Does studying abroad improve career prospects?
In December and January the students who started in 1996 will graduate from their MSc courses. Most will probably go home and start or continue working there. The same future also awaits most PhD graduates. Three students from New Zealand, China and Kenya recount their experiences and expectations
Calum Revfeim from New Zealand is financing his MSc in Environmental Science himself. We are a minority group, Revfeim acknowledges. Before coming to Europe he took a degree at Lincoln University, the smaller of two agricultural universities in New Zealand. After working for two years - one as a poultry processing technician and one for a wine-cellar - 26-year old Revfeim did what almost every youngster in New Zealand does sooner or later: he took off for his overseas experience. I travelled mainly in North America and Europe, but I also wanted to do an MSc. His father had an acquaintance in Wageningen and Revfeim stayed with him for three weeks. During his stay he discovered that courses here were very reasonably priced compared to North America
After spending some time in Norway tracing old relatives he returned to Wageningen in the summer of 1996 to sit the entrance exam. I felt a bit out of place when I filled in my application forms. I was intimidated. What was a guy like me doing here? But when I started courses I realized the quality of education of students varies enormously. Then I stopped worrying about my own status.
Revfeim arrived back in Wageningen last week from Vancouver, Canada, where he carried out research in small freshwater streams. Revfeim is due to graduate in December and is already looking for a job in Europe. He would prefer to work for a non-governmental organisation. They are more dynamic than governmental institutions. When you work for the government you have to justify everything you're doing. Revfeim reckons that the MSc will improve his market value. Lots of New Zealanders travel but not many get an MSc while abroad. I'm in a fairly special position, which will look good on my CV.
The best part of the course is the interaction with others, according to Revfeim. There's a lot of discussion and we've had case studies by students from different backgrounds and using different approaches. I probably learnt as much from other students as from the course material itself. Revfeim is not too worried about future career prospects
The prospects for Hu Zhihong from China are somewhat different. Before going abroad she worked at an institute of virology in Wuhan, under the auspices of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where she obtained her MSc. In 1993 she was awarded an EC grant to do one year of research in Europe. Wageningen is very famous in China for its research on baculoviruses, Zhihong explains her presence here. During that first year her research went very well and together with her professor she applied to do a sandwich PhD. In June 1995 she transferred to the Department of Virology, where they now call her Rose
Back home we don't have the facilities they have here. Things I use here once and then throw away I have to use ten times or more in China and wash them out after each use. A gel that takes one second to print in Wageningen takes me half an hour to develop in Wuhan. Three days of work here may take me up to one month in China.
Zhihong hopes to finish her thesis in June next year. The situation at the Wuhan institute, however, is not very stable at the moment. A lot of people have retired, the level of research is not very highly rated and finance beyond the year 2000 is still under discussion. It's a factor that affects me, Zhihong tells, If they decide to withhold funding I'll have to look for something else. If we stay on the list I'll go back to work there. Much depends on the quality of the research, and Zhihong knows she'll be able to raise standards a little because besides doing research she also does a bit of lab management and supervising students. We hope to have ten PhD students before 2000. At the moment there's only one, but I will probably be the third to graduate.
If I can't go back to Wuhan I would consider going to North America or Canada for a postdoctoral position, but I'm not interested in money. At the moment I just like doing research; I'm not commercial. Money doesn't excite me the way solving scientific mysteries does.
Benjamin Kosgei Bor will return to Kenya early next year, to the place where he worked before coming to Wageningen. Bor is a teacher at the dairy training school in Naivasha, started under an FAO initiative in 1993. About 30 MSc students work there, and Bor gives them lessons during term time. During school holidays farmers are given vocational courses
Bor did his BSc degree in Animal Science at Egerton University in Kenya. Before coming to Wageningen he intended to do a course on Animal Production and Husbandry in Holland because there are a lot of Frisian cows in the humid areas of Kenya, imported by European settlers at the beginning of the century. However, the majority of Kenyan farmers do not own cows because they live in the semi arid and arid areas of the country. They mostly keep camels, zebu and goats. Feeding these animals is often a problem, so Bor has ended up doing research on feeding goats rather than cows. I realised that most of Kenya is semi arid or very arid. Cows are only kept by twenty percent of the farmers. I think our future lies with the eighty percent.
When I return I'll probably go back to teaching again. Before I left Kenya it was agreed that I could keep my job. Whether or not I actually take up my post again depends on the money. If I'm paid properly I will. Salaries at the moment are usually just enough to cover rent and food. Bor is also interested in participating in research projects on goat feed, if possible combined with a farm of his own, but he concludes, When I return I don't think there'll be many changes careerwise.
WAU unknown for brokers
Using education brokers to attract new international students will cause tuition fees to rise, according to Rien Bor of the Information & Public Affairs Office, recently returned from the Education Brokers' Fair in Hawaii. He believes that this is the way to increase the number of international students in Wageningen
According to Bor, WAU is unknown among brokers. Most of their contacts are with universities in the US, Canada, UK and Australia. They are unaware that we even offer BSc education in English, recounts Bor, Moreover, they were very impressed by the range of MSc courses here, and found tuition fees of US 6,500 a year very cheap.
Brokers charge universities 10% of tuition fee costs for their work. Bor does not know what the costs for the student are. At present he sees Japan, Korea and Taiwan as potential sources of students. There is also interest in China and the Philippines, but brokering in those countries is apparently less professional. Southeast Asian students are particularly interested in environmental courses. Bor will follow up on 50 brokers he met at the Fair, as well as building up a worldwide network for student recruitment through attending conferences