Nieuws - 9 februari 1995

Practise What You Preach

Practise What You Preach

The issue of cutting departmental chairs has been a financial matter dealt with at the university's highest administrative level. The Permanent Commission for Education [VCO] has responded to the Executive Board's plan with advice that execution of the plans should not be half-hearted or open to negotiation as this will only lead to uncertainty and further delays. Many foreign PhD candidates, however, would beg to differ. Their sentiments concerning the way in which foreign PhD candidates were consulted on this issue reaches to the heart of development discussions.

Mr. Daouda Sidibe, PhD student from Mali, was shocked to read in the English summary of the WUB that there was a planned chair reduction in his department. I saw it, but I didn't know anything about it. This could affect the quality of the education, because in the future there will be fewer supervisors available. We are losing expertise. I think that we should have been warned by the university. If there had been a way I could have registered my own dissatisfaction with the plan, I would have gladly signed something." When Mr. Sidibe completed his MSc in 1993, he intended to continue in the Department of Ecological Agriculture to pursue a PhD with Prof. Oldeman as his supervisor. Although Prof. Oldeman's position at the university will terminate, he will be able to continue as a supervisor for five years, thus being able to supervise Mr. Sidibe's thesis. The news still unsettles Mr. Sidibe because he feels left out of the consultation process. I guess they ha
d decided already what they wanted to do so they never considered asking [us]."


PhD candidate Mary Omosa from Kenya has been in Wageningen for almost six months, and had not heard of the prospective loss of a half time position held by Prof. Dusseldorp in her own department, Sociology of Rural Development. In reflecting back on the early 1980's during her BA and MA studies at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, Mary remembers the days when organized student movements carried considerable weight in any university decision, Something like taking away the Professors would never have happened at home. Students would stand up against it. The student organization really did have considerable political strength. That is why the university deregistered it in 1985 after protests led to riots against the loan system of tuition forced by structural adjustment policies. I think you could make a comparison between the decisions at the WAU made by the Board to reduce the department chairs, and the Structural Adjustment Policies of the 1980's in developing countri
es. In both cases the people with the power have a plan which they are going to force upon you and there's nothing you can do to stop it, no matter how it affects you."

Mary's Dutch PhD colleague Gerard Verschoor, explains that in their department, the foreign PhD students are welcome to join the administrative meetings every month. But that's as far as our negotiation input goes. It's not really up to us at all." Mary admits, I've only been to one meeting in October the day after I arrived, and it coincided with Professor Long's birthday celebration. I wasn't sure if I was only invited that particular time for the party, or whether I was supposed to attend the following meetings. I don't know really how the structures function here, so its not easy to get involved."


Fru Nche, PhD candidate in Food Sciences, adds that, as far as I know there was no such thing as consultation - not even information extended to us. My department does have meetings but when the minutes are in Dutch, foreign PhD students feel left out." Another candidate (who has requested to remain anonymous) learned by coincidence that his own supervisor was being made redundant. This PhD student anxiously confides, Perhaps they just expected that everybody knew. But the university should pay more attention to negotiating and informing those of us who are not represented here. I came to Wageningen to hear discussions about extension, and how important the negotiation process is, but I see that in the university they cannot practise what they preach in their own backyard."

This candidate takes the whole scenario to reflect a top down process of decision making which is all too familiar to those from developing countries. He continues, Should I just be thankful to be here and not complain that they've ignored us? It is the same patronizing pattern of how the North has practised development in the south. It is as if you believe your knowledge is the best, so you force it upon the local people and you decide for them. You never bother asking them what they think because you don't value their opinion. They must fit into your pattern of rationality and logic. Sure the WAU must make cuts in the budget, and perhaps they have been thinking about this for several years, but had they decided to structure a consultation openly, they might have received a few good ideas from us."

An increasingly heard comment among foreign students is that the content of the computer courses taught is inappropriate for those who will return to developing countries. Use is made of expensive technology and large databases, and the skills which are taught will be of little relevance where this kind of equipment is unavailable and unaffordable. As far as this group is concerned it would make more sense to make cuts in this area, rather than in what are perceived as core subjects.