Isabella Brownlie (on her horse Girlie) was accepted to the Queensland Agricultural Training College in September and was expecting to start in February.
Isabella Brownlie (on her horse Girlie) was accepted to the Queensland Agricultural Training College in September and was expecting to start in February. Ann Brownlie

An uncertain future: college closure leaves family in limbo

QUEENSLAND agricultural training colleges are slated for closure at the end of 2019, and current students will be forced to move schools.

But those accepted for the upcoming year say they don't know what to do.

Isabella Brownlie had her first taste of QATC in September this year, when she attended the TASTE holiday program and immediately fell in love with the school.

"I have just finished Year 10, so I was hoping to go up to Longreach to do the horse program.

"At the September TASTE program I applied for the course on the spot, and had found out on the same day that I got in.

"Back then I wasn't aware that the college was facing the possibility of closing” she said.

Isabella's mother Ann has spent sleepless nights worrying about the closures, and said her family is in limbo.

"We still don't know.

"When the news broke a couple of weeks ago, I phoned the school straight away because we'd started paying the fees and Izzy has formally left school here.

"We've been ringing the office, and the poor girls in the office just keep saying to me 'we don't know what is going on'.

"This is just so frustrating, so devastating and so stressful for Izzy, because she is just so passionate about going up,” Mrs Brownlie said.

QATC is the state's only school dedicated to Ag studies, and former students are disappointed to see it go.

Dan Cameron, QATC alumnus and agribusiness manager at ANZ Roma, attended the college in the early 1990s and said it gave him a solid start to a diverse career in the region.

"We did everything from mustering, fencing and operation of machinery, to budgeting and working out cash flows of properties - learning how the other end of the business worked.

"I went back to work on my parents properties for a while, and the training was a good platform for when my career changed later on.

"It gave people a different option; there were a lot of kids [at the college] who left school in Grade 10 because it wasn't clicking with them, and the Ag Colleges were a great option.

"That is the biggest thing when I look back on my education: QATC gave a heap of kids another option,” he said.

"I had a rural background, but there were students there who had no rural background and had come from Sydney or Brisbane, and have gone on to pathways that they otherwise never would have found,” he said.

Queensland's industry body for agriculture, AgForce, has been vocal about this issue, and intends to do what it can to save the institutions.

Georgie Somerset, AgForce Queensland president, said they are too important to simply axe.

"We believe these are unique, irreplaceable assets and we are currently engaging with organisations and community groups around the state to elicit their support and ideas to save them.

”The response so far has been overwhelmingly in favour of an industry-led solution,” she said.

AgFroce wants to be at the forefront of an industry-led solution, and has even called for the state government to hand over the keys.

Ms Somerset said the industry body has a plan to future-proof the schools.

"AgForce's plan is to overhaul these institutions and the services they offer to form the backbone of a comprehensive, future-looking rural research and education system that offers benefits beyond agriculture.

"These well-equipped colleges, with their unique locations and infrastructure, offer opportunities to support profitable and sustainable agriculture in areas like carbon-neutral farming, drought mitigation, flora and fauna conservation, and increased indigenous and female participation,” she said.

Meetings with the Agriculture Minister, Mark Furner, in mid-December indicated a positive turn during this troubled time, but AgForce has since expressed it's disappointment as negotiations have stalled.

This morning, it announced intentions to convene a standing committee to develop a plan for saving the QATC, with Ms Somerset citing inaction from the minister and department as the catalyst.

"AgForce was initially encouraged by what we hoped was a positive start to discussions with Minister Furner a couple of weeks ago.

"The Minister said he would contact us before Christmas to respond to our proposal, but we are yet to hear anything despite us repeatedly following up with his office.

"We need to keep this critical issue moving, so AgForce will facilitate a meeting of industry and community stakeholders early in the New Year.”

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