Searching for funds the American way
Things are changing quickly. Universities and students are having to depend less and less on government finance. Traditional sources of money are drying up and universities will therefore have to compete for private money. Professor Patricia Howard-Borjas is busy finding fellowships for the proposed new international MSc programme on Gender, Agriculture and Rural Development
Howard-Borjas wants to do it the American way: go where the money is, with foundations large and small. She worked for the United Nations for ten years before coming to Wageningen. Even the UN is going in this direction as governments fail to come up with the funds. The FAO is looking towards the Worldwide Fund for Nature for money, and Ted Turner of CNN just donated a billion dollars to the UN.
In the United States higher education has depended on private as well as public sources of funding for a long time. Students have to pay for their own education. Every university has many financial aid officers to help students to find money. Like their Dutch colleagues most American students take jobs to pay for their expenses. A lot of students work for the university as cafeteria waiters, in administrative jobs or as a teaching assistant. Most also obtain loans from the government or commercial banks. But the private sector is also a major source of income for both students and universities. A lot of companies and non-profit foundations give fellowships for both PhD and Masters level students
Professor Howard-Borjas foresees that in the near future the European system will increasingly come to resemble the American one. I see the European system breaking down. Higher education used to be considered a task for the government in European countries. But in the future the state-funded universities will have to compete for private money in a more market-oriented system.
American universities are competitive compared with their European counterparts, partly because of the aid they offer students to find money. WAU should do the same. That is clear to Howard-Borjas: Student numbers are dropping. The continued existence of the University depends on it finding new students.
WAU has to compete on an international level with universities all over the world. In the competition for fellowships and students a university can distinguish itself by offering a unique programme, a superior programme or simply by being affordable.
WAU has been looking for external funding for international students for quite a while now. But according to Howard-Borjas there are a lot more sources of money to be discovered: Only a limited number of sources has been tapped so far. All prospective international students are sent a two-page information sheet with sources of funding. In a short search we found several new fellowship sources. We now send an extra letter with funding sources to interested students.
Not everyone agrees with Howard's American style ideas about the funding of educational programmes: I think that the resistance stems partly from a lack of understanding of the situation. People in European universities are not used to competing in a free market situation. But resistance also stems from more legitimate concerns. People do not want to give up a system that was designed to ensure social equity. They are afraid that the market is going to control universities. I agree that this development entails risks. In America things have gone too far, now IBM is even sponsoring primary schools.
Early on the University expressed concern that the new MSc course in Gender, Agriculture and Rural Development might take fellowships away from other programmes. The fear is that all parties would be eating from the same pie. With an additional eater there would be less for the others. I do not believe that. I want the pie to grow. I am convinced that we can even find a whole new pie somewhere. There are sources of private money for progressive public ends. The Ford Foundation, for instance, supports progressive research by granting fellowships and supporting development activities of NGOs. Ford is more concerned with the social goals of the work than with the country the applicant is from, and also funds the development of new educational programmes.
Howard-Borjas and student assistant Dominique Ballard, who is supported by the Dean of Foreign Students Office for this work, have been searching for funds for a couple of months. We have been looking in Europe, where major efforts to collect and disseminate information about sources of funding for research and education are only just starting to emerge. So far Ballard has found two European databases on fellowships, one of which is managed by a for-profit Swedish enterprise which claims to have 17,000 entries. Howard-Borjas shows a thick book full of funding sources produced by the Foundation Center, a non-profit organization in the U.S
The European Union has just set up a European Foundation Centre in Brussels. Dominique will go there next Tuesday together with a representative from the Dean's Office to see what they can do for us and if we can collaborate with them. I think that WAU should set up a database and a library collection on funding sources for education or agricultural research. Programme directors could then add to this database so that their specialized subject areas are also covered, like we plan to do for gender studies.
Howard-Borjas thinks that WAU policy on internationalization is on the right track but has yet to be fully implemented. We are now at the forefront in Europe and I want Wageningen to stay there. In order to do that, the initiative has to go beyond the efforts of individuals or course directors. The university will have to spend resources to implement its policies. When I went to the library to ask if they could help to find books on funding sources, a person in charge said: If you pay for it, I will do it, otherwise I don't have the funds. The irony is that you have to invest in order to get funds. It is in the interest of the university as a whole that we have more fellowships as well as education and research grants.
Meanwhile, Howard has not found sponsors specifically for gender studies. We sent a list to sixty women's organizations asking for fellowships. So far we have not gotten one positive response. But I think that a letter is not the right way to get the money. Next year we want to go on a fund-raising trip through America and Europe.
Still, Howard-Borjas is optimistic. Her programme is the first on gender, agriculture and rural development in the world, and lots of potential students are showing interest. So far there have been some 250 requests for application material
Howard-Borjas will perhaps be proved right in her approach if she manages to find a significant number fellowships for her new course by September 1998. That would be unfair, Howard-Borjas replies animatedly. We are out on the ocean looking for new continents. But we launched off in a small rickety boat. Of course we could sink and get no new fellowships for the coming year, but that would not mean that there is nothing out there.