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Developing the future caretakers of our forests and forestry at Southern Cross


Sharlene King, media office at Southern Cross University
23 October 2020

Forests need skilled people to care for them. Professionals and researchers are urgently needed, and demand for university-qualified forestry experts far outstrips supply.

The demand for forest stewardship is greater than ever. Multiple and competing ecological, social and economic pressures, catastrophic fires and seemingly endless drought mean we need to act fast to secure a prosperous and healthy future for the world’s forests. But who will be the caretakers?

At Southern Cross University, the only dedicated degree in Forest Science and Management in Australia produces between five and 10 new professionals each year. Over the past decade, the great majority of graduates from the degree, which is accredited by the Australian Institute of Foresters, have found employment straight out of University, often securing part-time work during their studies and job offers before they graduate. This high-demand graduate scenario is likely to continue given the pressing need to not only mitigate the effects of climate change on forests but to manage our natural resources in a manner that ensures they are available to future generations.

Andrew Egan, a graduate of the Southern Cross Bachelor of Forest Science and Management who now runs his own forest management consultancy, Egan Forest Management, said a degree laid the base for a diverse career in forestry.

“We are seeing great opportunities in the field and an increase in working smarter with more use of technology and data employed in decision-making,” Mr Egan said.

“Working in a sustainable industry is important to me. If managed properly, wood is the ultimate renewable resource.”

The Australian Skills and Industries Committee estimates Agricultural and Forestry Scientists will experience the largest employment growth in the forestry sector in the five-year period between 2019 and 2024, of around 15 percent.

Southern Cross is one of the few tertiary education providers to produce forestry professionals in Australia and is ranked in the world's top 3% of universities for Forestry and Agriculture by the prestigious QS Rankings 2020.

The University is also ranked number 1 in Australia for both overall experience and graduate salary in Environmental Studies by the Good Universities Guide 2021.

These results are underpinned by extensive and dynamic research activity. The University’s Forest Research Centre actively investigates the ecology of native forests in Australia and throughout South-East Asia and the South Pacific, looking at innovative and best practice opportunities to develop forestry and agroforestry. These have included projects from Vanuatu to Vietnam; and locally, harvesting rainforest timber from plantations in Northern NSW and evaluating drought-proof production systems for the Richmond River catchment. Southern Cross forestry sciences are ranked ‘well above world standard’ – the highest possible result in the 2018 Excellence in Research for Australia Report by the Australian Research Council.  

Director of the Forest Research Centre Dr Graeme Palmer said that the University’s wide ranging research in both natural resource management and production forestry underlined the need for highly skilled forestry professionals who were engaged with making the latest science and more appropriate technology available to the broader field of forestry.

“The opportunities in research are substantial and growing, as the need grows for new knowledge to manage climate change, conserve biodiversity and provide renewable material options for the built environment,” he said.

Dr Palmer said it was up to established industry professionals to try and attract young foresters into training programs.

“We need to shift the idea of forestry as a destructive industry and engage more young people with the idea that a truly sustainable industry needs a balance between conservation and science-based, sustainable management. Universities are uniquely placed to train this next generation.”

Southern Cross University's Forest Science and Management degree was redesigned following extensive consultation with industry in 2019. It provides students with a broad forest systems perspective, suited to tackling natural resource management issues ranging from water security and forest fires to sustainable wood products.

Career outcomes are diverse in forested land rehabilitation, forests in the urban environment, forest conservation, recreation and wood production. Students can choose their own study path to a job, with options both at Lismore campus (in close proximity to a variety of forest types and industries) or online.

“Studying online suits many people who may already be working in the industry or an associated field. They can combine this convenience with a few weeks every year of field work, which is critical to producing job-ready professionals,” said Dr Palmer.

Southern Cross University was a pioneer in online education and boasts two decades of experience in delivering courses to students wherever they are located, with extra support available for academic and study success. The University also offers postgraduate courses in forest science and extensive research opportunities.

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