Improving Agricultural Education
Enhancing agricultural production and productivity: Key determinants of success were the conditions for promoting agricultural growth and the links between the university and the community. Where economies had prospered and the university was actively engaged with farmers and the business community, institutions fulfilled a range of roles and demonstrably contributed to production increases (China Agricultural Education and Research Project). Meeting manpower needs: Expansion and upgrading of physical capacity and program coverage were the most obvious and enduring contributions of the Bank’s assistance. Enrollments in agriculture undergraduate programs rose dramatically, and most institutions became a major source of trained manpower for their country’s agricultural services. But economic problems in many countries made it increasingly difficult for graduates to find jobs commensurate with their training, and universities found it difficult to alter their programs to suit evolving needs. Part of the problem lay with state-led approaches to economic development, centralized manpower planning models, and project planners’ overoptimism about economic growth.
Institution-building: Project investments established some institutions and enhanced the academic status of others. They also helped to improve undergraduate education, by providing better equipment and learning materials, as well as overseas fellowships for upgrading teaching staff (Thailand II, India I, and China projects). But in other ways, institution-building achievements were modest. Fellowships, though useful, exacerbated brain drain problems and did not ensure periodic faculty renewal. Projects that set out to improve graduate education sometimes failed to provide complementary research activities. Several projects that sought to promote contract research or community outreach for universities suffered from a poor understanding of the economics or politics that fueled the demand for and response to these services.
Improving university management and governance: AHE institutions had weak control over some very basic internal decisions regarding funding, staffing, programs, admissions, and enrollments. Although projects ostensibly sought to build up academic capabilities, they did little to enhance the institution’s ability to guide, direct, and manage these capabilities. Governments remained heavily involved in regulating universities, paralyzing momentum and destroying the capacity for institutional responsiveness and innovation, and undermining the independence essential to self-governance and good performance.
Strengthening links and institutional relevance: The most successful components encouraged or enabled institutions to form links with groups they served; this was the single best way to keep university programs relevant. Universities needed to maintain good contacts with employers and take responsibility for assisting with graduate placement. The need to address rural poverty issues and to support agricultural development called for more active participation in agencies responsible for research and extension, and for graduate programs that encourage–if not require–students to conduct applied research with potential economic benefits.
Developing university systems or agricultural support services: The few projects that sought to build links between agricultural universities and support services generally did not accomplish this goal, owing to: unworkable management or financing arrangements; inadequate or inappropriate inputs; competition and disagreement between universities and government ministries concerning the role of each in providing support services; poor coordination with and direction from national agricultural research systems; competition and professional rivalry among scientists; and suspicion of the university’s potential role in fomenting social unrest. In the Philippines, however, the Technical Panel for Agricultural Education, established with Bank assistance, successfully set standards in various agricultural disciplines.
Regional differences: Agricultural higher education components were more numerous and much more successful in Asia than elsewhere. Many projects in Asia laid a solid basis in the agricultural sciences and helped some institutions to become national or regional “centers of excellence”. The Bank often worked with established institutions over successive operations, with well-designed inputs. Borrowers’ history of involvement with higher education was an important factor, since the more experienced borrowers and established institutions were more active in shaping project design, overseeing implementation, and monitoring outcomes.
Outcomes in Africa were far less satisfactory. Facilities were built and equipped, but learning materials were often missing. Economic difficulties imposed great hardship on universities and their faculty, whose monthly incomes might suffice to feed a family for a week. Projects only partly succeeded in making curricula more practical, eliminating the need for expatriate staff, and controlling costs. In some countries, attempts to contain admissions were futile, resulting in chronic overcrowding. Where containment of enrollments was successful (because sagging economies could not absorb more graduates), institutions were underused and unit costs exorbitant. Most disappointing was the lack of research capacity in African universities and the deterioration of the programs that the Bank had helped to establish