Wetenschap - 19 september 1996

International education highly praised

International education highly praised

Things are going well with international education at WAU. An international review committee is currently scrutinizing the international education programmes on offer in the Netherlands. Before visiting Wageningen the committee had expected to encounter weaknesses. Apparently, things proved to be far better than expected.


Compared to other international programmes in the Netherlands the international education at WAU stands out, firstly, for its academic and scientific quality and secondly because of its thesis orientation," says Mr A.J. Boomer, chair of the review committee. Furthermore, the university should seriously reconsider the decision made some years ago to reduce the programme duration from 24 to 17 months. The committee also sees no direct need to establish an extra educational institute exclusively for MSc education. These are the most positive and noteworthy results from the review. The final report on the results of the review will not appear until February 1997.

The committee of seven external experts had discussions with representatives from all echelons of the university, who have dealings with international students. The committee had expected to uncover weaknesses since WAU has to deal with mixed target groups, composed of both regular as well as international students. WAU however, has one tightly defined mission statement for both groups. One of the criteria set by the committee is that international education should focus on the interaction with students' experience and be tailored to their individual capabilities and job requirements. Boomer explains that this is where the committee expected to find bottlenecks.

Warning

The fact that the committee encountered so few bottlenecks is mainly due to the thesis orientation of the MSc programmes and the wide range of options offered. Boomer considers this a praiseworthy achievement, but nevertheless he warns against going too far: It is costly, requires a lot of organization and can confuse students." The thesis orientation is a very strong asset to the programmes but it should be possible to further strengthen this. Information on choice of thesis subjects should be made clear to students at the pre-admission stage. The university's research base is one of its strengths from which international education can benefit. Students' thesis research could be more closely linked to ongoing research.

These measures would also help to reduce time constraints. Time pressure was often mentioned by students in the discussions discloses Boomer. He urged the WAU management to reconsider their original assumptions behind cutting the programme back to seventeen months: That funding bodies would not be willing to pay for a longer programme duration is an outdated argument. The thesis orientation of the programmes is an important marketing argument to attract fellowships and convince financial sponsors." The committee feels that the organizational structure can also be improved. The committee noted considerable variation in the way in which the different MSc programmes are implemented. They feel that this heightens the risk of inconsistency and lack of clarity within the international education programme as a whole.

Stick & carrot

The focus and quality of the programmes was deemed to be sound to very sound. In order to ensure the quality, the procedures for responsibilities and accountability need tighter definition. For instance, it should be decided who has the mandate to take corrective action in a situation where educational quality is endangered. At the same time good performance should be rewarded. Boomer refers to this corrective system as the stick and carrot approach.

Although the programme committees should remain responsible for the quality and focus of the programmes, there is a need for an umbrella organization, possibly the Standing Committee on Education, to monitor the programmes and act as guardian of the special interests of MSc education. The committee is reticent about establishing a separate MSc education institute. The possibility should be kept open but there is no reason to rush." Boomer explains that such an institute would be the odd man out, since it would be based on a specific target group. The other four institutes are established according to fields of scientific interest. Boomer is sure that these existing institutes are capable of accommodating the MSc education.

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