A new international masters program in sustainable development at UCAD

Last week, the MacArthur FoundationEarth Institute at Columbia University, and the Université Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD)’s  Faculte des Sciences Economiques et de la Gestion (FASEG), announced their partnership to offer a new Global Masters in Development Practice (MDP).

UCAD Rector Abdou Salam Sall

In a launching ceremony in the grand amphitheater of the modern UCAD II building, UCAD’s Rector Abdou Salam Sall, along with FASEG Dean Ali Mbaye and a representative of the MacArthur Foundation, described the need for this new masters degree, the course curriculum and objectives, and the worldwide network of which UCAD’s program will be a part.  See Senegalese press releases here, here , here, and here.

This MacArthur Foundation initiative is described as having grown out of a two-year study of what is and isn’t working in current international development training.  In its own words, at the MDP Secretariat website : “In 2007 the MacArthur-supported International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice (see the final report here) found that many people working in the field of development are not sufficiently prepared to tackle the challenges they face.  The creation of MDP programs is an acknowledgement that addressing extreme poverty and sustainable development throughout the world required expert knowledge and an interdisciplinary approach across four key competencies; the natural sciences, health sciences, social sciences, and management.”  (See an op-ed by Jeffrey Sachs and John MacArthur making the case for a new approach to development practice education. )

FASEG's new building

The MDP Secretariat, which is based at Columbia University’s Earth Institute (directed by Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty and former head of the U.N.’s Millenium Project), will manage the developing network of universities offering the MDP, develop an open-source repository for its curriculum and other teaching materials, and offer an online, distance learning component on sustainable development. (See their excellent website about the MDP here.)   (NOTE:  Check out the photo used for the UCAD link.  For those of you closely following this blog, you’ll understand the wry smile on my face when first arriving at this webpage.  Look at the main photo of the NYT slide show on declining universities in Africa posted here on my blog.)

In response, the Foundation has dedicated $15 million over three years to create and launch a two-year bilingual (French/English at UCAD) masters degree that will train people to be “ready for the challenge of sustainable development.”  Emphasis is placed on multidisciplinary education, emphasizing five related subjects: poverty, population, health, climate change, and agricultural productivity.  The MDP will be offered at 15 universities worldwide.  The first 10 were chosen in June, 2009.  UCAD/FASEG’s original partners include Emory University, Columbia, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) University of New Dehli (known for its work on the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment synthesis report) , James Cook University of Australia, Trinity College and University College of Dublin, Tsinghua University of Beijing, University of Botswana, University of Florida, and University of Ibadan in Nigeria.

In October 2009, the MacArthur Foundation added five more academic institutions to the MDP global network, including BRAC Development Institute/BRAC University of Bangladesh, CATIE of Costa Rica, University of California at Davis, University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, and University of Waterloo in Canada.  Other universities will launch an MDP program but with funding from other sources. These include the University of Minnesota (at my alma mater, the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, headed up by my all-time favorite professor, Ragui Assaad ) and the University of Denver.

The top five things that stood out to me during last week’s presentation?

5.  A much needed focus on interdisciplinary education, which will be especially important for the evolution of Francophone education, which is rigidly silo-ed.

4.  A much needed focus on practice, to complement the theory taught in academic programs (ditto #5 on French educational practice).  The on-site, hands-on work, linked with the Millenium Villages Project (one of which is located in Potou, Senegal) is a great application of service learning principles.

FASEG Dean Ali Mbaye

3.  FASEG’s dynamism, led by its bilingual dean, to compete on the international stage to become one of seven universities that made the final cut and the go-to hub for Francophone Africa.

2.  The focus on bilingual education, which will give UCAD’s students yet another nudge to perfectionner their English.

1.  Where is LAW in this masters program?  The nod to social sciences is clear, but when you dig into the curriculum and profs listed both at the FASEG and MDP Secretariat sites, law is scarcely mentioned.  Law codifies societal norms and drives them, both intentionally and accidentally.  Given the Vermont Law School’s interdisciplinary work in environmental law and policy, I can’t imagine creating a global master’s in development practice that doesn’t factor in the impact of law and the need to educate practitioners on how to contribute consciously to the rule of law around the world.

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