Wetenschap - 30 maart 1995

Arguments on development, education and administration

Arguments on development, education and administration

Page 7, WUB of 16 March. Mr Stroosnijder, chairman of ROC-010, is making a mess of arguments on development, education and administration.

A tropical engeneer with a little knowledge of many terrains, sitting in a village and trying to assimilate there, is no more of our time. Villagers are after all much better aware of their own social-economic circumstances and developing countries are providing more and more higher educated people. Problems are getting more and more complex so the need for teams with specialists is increasing." These arguments are a hussle of issues.

True; villagers are the ones who know the most about their (socio-economic in scientific jargon) circumstances. That exactly is the problem: The problem is not the presence of this knowledge for villagers, it is the absense of this knowledge for the aformentioned higher educated person.

This external higher educated intervening person (educated in the same country or not) knows relatively little to start with about the concrete local circumstances and diverse interests of a hole bunch of people. But he/she however is expected to work for and with these people. He/she is confronted with a gap in her knowledge; that between abstact theory and concrete practice.

Mr Stroosnijder's suggestion that one ought to be able to tell people in the field to do something about it, is a nice academic gesture to try to elevate villagers to the enlightened level of the higher educated themselves. However it will not do to solve even any of the conflicts of interest he mentions. Neither will the new planning instruments such as simulation and GIS models, that allow to make nice but conflict-of-interestless digital representations of a world that is full of minor and major conflicts of interests. Think well or read Pronk or some pieces of sociological theory: planning and participation go hand in hand, or don't go at all. The argument that development is everywhere and that every country is a developing country between tropical and non-tropical studies. Newspapers confront us daily with the differing interests between groups of people and all kinds of planning and policy agents everywhere. There are however practical reasons (there is a lot to know and
to experience before being able to work in this conflictuous world, more than is possible in the few years of study that most students can follow) for limiting the study programs to regions where problems resemble each other.

Being able to do abstract theorizing will always remain part of a good scientific study. Engineers (be they technical or social) have to be able to do more however: they must be able to work out and negotiate solutions for concrete problems. That is what abstract theorizing is for: finding and realizing solutions for and especially in society.

Mr Stroosnijder carries his limited point of view further on how the higher educated and those without such a background should interact in his statement on university policy: One has to take the client, the student, serious. But does that mean they should be allowed to decide on policy? Unilever doesn't have housewives in her administration, has she now?"

I would like to remark that Unilever might do a much better job if she did. And futhermore, the University is not a business enterprise working for a private profit. His wish to exclude students in participating in the planning process that concerns them directly, that of their own education, is coherent with his viewpoint on development: let the higher educated do the deciding, they know best. Since some time he has been advocating a professionalisation (exclusion of students) of the ROC, which is the place where students can defend their interests and arguments about what a good science can do for good development and what good development is in the most direct way.

Mr Stroosnijder is hampering the education of the engineers we need through the very fact that he himself seelingly has not reached the capacity to adequately adress the problem of what planning and participation is about, namely finding solutions in an interest-torn world. He simply negates and undervalues these interests in his arguments and practice, in good-old technocratic fashion. I suggest students oppose his underdemocratic views.