Wetenschap - 12 oktober 1995

International MSc Education points the way towards a World Wide University

International MSc Education points the way towards a World Wide University

In the debate surrounding the restructuring of education at WAU, the subject of international MSc education is in danger of fading into the background. The international programmes, however, could act as an example for the changes faced in the restructuring and internationalisation of the regular education. Martha Bloemberg, Dick Legger and Dr Kees Eveleens, three MSc programme directors, gave their personal opinions during a brain-storm session on international education.


The Executive Board of the university is planning to fuse both departments and study programmes in order to cut back on expenses. The board seeks to establish eight education institutes at WAU which will be responsible both for their own budget as well as for educational content. It has yet to be decided which departments and study programmes will fall under these institutes. Bloemberg, programme director of the Management of the Agricultural Knowledge Systems (MAKS) programme, is on the preparatory working committee for the educational restructuring. All three programme directors feel strongly that this is the moment to determine the profile and position of international education at WAU in the whole debate.

Bloemberg adds: The forthcoming inspection of International Education in the Netherlands will provide a good opportunity to broaden the discussion and to integrate the opinion of external experts in the debate." An important objective of the university is to increase its international character. By offering internationally oriented curricula the university hopes to attract more foreign students. Legger, programme director for both Environmental Sciences and Urban Environmental Sciences, explains: We should, therefore, not only speak about the future of MSc programmes as such, but about developing international education or post graduate education at WAU in general. A growing number of foreign students come to Wageningen specifically for certain subjects or part of a course and not to follow an entire programme." Within the European Union it is already possible to be registered at one university while following courses at another. The cost of the education is calculated
on the basis of a system of credit points, and costs are settled on mutual terms. The same exchange possibilities are now being developed with universities in the United States.

Guinea Pig

The MSc programmes are functioning in many respects as a guinea pig for the whole process of internationalisation of WAU. Eveleens, programme director of Crop Science and Ecological Agriculture explains: The first MSc programmes originated from the idea that certain departments had something interesting to offer to an international audience, mainly from developing countries. By making the university accessible to foreign students it became clear after a while that there is also a demand side to which we have to react." It appears that the MSc programmes offered attract a wider diversity of students and post graduates than the programmes were originally designed for. The programme directors are increasingly being confronted with specific requests for tailor-made education, from students as well as from professionals who are looking for refresher courses. Legger explains: In order to be able to satisfy these kind of requests the educational system at post graduate level
has to become more flexible. Course syllabi and study materials should gradually be translated into English. Moreover, courses should not be longer than six weeks and could, for instance, be given more often, not just once a year. More supervision will be required, but courses can be more thesis-oriented and based on self-study or take the format of interdisciplinary working groups."

The coordination and assistance to foreign students will inevitably increase as well. According to the present model for teaching capacity, compensation given to departments for MSc students is only 40% above the allowance for regular students, although in practice more additional time is needed. Furthermore, assessment of graduation levels and admission criteria will have to be reviewed and in some way standardised. Legger continues: An interesting challenge is how to guarantee a certain academic level if you bear in mind that students can choose to follow a specialized curriculum on one hand or pursue an interdisciplinary thesis-oriented study encompassing various themes on the other." Eveleens adds: The establishment of the proposed education institutes could be a positive development if these institutes help to break down boundaries between MSc programmes, which are left over from the early beginnings of MSc education, when curriculum content was more often determi
ned by departments supply rather than students needs."

Supermarket

Legger: We have to stop thinking only in terms of students who start preparing in September for their end of year exams and leave after a couple of years with a degree." Legger admits that it will be a lengthy process, but believes that in the future WAU could be one of the faculties of a worldwide university, educating exchange students especially at post graduate level. It is like changing from being a small grocer's shop, where a limited amount of special products can be bought, to becoming a part of a supermarket or department store, where customers can do all their shopping according to their own needs."

This means that the university's publicity and outreach will have to change with the times. Although foreign students manage to find their way to Wageningen, publicity could be improved. Eveleens agrees: The Dean's Office is preparing flyers which are easier to take along when going abroad than the bulky brochures. However, the real bottleneck at the moment is not the lack of interest in the MSc programmes nor the admission exams, but the amount of fellowships available. Publicity should also be directed towards potential funding organizations, but again I believe that the Dean's Office is already working on that."

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