Wetenschap - 23 februari 1995

Diversity imperative for study programmes

Diversity imperative for study programmes

While WAU has more than its share of uncertainty Prof. Linden Vincent, of the Department of Irrigation and Soil and Water Conservation, feels that the restart of discussions about study programmes offers the chance to keep looking forward. The return of a 5-year study option for Dutch students in certain programmes, is, she feels, especially stimulating for thinking about change. When asked recently about her first year here, she chose to focus on the special opportunities for education at Wageningen, and the current debates surrounding new teaching initiatives.


Prof. Linden Vincent believes that ideas already on the table can help evolve a new structure for study programmes. By contributing concrete proposals, she hopes to overcome the impasse created by arguments about the relative importance of different study areas, and whether a disciplinary approach or an issue-oriented format is the best way forward to create study programmes. For her, There is no need to pit one view about educational structure and content against another. We need to recognise that Wageningen should, and can, support diverse views on educational needs, to keep an open debate. That is why some of us have devoted a lot of attention to crafting proposals for flexible study programmes, which can combine the preferences of different teaching groups, recommendations from the Education 2000 debates in 1994 and 1995, and feedback from students."

The programmes for which the five year plans are being discussed are primarily technical sciences: Forestry, Physical Planning, Soil Water and Atmosphere, Agricultural Technology, Tropical Landuse, Crop Science, Horticulture, Zootechnics, Human Nutrition, Environmental Protection and Bioprocess Technology. Restructuring them from a 4-year back to a 5-year structure will influence the way in which students go about their study and which field areas are emphasized.

Objectives

According to Prof. Vincent the creation of a new structure for study programmes should bear several objectives in mind. Meeting the needs of different students will require that programmes are flexible. While sound disciplinary training is vital, there should also be education geared towards employment, covering issue-oriented and policy-related fields. Professionals increasingly demand problem solving skills as well as specific analytical skills. A new study programme structure should therefore facilitate analytical techniques tested in relation to important issues (e.g. water scarcity) so that students gain insight into different perspectives and learn how to interpret and communicate their analyses."

A programme framework is needed where different fields of interest can be developed and brought together. It is imperative to preserve different perspectives to help negotiate and resolve agricultural and environmental issues. A study programme structure which preserves diversity will ultimately be attractive to students precisely because of the diverging points of view leading to serious debate. It should be possible to create a system within the international comparative perspective where there can be streams that are oriented towards the tropical, low income areas and development issues."

Structure

There is a need to create a structure in which both five-year engineer programmes can still interact with four-year study programmes. It is important to let students start a professional orientation early in the programme but they also need room to explore subjects." Prof. Vincent also feels that the ingenieur qualification should be preserved as a distinctive qualification. She is not the first to voice her opinion on this. In 1992 Professor Norman Long (Sociology of Rural Development) wrote The response to the Strategic Plan, addressed to the Board, cautioning the University against hasty acceptance of the BSc system.

Prof. Vincent believes, Using the terminology of BSc in a new study structure may not be helpful for many of the technical subjects, because it does not demarcate a meaningful professional level. One major difficulty is that the high school preparation and pre-University entrance education in the Netherlands is distinctive, and different from those countries offering a university Bachelors degree. Secondly, who do we want our students to compete with? The majority of European countries do not have a Bachelor qualification at University, and it is in the students' professional interest to maintain a title which describes a technical expertise." Prof. Vincent is keen that the high standards of Dutch education are appreciated at the international level. Although I think demarcating an internal BSc is not helpful to the five-year programmes, the overall programmes are definitely comparable and competitive with the international level of professional MSc's."

Practical options

In contemplating her objectives, Prof. Vincent has come up with a concrete plan for practical options. She points to a sketch, This could be done through a five-layer matrix type programme. You might see a first layer, propadeuse section of the programme built up from modules, where one module allows for an element of choice. The second layer, romp (more core courses) could be modularized in a way that allows the student an opportunity to specialize early on, while retaining mandatory courses. This could accommodate different disciplinary and issue oriented study fields, while facilitating contact between study programmes. It is a system which preserves diversity and stimulates dialogue. I think this is a way to uphold the quality of what we do here."

She continues to explain that her ideas include a third modularized layer, ontwerp (basic plan) blocks which range from lectures and working sessions, teaching practical skills and problem solving to written work. According to Prof. Vincent, the fourth layer, the beroeps (professional block), could stand to be increased and she believes that this complements the fifth layer - the stage (practical period). Although the details of these proposals about flexible programme formats and modularization still need refining, she feels confident that they can contribute to the study programme discussions, despite the fact that she is a relative newcomer to the WAU from England.

Committed to her new post here, Prof. Vincent admits, Such a thing takes some time and quite a lot of effort, but I think Wageningen is a unique university, and we should take advantage of the opportunity to debate and discuss structural matters such as this. I am glad to be here so of course I would be concerned about the future of quality programmes."

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