MSc Programmes Focus on Thesis
About three years ago, when restructuring the MSc programmes was being discussed, many ideas were proposed which have now begun to take shape in the form of changes to the new MSc programmes. As Martha Bloemberg, Programme Director of the Management of Agricultural Knowledge Systems (MAKS) MSc course explains, In the past there were common programme courses which students had to follow. Then they could choose to specialize by selecting topics from a prescribed group of courses. We at the MAKS programme had specializations available in social research, training and extension as well as policy making/ knowledge system management."
There was also a free choice option, but this was never the core option for specialization. Now we are hoping that in the future the MSc programmes will all be structured around the thesis. The students themselves will be able to create a package of courses to complement their research topic. There will still be some core courses to serve as a basis for the methodology and starting the thesis writing process, but the prescribed specialization idea will be replaced by the more flexible free choice aspect".
The proposed amendments to the MSc programmes have now been submitted to the Permanent Education Commission (VCO) for consideration. Martha Bloemberg continues, One of the main reasons for us (the various MSc programmes) to consider taking steps to change the structure of the MSc programme is that we are responding to the evaluations which we have received over the past years from MSc students. They have all suggested that the programmes could be better if there was more flexibility built into how people choose their specialization courses."
It makes sense that there should be a set of core courses specific to the thesis work, in order to make sure that the time is spent wisely. Gradually, fortunately, many departments are broadening their offer of advanced subject matter courses in English. This is not only true for MSc students, but also for all kinds of students at the WAU." The MSc programmes, however, are boldly going for flexibility in individual choice at a time when the opposite is an issue among the Dutch programmes.
Although the changes to the MSc programmes are being proposed by the MSc programmes together as a whole, the MAKS programme has also been adjusting its own programme for the future. Cooperation with the Recreation and Tourism working group has been one such development. Programme Director Bloemberg highlights, We have only ever had one student who has chosen to do a thesis in the area of Recreation and Tourism. This was possible, but the working relation was never formalized. We are now trying to make sure that other students are able to take advantage of the same opportunity."
The Recreation and Tourism group has approached us with a request to continue enhancing the possibilities for students engaged in the MAKS programme to do a thesis in the social aspects of tourism. There have been students in the past who have chosen to do their theses in social research, extension science, agricultural education, agrarian law and rural development. You might say that by increasing the focus on the thesis within the degree, we are broadening the scope of the contributing departments."
Agrarian History, Agrarian Law, Agricultural Education, Communications and Innovation Studies, Gender Studies in Agriculture, Household and Consumer Studies, Rural Development Sociology, Management Studies, Technology and Agrarian Development as well as Recreation and Tourism make up the team for the MAKS Programme. But in considering the position of social sciences and MAKS within the WAU, MAKS students should not be restricted to the social science departments. The Programme director: This makes it possible for students to make much more individual specializations or tracks than could be presented in the study guide. At the same time, it makes the special preparation of those tracks superfluous."
There are aspects of almost every study which could be appropriate for the MAKS student. We don't just want to tell students that they are free to choose a thesis from within the social sciences, because in fact we are trying to arrange more opportunities for students to cross boundaries between the technical and social sciences. Of course these ideas have been around here for a while, and we even wanted to try to organize a meeting with various departments, but in the end we have chosen to send a letter to several technical science departments, and we are now awaiting their response."
Martha Bloemberg and the MAKS people hope that departments such as Irrigation, Agronomy, Animal Production and others are enthusiastic about the new proposed MSc structure. If MAKS students can choose their optional courses in a way which lets them create their own specialization to support the thesis, the new possibility to decide upon a topic and arrange a supervisor might help to encourage more cooperation between departments and working groups, at the same time bridging the gap between social and technical sciences.