Quarter century of WAU international education
A symposium will be held on January 29 in celebration of the 25th anniversary of MSc education at WAU. The main topic will be the future of WAU international education. Over the past quarter century the number of programmes and students has increased, and facilities for students have been improved and institutionalised. Has the birthday boy reached maturity or is there still room for improvement? The ups and downs of WAU's love baby
The MSc birthday celebrations come in a year in which WAU postgraduate education is once again under discussion. Should all postgraduate education take place in English and be integrated with the regular Dutch programmes? Alternatively, the University could continue on the present track and develop new MSc programmes. A number of departments already have plans for new courses. The University could also blaze new trails, providing international education on the Internet for example, which would make distance study possible. WAU is already involved in upgrading MSc level education programmes in the home countries of international students. Another option would therefore be to shift the focus of attention to international PhD education. The international competition for attracting MSc students is fierce and still growing. It might be a better strategy to aim at educating international PhD candidates to become self-employed, highly skilled researchers. At present almost 20% of the PhDs obtained at WAU go to international candidates
Tini van Mensvoort, one of the symposium organizers and director of the first MSc programme, Soil and Water, gives a brief summary of these ideas and options currently challenging members of staff at WAU, which will undoubtedly be discussed at the symposium. Most of the ideas are not really new, but surface again whenever international education is subject to scrutiny. Van Mensvoort feels that the University has always had a rather ambivalent attitude towards the international education here: On the one hand the University is quite ambitious in its plans for developing postgraduate international education and considers it a showpiece. On the other hand, as far as managerial and financial aspects are concerned, they are lumped together with the regular education and international education is very much regarded as a subsidiary activity. Van Mensvoort is director of the MSc Soil and Water programme, the first international course to be offered
International education at WAU has changed considerably since the then rector, Professor Polak, opened the MSc Soil Science and Water Management programme for 23 students in September 1971. This year 188 students enroled for the 15 different MSc programmes on offer. For the first 15 years the Soil and Water programme was the only MSc course and it had a stable intake of about 25 students every two years, the majority of which were from developing countries. The dramatic increase in programmes offered and in the number of students has taken place over the past ten years
In the beginning international students were put up in the International Agricultural Centre. From the late seventies onwards they were accommodated in rooms provided by the Student Accommodation Office (SSHW). I used to go with a friend to a department store to buy duvets and pillows, which were then sold to the newly arrived students, recalls Ankie Lamberts, who started as secretary for the MSc Soil and Water programme in 1981. She explains that at that time it was relatively easy to keep track of all aspects of the international education. Nearly all the students had a scholarship from the Netherlands Fellowship Programme run by the Ministry for Development Cooperation. Each month the Fellowship Officer used to send cheques for the students' monthly allowance from the Hague.
Things changed drastically in 1986. There was perceived to be a gap in the market for international education. The long tradition of WAU's experience in tropical countries meant that it was ideally placed to take up the challenge of expanding the provision of postgraduate international education. Three new programmes - Management of Agricultural Knowledge Systems, Animal Science and Aquaculture - were established in 1986 and a special Office for International Education (IOB) was set up to guide the process of the development of international education within the University. A programme committee was created for each programme, and a director was appointed to monitor programme content and to coach the students. Tropical Forestry started a few months later. Lamberts recalls the moment with a smile, I remember it clearly. It was a once in a lifetime experience for the first forestry students. They arrived here to temperatures below minus 20 centigrade!
Since 1986 a new programme has started nearly each year, and the total number of students has increased steadily. Lamberts continues, We used to have the Christmas party at my place, but this became impossible after 1988 when the number of students rose above 60. This year over 400 people attended. Ive now got to the point where it's difficult to know all the students' names by heart, although I still feel I should. The Dean's Office for Foreign Students was set up in 1991 in order to coordinate and concentrate the administration and services for students. In the same year it was decided to reduce the programme length from two years to 17 months, as well as to decrease the amount of compulsory basic courses and make the programmes more thesis oriented
The international programmes seem to have stood their students in good stead. Two African WAU alumni are now Ministers of Agriculture in their home countries and several alumni are undersecretaries of state. Another trend which seems to have developed is that alumni obtain positions in which they can act as sponsors of new students. Others teach at universities and act as referees for new applicants for WAU programmes. Lamberts adds, It is striking that these people encourage their best students to apply to Wageningen for an MSc course. In this respect WAU could do much to sharpen its policy towards alumni. Van Mensvoort adds that the same is true for the public relations strategy for attracting new students and scholarships: These activities are still very much dispersed. Some are carried out by the University PR department, others by the Dean's Office and some by the Liaison Office. It would be better to make one person or office responsible for all the activities. Although the Netherlands Fellowship Programme is no longer the only source of scholarships, Van Mensvoort stresses that more effort should be made to find new funding sources and to attract more students with their own financial means. Finally, the programme committees and directors have no official legal status within the university's decision-making structure. These factors combine to make the international education at WAU the odd man out
The symposium will be held on Wednesday 29 January at the International Agricultural Centre. One of the highlights will be a presentation by Dr F. Muchena, alumnus of the 1973-1975 Soil and Water course and former director of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. He will delve into the issues surrounding the impact of the Wageningen training, and what the University should be offering its international students. Both international and Dutch students are invited to attend the symposium. Please register by Monday morning, 27 January, with Ms S. Jonkman. Tel: 490284 E-mail: S.JonkmanIAC.AGRO.NL
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The Wisp'r editors would like to hear your views and ideas about the articles and information in English in the Wageningen University Paper. Everyone is welcome
Friday January 24 at 8:00pm in the ISOW building, Duivendaal 7