Wetenschap - 13 februari 1997

International Page

International Page

International Page
Natura's web starts to catch flies
Networking is still all the rage. In the hotchpotch of inter- university networks and cooperation programmes, NATURA is the network of European agricultural universities with a tropical orientation. Besides the inevitable newsletter and culture of meetings and workshops, over the past years NATURA has started to show concrete results
A major achievement is that NATURA is increasingly shortlisted by the European Commission for carrying out activities and studies in the South. However, in the future, we would like to set the agenda for the EC ourselves, says Bent Schmidt-Nielsen, Rector of the Royal Veterinary & Agricultural University in Denmark
Last week, 7-9 February, WAU hosted the general assembly of the 8-year old network. Outgoing president and former WAU Rector, Professor Henk van der Plas handed over the president's gavel to Schmidt-Nielsen. The two recount the developments and advantages of the NATURA network. Van der Plas explains that the network has expanded from 12 member institutions in 1993 to a total of 35 in 1997. He continues enthusiastically: The network now consists of a pool of over 4000 scientists. NATURA's mission is to exchange and create new knowledge in partnership with institutions in developing countries in the field of tropical agriculture
Schmidt-Nielsen stresses that the network consists mainly of the concrete projects it implements. NECTAR, the educational subdivision of NATURA, is a good example. This programme sets up innovative courses at universities in the South. Schmidt-Nielsen emphasizes the importance of cooperation with Southern partners: It is not just support. Support would be oppression. Cooperation involves designing the contents and format of the courses, producing course materials and training for the staff.
Trial run
So far, eight subject areas have been defined, ranging from food and nutrition, agricultural economics, policy reforms to water, and new ones are being prepared. Each subject area is coordinated by one of the NATURA member universities. Although WAU is involved in nearly all the different areas, it is responsible for the coordination of Sustainable Crop Protection. Joop de Kraker, scientific editor for this field, explains how it works in practice. An inventory of needs is drawn up in collaboration with Southern partners. The coordinating institution then comes up with a proposal for several modules. (A module is the equivalent of a four-week long full-time course.) Expertise is then sought among NATURA members to develop the modules. Up to now, three modules have been developed and the fourth is in preparation, explains De Kraker. Module 1, on biological pest control has had a trial run at the University of Cotonou, Benin and Module 2 on strategies of integrated pest management has been implemented at the University of Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe the module could be included in an existing MSc programme but this was not possible in Benin. There, an upgrading of the total programme was requested. According to De Kraker, this is a disadvantage of the NECTAR programme: the EC only provides funds for developing the course materials, but not for implementation and additional assistance. This meant they had to raise funds elsewhere for this purpose. Still De Kraker sees clear advantages for the NATURA network in presenting itself to the EC as a unified entity. Furthermore, he has found that it is easier to mobilize expertise from other NATURA member universities in the name of a formal network
Browse
The work of setting up modules is often done on the basis of existing cooperation. If not this is not possible, expertise is sought by advertising in NATURA's newsletter. Unfortunately, the response is often low, so we have to use a more direct approach, says De Kraker. According to Van der Plas this cooperation in the South also strengthens the bonds between partner institutions in Europe. However, direct collaboration within the member organisations is also on the agenda. A concrete example is LIBNATURA. This project was set up to establish a closer working relationship between the different university libraries of NATURA's members. WAU was appointed coordinator since it possessed the most advanced facilities. We have been overtaken by the rapid developments in the field of information technology, but Internet has made it much easier for us to shape cooperation, explains Romke Kuindersma, deputy director of WAU's library. It is now possible to browse through the catalogues of about 25 NATURA member university libraries. Kuindersma admits that it is not perfect yet. Some libraries are present but not accessible and others only offer general information on their library. The catalogue of the University of Pisa is accessible but it requires knowledge of Italian to find what you are looking for
Mathematics in the South
To be honest, I have not used any advanced mathematics in my research or any other practical situation. I always try to skip from mathematical spheres. If anyone needs to develop competency in maths, they should start at primary school, writes Raj Bishnu in his essay on his experiences with mathematics during the course of his life. Bishnu, who graduated in January, explains that he attended a primary school in a very remote area in Nepal. One teacher taught all the subjects but maths was apparently not his priority. Bishnu experienced huge difficulties in later stages of his education. He developed a negative attitude towards maths and decided to switch to the social sciences
Bishnu's story is the first essay which Henk van Wijk of the Department of Mathematics received. Van Wijk is coordinator of a mini-symposium on maths, which will be held on 3 and 4 April 1997 in Wageningen. No speakers from the South were available, so Van Wijk came up with the idea of inviting international students to write essays about their own experiences with mathematics in school, work or daily life. An anthology of stories will be published in a small booklet and presented at the symposium. The deadline for sending in the essays is Friday 14 March. For more information contact: henk.vanwijkwts.wk .wau.nl
Library may open on Saturdays
We are investigating whether it will feasible to open the Leeuwenborch library in the future for about five hours on Saturdays, explains librarian Dick Kaandorp. The experiment of the past three months, whereby the central library was open for two evenings a week, clearly has not been successful. On average, only two or three students per evening made use of the extended opening hours of the Jan Kopshuis. Keeping the library open in the evening involves three staff members: a doorkeeper, a librarian and a repository staff member. This makes little financial sense
The International Student Panel (ISP) has regularly requested extra opening hours during evenings or weekends. Due to tight daytime schedules international students have little time over to search for literature. Since the evening opening times were apparently not successful, the ISP carried out a new survey among international students. The results indicate that, besides a preference for weekend opening, the Leeuwenborch library is the favourite location for 40% of the respondents

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