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Agricultural science jobs axed

Two of Australia's top agricultural science positions will be axed by the Gillard government as part of a shake-up of the federal agriculture department, a Senate estimates hearing has been told.

The department has already dumped the post of chief plant scientist, which had been filled by a CSIRO scientist on secondment. It is also currently assessing whether to retain the post of chief animal scientist in its biosecurity division.

Responding to questions from Opposition science and innovation parliamentary secretary, Tasmanian senator Richard Colbeck, the department's deputy secretary Rona Mellor said the changes were ''part of a more fulsome science strategy''.

Asked by senator Colbeck if the position of chief animal scientist would be abolished, Ms Mellor replied the department still had ''a principal animal scientist at this point'', but suggested this was under review and likely to change.

She said the department was developing a new science strategy for the department that would more closely reflect the ''mission and values'' of the department.

The news that two key agricultural science jobs will be lost comes as one of only a handful of Australian universities offering a degree course in agricultural science has cancelled the course after receiving fewer than 10 enrolments this year. In previous years, the University of Western Sydney used to take up to 80 students a year for the three-year agricultural science course at its Hawkesbury campus.

Professor Jim Pratley from the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture said it was the first time in 100 years that the university has not offered an agricultural science course. Enrolments had declined because students ''perceive agriculture as not exciting,'' he said.

''The reality of course is that that is not the case. Agriculture is a very high-tech, high-demand program and the range of opportunities in areas is terrific for prospective students.''