University of Tasmania associate degrees attract mature-age students in first year of operation

Students: Associate degree students Joanna Talbot and Deon Birtwistle with Lisa Granger. Picture: Paul Scambler
Students: Associate degree students Joanna Talbot and Deon Birtwistle with Lisa Granger. Picture: Paul Scambler

After years of working in casual retail jobs, raising her children as a single mum, Launceston resident Joanna Talbot decided it was time to go back to university to try for a better career in agriculture.

Just a few months later, Ms Talbot was flying to Vietnam to work in remote villages on a project to manage beef cattle.

Ms Talbot was the first student to enroll in the University of Tasmania’s associate degree of agribusiness, one of several new degrees offered by the university in an attempt to tackle issues of flexibility, duration and cost that may deter people from studying.

“I had the idea in my head that to do a degree in agriculture was a four-year [degree], and it was only offered in Hobart,” Ms Talbot said.

Speaking to a course adviser at a UTAS open day, she discovered the associate degree – something that ticked all the boxes for her ideal field of study, duration, and location.

Ms Talbot said she had no idea what to expect when she decided to apply, but the two-year duration and workshop-focused course gave her the space she needed to balance work, study and family.

“It’s a lot to take on, but it’s worked, and hopefully when I’ve finished I’ll go ‘okay, now I can get a better job than working casually at Spotlight’,” she said.

A key highlight in her first year was a trip to the north-west of Vietnam on a scholarship to help poverty-stricken villages improve their beef cattle herds for market.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be able to do something like that, to be given that opportunity,” Ms Talbot said. 

Under the umbrella name of the University College, associate degrees form part of UTAS’ efforts to become a more diverse learning space.

Professor Janelle Allison. Picture: Supplied

Professor Janelle Allison. Picture: Supplied

Principal of the University College Professor Janelle Allison said the two-year standalone qualifications were specifically developed to match industry needs, using teachers with practical workforce experience.

“This is a very industry-focused qualification [approach],” she said.

“It’s a different kind of pedagogy as well … one of the greatest challenges was that shift in the learning and teaching pedagogy.

“We’re also designing these courses such that the connections to industry … means students can actually see the link to prospective jobs.”

Two City of Launceston council employees, Lisa Granger and Deon Birtwistle, were some of the first to enrol in the associate degree of applied business, and said the hands-on approach meant they could immediately apply what they had learnt in their daily work.

“I hadn’t studied for 14 years … this opportunity is that stepping stone, and if I can do it anyone can do it,” Ms Granger said.

Mr Birtwistle said another attraction was the opportunity to pursue more study through the associate degree.

“With this course we get full UTAS access to services and so on, but there’s already some thinking about how you might then articulate into some sort of Bachelor degree,” he said.

The first students to enrol in UTAS' associate degrees. Picture: Paul Scambler

The first students to enrol in UTAS' associate degrees. Picture: Paul Scambler