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(April 12, 2001, Gazette)

Taking research
to the developing world

Dr. Tony Collins, Mariam Yussuf and Dr. Anthony DickinsonDr. Tony Collins and Dr. Anthony Dickinson at the Nkrume Teacher’s College, Zanzibar, with the director, Mariam Yussuf. The pair were in Zanzibar doing some science curriculum development work as part of the MUN Tanzania project.

By Alex Dalziel
SPARK Correspondent

With assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Memorial has been working with developing country universities to enhance their research, curriculum and community outreach abilities.

Funds for these activities are available through an annual competition from the University Partnerships in Cooperation and Development (UPCD) program of the Canadian Partnerships Branch of CIDA. The general aim of the program is to link Canadian universities with educational institutions in developing countries.

“The rationale is that you all get together and do things that are required to develop specific aspects of the institution, which in turn makes a contribution to the development of the country,” said Dr. Anthony Dickinson, acting executive director of Memorial’s International Centre. “Memorial has been very successful in accessing funds from this program.”

So where in the world has Memorial been with these projects? Last year, Memorial finished three long-term projects: in Brazil, Kenya and Tanzania. All of these involved MUN’s expertise in fisheries and marine science. Work continues on projects in Chile (nursing/women’s studies), Brazil (aquaculture), Vietnam and Indonesia (nursing/nursing social work).

“It is a question of access to expertise, skills, and opportunities,” answered Dr. Dickinson. “We can provide these institutions with access to intellectual capacities and knowledge, particularly research skills and state-of-the-art methods, that are not locally available.”

“MUN has significant capacities in marine and health sciences which are very useful to developing countries, specifically for protein production, poverty reduction, and basic health improvement,” he explained. “For example, most developing countries have rapidly growing populations which do not get enough protein. One way we can help them to improve nutritional standards is by helping them develop fisheries and aquaculture programs.”

Some of the project funds are used to bring foreign researchers to Memorial to pursue graduate studies. According to Dr. Dickinson, “One of the only chances people in the developing world get to study abroad is through funds provided by such projects. It is often their only chance to experience study and research in the developed world.”

“It is, however, not simply a matter of helping institutions, — you have also got to transfer development-related knowledge to the community at large,” Dr. Dickinson noted. “One way in which our projects do this is to make significant use of small-format video as a medium for reaching the general public.”

Project benefits do not go all one way, however. According to Dr. Dickinson, “the exposure given to faculty members can provide an international perspective for their course content. In addition, project participation by MUN students and graduates gives them insight into development issues, particularly the poverty and lack of infrastructure which these countries face.”

Drs. Michael Collins and Alan Whittick, professors of biology at MUN who were involved in the project in Tanzania, concurred on this point: “The impact of visiting a developing country was quite staggering — especially with regard to the lack of research and teaching resources.” Despite such difficulties, both were very positive about their experiences. “When we teach environmental studies and marine botany, we now bring in examples of what we learned in Tanzania - when you’ve been to a developing country, you think of issues related to your fields that you had not considered before.”

Communication between the International Centre and MUN’s faculty, students, and alumni is crucial to targeting specific foreign institutions and developing successful relationships. “These projects often originate through word of mouth and informal contacts made between faculty members,” said Dr. Dickinson. “For example, a faculty member who has attended an international meeting may have met someone from an institution in a developing country. During conversation, they discuss possible cooperation initiatives. If word gets back to the International Centre, I might suggest that we develop a project proposal to submit to the UPCD competition.”

If successful, this makes a further contribution to the internationalisation of MUN, and continues its commitment to improving living standards in the developing world.

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