VMU Agriculture Academy on the Path of Change: Success Determined by Cooperation
Future leadership has been promised to the Agriculture Academy of Vytautas Magnus University (VMU Agriculture Academy) by the economists who have been following the global processes and by the agricultural sector of Lithuania that accounts for the fourth of the national exports. Domestic policy makers also have high expectations of the Academy in light of their concerns that the country might be left with nothing else but the need to copy foreign technologies in case of an insufficiently effective use of the available scientific potential. This would not mean a step forward for Lithuania.
VMU Agriculture Academy is still making a new step towards more close cooperation with business, but has already developed a specific action plan. It is also expected that the activity based on the state-of-the-art would help attract more young people into the agricultural sector and Lithuanian regions.
Prof. Dr. Astrida Miceikienė, an internationally renowned researcher, economist, active initiator of bioeconomy development in Lithuania, has already been holding the position of the Chancellor of VMU Agriculture Academy for six months. After the quarantine restrictions had been lifted, a celebration ceremony was held at the Academy on 28 June, where the Chancellor’s regalia were presented to A. Miceikienė, and the activity plans of the team were announced. The policy makers, social and business partners, and student representatives shared their expectations with the academic community at the event.
Expert Knowledge Vital for the Country
Mr Simonas Gentvilas, the Minister of Environment, noted that it was not by accident that VMU Agriculture Academy was one of the key social partners of the Ministry of Environment. “Agricultural production has been growing very rapidly, and we have to be grateful to the farmers who support the exports in the crisis period. Nonetheless, sustainability of the national ecosystems has already reached its limits. Moreover, Lithuania has to make great commitments on neutralization of the climate change, think about preservation of its forests faced with new challenges in the light of climate warming. The role of VMU Agriculture Academy is therefore very important. It is the expert opinion that should become the most important in decision making by the country’s policy makers and agri-business representatives”, – said Mr S. Gentvilas.
The Minister’s idea was supported by Prof. Antanas Maziliauskas, Senior Chancellor of VMU Agriculture Academy, Rector Emeritus of VMU. He noted that the researchers at the Academy had considerable background in the international and national projects that were important not only for Lithuania, but also for the entire Europe. “The leadership of agricultural sector is obvious. It would be very much desired that the politicians found the instruments encouraging young people to choose the professions that are important for the country in terms of the economy”, – Mr A. Maziliauskas encouraged the authorities to undertake changes in the educational system and not leave the motivated graduates of more remote regions behind.
Prof. Juozas Augutis, Rector of Vytautas Magnus University, noted that the Agriculture Academy with almost a century-long history has always managed to follow its path despite the historic transformations and continue to prepare the specialists who are necessary for agriculture and has attracted the strongest graduate community in the country.
Dr. Edvardas Makelis, Director of the Lithuanian Agricultural Advisory Service, who spoke on behalf of the community, also noted the most pressing recent issue in the agricultural sector – the shortage of specialists at all tiers.
Mr Kazys Starkevičius, Chairman of the Economic Committee at the Seimas, Mr Viktoras Pranckietis, Chairman of the Committee for Rural Affairs, members of the Seimas Mr Jonas Varkalys and Mr Vigilijus Jukna were open in that they were already well aware of the issue and claimed that they were putting efforts to make sure that it was not only the competitive score, but also the young applicant’s motivation that would determine admission to VMU Agriculture Academy, the country’s only university providing higher education degrees in agriculture, forestry, sustainable water and land resource management, bioeconomy, and smart engineering.
Mr Jonas Vilionis, Chairman of the Lithuanian Agricultural Council representing the country’s self-governance organisations uniting the farmers producing the largest volumes, was confident in that the scientific research findings should become the top authority to the policy makers and farmers-practitioners.
Change Created by Those Who are Not Afraid of Challenges
“Agricultural sector is one of the areas that change the fastest and implement the most advanced environmental technologies and management systems. It is therefore astonishing and outrageous that people not related to the sector still have a very different view of agriculture. This has led to rapid reduction in the number of specialists who are the experts in their field, and lower competition among the students. This situation is not healthy, and these stereotypes need to be broken,” – Ms Liveta Budreckytė, graduate student at the Faculty of Agronomy of VMU Agriculture Academy, called the farmers, policy makers, agri-business leaders, and her peer students for reconsideration of the situation. She has already started making her successful career path at one of the country’s leading agricultural companies. According to Liveta, she could serve as the example of what a young individual may become in a few years after arriving from a remote area to study at the Academy.
“The community of the Academy has never distanced itself from the agricultural sector and the related business sectors, their issues and challenges, as well as the public sector that shapes the future of the agricultural sector in all possible senses: the agricultural policy, its implementation, tax policy, and other activities.
Partnership between the research institutions and agri-business managers, NGOs, self-government authorities, cooperation aimed at promotion of the development processes of the sector are the only possible way to develop research activities, create and implement innovations, and turn the challenges into opportunities”, – Prof. A. Miceikienė, Chancellor of VMU Agriculture Academy noted that the agricultural science, sector, and the Lithuanian countryside have always paid their duties to the state. Despite the challenges, the partnership and results of the joint activity have always provided the nation with a piece of Lithuanian bread, be it smaller and larger.
Agricultural sector for Those who Seek to Create New Products
According to A. Miceikienė, the global trends show that the demand for food will become almost two-fold by 2050, and the climate change, limited areas of arable land and water resources, the aspiration to produce the competitive high added-value agricultural and food products in an efficient and sustainable way will promote development of new species of plants and animals, use of precision technologies, innovative fertilizers, services, and measures. The ongoing digitalization processes bring irreversible change to the business models and work places by turning some of them obsolete and by creating new jobs that will require new knowledge and high qualification. New technologies and inventions unite the digital and biological worlds and the humanity in essentially different ways. All these developments give rise to the following questions: are we ready for the future, leap in technological innovations, do we have sufficient knowledge and competences to control these changes, will we be capable of making use of the possibilities offered by the new technologies.
Changes Faced Bravely
VMU Agriculture Academy faces the challenges with a new organisational structure, prepared strategy, and the implementation plan.
“To be the leaders in the bioeconomy development, we have established the Research Institute for Bioeconomy; to maintain even closer relations with the business and social partners, we have established the Centre for Business and Social Partnership and the “Green Intellect” cluster. We believe that the new strategy of the Agriculture Academy that covers the new organisational culture of the Academy will help us become the higher education institution of the future, and will integrate the education, research, and services to business and public sector.
We have been implementing joint business and research projects, developing the agri-business study programmes of the future together with the sponsors and partners, aiming at provide the opportunities for young people to study and seek prospective future in the Lithuanian region. We are happy with the new initiative by the alumni of the Agriculture Academy to establish Lithuania’s first alumni-initiated Charity and Support Fund to provide financial possibilities for the motivated and talented young residents of remote regions to study at the Academy, with the cluster of the Engineering studies uniting six leading business companies that offer their infrastructure for the studies and scholarships for the students of Engineering. At present, we feel particular support from the agri-business in the complicated context of educational policy”, – A. Miceikienė was confident that it would be only by providing young people with the opportunities and possibilities to gain specialization in land, forest and water management and rural development that we would encourage them to stay in their regions, continue developing their parents’ businesses or establish own businesses, develop the rural social infrastructure, help preserve the rural identity, and ensure viability and sustainability of the regions. These aspirations can be made true only by the highly qualified specialists that hold comprehensive knowledge and educational background in the respective Alma Mater spirit.