Science - April 6, 2006

Alumni praise development education

Friday afternoon 31 March, Otherwise held a seminar on how well the Wageningen education system prepares students for development work. The opinions voiced by the speakers varied, but a survey among graduates from the Netherlands and abroad indicated that, generally speaking, alumni are satisfied with the education they received, and in particular with the ‘Wageningen approach’.

Two years ago Otherwise organised a similar seminar on the internationalisation of education. This year’s seminar continued along the theme of the international approach, but focused on development work, a central issue for Otherwise, a student-run organisation, whose subtitle is Dialogue for Development. Prior to the seminar, Otherwise carried out a survey in collaboration with the alumni association KLV among all international master’s graduates and Dutch graduates from International Development Studies. About 1500 alumni were sent an email questionnaire and almost a quarter responded.

Most of the alumni indicated that they were generally very satisfied with the education they received in Wageningen. In particular the interdisciplinary approach to problems, referred to as the Wageningen approach, scores well. The respondents were also high in their praise for the focus on students taking their own responsibility and working together with other students. Less positive points that arose were a lack of clarity concerning objectives and expectations and the lack of supervision during stages or internships. The Wageningen graduates think that there is room for improvement here. A number of alumni were not happy either with the applicability of thesis results. Apparently the data are not always suitable for being translated into practice.

A number of guests from within and outside the university spoke at the seminar on their experiences with development education. The theme of the seminar seemed to be too broad to tie together neatly in the concluding panel discussion. As a result, the opinions were divided as to whether the Wageningen educational system prepares students for the realities of the field. But those present did agree on one subject: modern education is oriented towards offering students the opportunity to learn for themselves and to experience what happens in practice. In the words of an Otherwise representative: on ne développe pas, on se développe, you’re not being developed, you develop yourself. / JH

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