Science - September 8, 2005

PhD graduation in Benin and Ghana

The ceremony for awarding doctorates to nine PhD students from Benin and Ghana will take place in their own country in October 2006. It is the first time that a Wageningen doctorate title will be awarded during a ceremony outside the Netherlands.

‘We will transfer the aula to Benin and Ghana purely for the occasion, but apart from that the students will get an ordinary Wageningen PhD title. It won’t be a combined degree or any other kind of strange construction,’ says Professor Rudy Rabbinge, dean of the Wageningen Graduate Schools.

The reason for arranging the graduation ceremony in Africa has to do with the special character of the PhD projects themselves, all of which are being conducted within the multidisciplinary Convergence of Sciences programme. This programme focuses on the integration of technical and social sciences on crop and soil management research in the countries involved. The PhD researchers formulated their research questions in close collaboration with local farmers and other stakeholders. There has also been regular contact with the stakeholders during the research period to ensure that they have become ‘owners of the research process’.

According to the tropical entomologist Professor Arnold van Huis, who coordinates the scientific side of the programme together with extension expert Professor Niels Röling and the Beninese agricultural expert Dr Dominique Hounkonnou, this approach has been chosen to ensure that the results of the research remain relevant to small-scale farmers in the countries involved. ‘This often happens when technical or social scientists start messing around with the research question: the answer they come up with has often lost sight of the original problem.’

Holding the PhD graduation ceremony on location has above all great symbolic value. ‘The idea is that the research makes a contribution to the local situation, so it is wonderful if the students can defend their results there as well.’ A practical advantage is that with nine PhD candidates it is worthwhile flying the remaining members of the examining committee over to Africa. Each PhD student is supervised by two social scientists and two natural scientists, from the Netherlands as well as Benin and Ghana.

According to Rabbinge, Wageningen has no further plans to make PhD graduation ceremonies possible in other countries. Agreements have been made though with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences on joint reading and doctoral committees. / GvM

Re:act