leading a program with local farmers to breed a Merino sheep that is the best balance for wool and meat production.
‘‘Basically we are trying to breed the best Merino… farmers supply rams and we artificially inseminate the ewes. It’s not new practice, but we’re hoping to do more in-depth research and students will be active in assessing the animal,’’ Dr Cheng said.
Dr Cheng also believed the campus’ animal house could be better utilised for in-depth research into nutrition and environmental best practices.
‘‘The potential for Dookie campus was huge and it is building back up,’’ Dr Cheng said.
‘‘It’s perfect for agriculture students, the farm and the animals are only minutes’ walk away. We call this place a living laboratory.’’