Education Knowledge

Posted May 1997

Agricultural Education and Training:
Issues and Opportunities - Part III


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1. Adjusting training to employment needs and entrepreneurship

Relationships with the employment market

Many of the participants at the meetings stressed the need for institutions to develop ways of keeping in touch with the employment market and adapting agricultural education curricula accordingly. It was felt that, ideally, institutions should set up permanent mechanisms for observation of the job-market and adaptation of courses, but it was acknowledged that institutional inflexibility and lack of resources would often make this difficult to achieve.

While it was noted that a lack of relationships with the employment market is fairly widespread, some interesting exceptions exist. Among these are:

Several initiatives in the area of entrepreneurship and private-sector oriented training were reported during the round table for Central and Eastern Europe, but these experiences are too recent to be analysed for their effectiveness.

Some countries, especially in the industrialized world, are reluctant to base admissions solely on employment prospects and remain faithful to the traditions of academic freedom. Students are relatively free to build their own study courses according to their interests. In these countries, however, management and entrepreneurship training are given considerable emphasis through a system of professional schools with a commercial orientation which exists alongside the university system.

In most industrialized, and some developing countries, it is common practice to require a minimum of one year working on a farm, or some other area of the agricultural and food industry, prior to taking up a long-term programme of study in agriculture. In some cases, (e.g., the UK), students are also expected to work in various agricultural enterprises during the vacation periods.

The French system of high schools and technical high schools, which is still in use in most Francophone developing countries, provides a compromise between job orientation and academic freedom. While a considerable amount of choice is given to the students in their choice of study courses, strong links are maintained with the technical services, parastatals and professional organizations, allowing training to be oriented towards employment.

Development objectives, local needs and community participation

Agricultural education and training has a fundamental role to play in the definition and implementation of a country's development programmes. However, this requires competent authorities to determine a coherent agricultural policy in which agricultural education and training have important functions. This requires, in turn, the definition of educational objectives within the framework of development objectives.

It was widely recommended in all the meetings that university staff should be involved in the preparation of agricultural policies. This presently occurs only in a few countries. For example, in Malaysia university staff members are often called upon by government to serve as members of policy formulation and budget allocation task forces.

Teaching programmes at all levels need to take into account the problems of small-scale farmers and landless or near-landless rural people with specific teaching materials and complementary research and extension programmes.

The fisheries sector should also be given increased consideration in agricultural teaching, research and extension programmes. Small-scale fisherfolk are among the poorest rural populations in Asia and the Pacific Islands where lack of skilled human resources is a major limiting factor in fisheries development.

In many regions, small-scale family farms constitute the majority of the total number of agricultural holdings. The technological model of development proposed by research and extension often is not well suited to small-scale producers since it depends on inputs that are mostly inaccessible to them. Meeting the needs of these rural families should be a key priority of governments that have specific responsibilities for the generation of appropriate technology and training of rural families. Agricultural education institutions have a key role in training research and extension workers so that they are reoriented towards the needs of small-scale producers.

In many countries, agricultural enterprises range from subsistence to advanced forms of modern agriculture. In reviewing this situation, the round tables for French- and Portuguese-speaking Africa proposed that training needs should be assessed with four employment areas in mind:

As suggested by participants, a possible mechanism to help bring training closer to actual needs is to include representatives of economic sectors and communities in the needs assessment and definition of programmes. This approach was implemented through an FAO programme in Colombia where a secondary technical institution established an external educational committee involving local government organizations which work in the region and representatives of farmers' co-operatives. The committee formulates educational policy and programmes with the institution and helps find jobs for the graduates.

The inappropriateness of curricula designed by educators in isolation was stressed at the round table for the Near East. Training needs and employment objectives need to be adequately considered in developing courses. Ideally, representatives of all groups involved should have input into curriculum design. Identification of education and training needs can be carried out through informal surveys with former students. Questionnaires covering issues such as career development, present employment, and level of satisfaction regarding the training they received at the institution can be used.

2. From public service needs to the needs of the private sector and self employment

In the past, most developing countries based their agricultural education system on meeting the human resource requirements of public services or parastatals. Practically all graduates found employment in the government civil service.

Economic crises and structural adjustment programmes in most countries have not only halted recruitment of new civil servants, but have led to the dismissal of many public-sector employees. These changes mean that curricula need to be reoriented towards entrepreneurship and the private sector.

The new requirements for education and training

More than ever, agricultural education and training systems need to satisfy the requirements of the private sector and self employment. Training needs to be organized to meet the needs of very diverse groups including: An example of a comprehensive training programme is given by the Institut National de Développement Rural, at Thiès, Senegal. Its programme, which supports training for entrepreneurship, offers fee-based courses, job orientation advice and in-service training.

Many colleges of agriculture throughout Africa conduct agricultural skills training for farmers and those wishing to work in agriculture as well as various training programmes to support the development of small- or medium-scale agricultural enterprises. Few programmes as yet, however, conduct higher-level entrepreneurship and management training courses.

Various factors have contributed to the increasing pressure for the inclusion of commercial concerns in agricultural education and training. Among these are:

Several programmes for entrepreneurship training have been designed and implemented in African countries involving educational institutions and development projects supported by NGOs and international organizations. Key aspects related to the role of the present formal education system are: The participants at the French-speaking African round table considered that basic conditions for successful redirection of agricultural training are:

The shift from central planning to market orientation

The shift from a centrally planned regime to a free market economy, of particular concern to the round table for Central and Eastern Europe, requires significant changes in the way agricultural education is conducted. Although problems and contexts present fairly broad similarities throughout the region, the specific situations differ from country to country. An extreme case is the agricultural education system of the former East Germany which, following unification with West Germany, is being gradually and comprehensively integrated into the German system.

Russia and most other former socialist countries, on the other hand, have not been able to conduct such a total reorganization of their systems. However, a strategy for transformation has been developed and new policies are gradually being implemented to reorient the agricultural education system towards a market economy.

Key aims and objectives of the educational system need reviewing to take account of free market economics. In particular:

To meet the above objectives, it may be necessary to completely restructure education systems based on the following guidelines: Solving the problems mentioned above is especially difficult in view of the decades of under investment in higher education. This has resulted in difficulties in buying and maintaining equipment, shortages of text books and other publications and a decline in the interest of graduates in university jobs as researchers and teachers. Russia and the other Central and Eastern European countries all expressed the desire for international and inter-institutional co-operation in developing their reform plans and in organizing sound contacts with institutions in Western Europe and North America.

The following four categories for classification of countries with regard to their current roles in agricultural education and training are useful:

Bulgaria
As in the case of the other Central and Eastern European countries, Bulgaria is experiencing radical and dynamic socio-economic changes which affect the agricultural economy and education system. Agricultural education and its objectives need to be reconsidered. The system inherited from socialism is antiquated, static and conservative, with inflexible forms and structures; it does not meet modern requirements. Bulgaria needs a flexible open system capable of responding to the changes, which means a modern agriculture university able to combine education, research, practice and extension.
- M. Popova, Higher Agricultural Education in Bulgaria in a Time of Economic Transition, Report of Regional Round Table in Central and Eastern Europe, Poland 1992.
In both developed and advanced developing countries, specific problems are emerging. Furthermore, it can be assumed that the problems faced by agricultural education in industrialized countries are likely to become increasingly relevant in newly industrializing countries such as Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

In these countries, the rapidly increasing integration and diversification of agricultural activities has changed the role and scope of agricultural education. Major changes which are taking place are:

There is also a need to take into consideration significant changes in public perceptions of agricultural activities. Consumers are becoming more concerned with issues such as the quality of food, environmental protection and animal welfare.

Regarding the structure of agricultural education systems in developed countries, advanced developing countries and countries in transition, trends which need to be taken into consideration are:

These considerations, presented at the round table for Central and Eastern Europe, were confirmed by the case studies carried out in 1991 on higher agricultural education institutions in Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the USA, and by the country reports for Japan, Korea and Thailand, among others.

3. Relationships with regional and international organizations

Regional, inter-regional and international organizations often cover a larger field than agricultural education alone. They are often associated with economic and technical assistance and may be organized either by governments or NGOs.

International associations have been created by agricultural education establishments themselves, at regional and sub-regional levels, often on the basis of language groups. Associations grouping higher education institutions together are more numerous and have a larger geographical coverage than those which link technical education institutions.

Problems related to institutions and organizations

Both inter-governmental and inter-institutional organizations were considered important by the participants at the meetings. However it was noted that: The round tables unanimously emphasised the need to look beyond national borders, establishing links with other institutions for both research and higher education activities. Regional associations of agronomists, veterinarians, professors and technicians are a useful instrument for the exchange of information across borders. Such associations exist in every part of the world, but are particularly active in Asia and Latin America.

Inter-institutional co-ordination and co-operation

Inter-institutional co-ordination and co-operation already exist to some extent at regional and sub-regional levels. A large number of inter-institutional associations were represented at the round tables, including: These structures contribute to the organization of inter-university exchanges by Co-operative networks have been created in various regions, beginning with regional associations (Asia, Africa, Latin America) of universities and faculties of agriculture.

These networks allow the identification, among the linked institutions, of centres which are particularly well placed and competent to become regional focal points for a particular subject. The round tables recommended the reinforcement of these centres, which include:

Many participants stressed that the expansion of specializations as well as increasing staff and equipment costs make collaboration and inter-institutional agreements increasingly necessary at both national or regional levels. Parochial attitudes, however, have often prevented efforts to create regional universities from succeeding.

It is in the area of the less common and more expensive specializations that inter-institutional co-operation can offer the greatest benefit. Since it is impractical for all institutions to offer all specializations, co-operation allows specific institutions to conduct the initial training or continuing education for specialists in various fields. The various Centres of Excellence or Centres of Specialization should be developed with these objectives in mind. They can also play an important role in inter-institutional and international research programmes.

Academic networks and inter-institutional links seem to be generally lacking in the Near East. Their creation was recommended by the regional round table with the objective of improving the co-ordination of research and higher education. The various round tables for Africa expressed the need for establishing contacts and links between the different African networks.

While links among institutions of Central and Eastern Europe have been weakened, these institutions are now establishing links with Western Europe. The round table made an appeal for the creation of a European Association of Higher Agricultural Education in charge of promoting linkages among institutions from Western, Central and Eastern European countries.

Most round tables recommended that national, sub-regional or regional networks for education and training institutions also need to be created at the intermediate level of education.

The experience of the interstate schools

An intra-regional initiative for educational co-operation with technical assistance from some industrialized countries has resulted in the creation of a number of Interstate Schools by fourteen French-speaking Western and Central African countries. In the field of agriculture these are: These Interstate Schools are members of the CRESA network (Regional Centres for Specialized Studies in Agriculture) of Francophone Africa. The system, which has been in operation for about twenty years, presents a number of advantages and positive implications:

The role of international organizations in support of agricultural education

Participants at all the meetings recognised the important role of regional and global technical assistance organizations in supporting the development, improvement and updating of agricultural education.

FAO is the lead agency with technical responsibility for agricultural development within the UN system. With regard to agricultural education, FAO is presently engaged in the following specific activities:

Ways in which international organizations can best assist the development of agricultural education and training include: Bilateral donor agencies, such as government-supported aid organizations, foundations and voluntary organizations, conduct a wide range of projects and programmes in agricultural education. Apart from their regular programmes, the various agencies promote links between agricultural education institutions from the industrialized countries and similar level institutions in the developing countries. Such links can be particularly useful in managing fellowships, training of teaching staff and creation of networks of advanced centres.

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