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Provision of Ph.D. and M.Sc. Courses in Plant Pathology for Students Normally Domiciled in Developing Countries

Introduction

At the 8th International Conference for Plant Pathology held in Christchurch, New Zealand (ICPP2003) there was a meeting of the Task Force on Global Food Security. One item of discussion was the provision of courses in Plant Pathology for students normally domiciled in developing countries. Since there was a lack of information on the subject, the following questionnaire was sent to all invited speakers at ICPP2003 by E-mail and snail mail.

Questionnaire

1. What is the name and address of your Institute (including E-mail address)?

2. Does your Institute provide training for Plant Pathologists normally domiciled in Developing Countries?                                              Yes/No

3. Is this training at the Ph.D. level?                                                                   Yes/No

4. Is this training at the M.Sc. level?                                                                  Yes/No

5. Is the training funded by your Institute?                                                          Yes/No

6. Is the training funded by a body in your country

    e.g. a Department for International Development or similar?               Yes/No

    If your answer to this question is yes please give the name(s) of the body(ies).

7. Is the training funded by a body in a Developing Country

    e.g. a Department for Agricultural Research or similar?                                  Yes/No

    If your answer to this question is yes please give the name(s) of the body(ies).

8. Are the funds adequate for paying the registration fees for the course?            Yes/No

9. Are the funds sufficient to pay the student’s cost of living expenses?   Yes/No

10. Are the funds sufficient to meet the costs of consumables

      and equipment required for  the student’s Ph.D./M.Sc?                               Yes/No

      If your answer is no please specify the problem.

11. In the case of a research project, how was this selected?

12. What provision have you made for continuing the support of

      the student after he or she has completed the higher degree?

13. Please add any comments you think are relevant.

 

Results

There were 53 respondents out of a possible 154 and the numbers of those answering yes or no to questions 2-12 are given in Fig. 1.

 


 

 


Analysis

Provision (questions 2-4): Of the 53 respondents, 37 provided training for Plant Pathologists normally domiciled in Developing Countries, 35 of these at the Ph.D. level and 30 at the M.Sc. level (Fig. 1).

 

Funding (questions 5-10): There was an even split of institutes providing or not providing funding for such training, 18 each. However, in 30 cases, the host countries did provide funding from national or international bodies such as agencies for International Development. About the same number of organisations in Developing Countries (27) also provided funds for training.

            In about two-thirds of the cases where training was provided, the funds available from various sources were sufficient to cover the costs of both fees and living expenses of the student. However, in fewer than half the cases was the funding sufficient to cover the full cost of consumables and equipment (Fig. 1)

 

Choice of project (question 11): In 23 cases at least some attempt was made to select problems that were relevant to the student’s home country (Fig. 1).

 

Continuing support (question 12): Continuing support for graduates returning to their own countries was meagre, 21 Institutes stating that there was no support and only 11 saying that there was some, usually of an informal nature (Fig. 1)

 

There were 21 responses (including two from one source) to the invitation to add comments. These are reproduced anonymously but with their provenances below:

 

1. University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka: Currently there are personnel specialised in some aspects of Plant Pathology in Sri Lanka scattered in Universities and Research Institutes in Sri Lanka competent of managing postgraduate programs but we need to continue to train more personnel in other areas of Plant Pathology. Some of the acute problems in postgraduate training are: lack of access to literature/journals, insufficient laboratory facilities/equipment and inadequate support by local bodies for postgraduate studies.

 

2. Department of Agriculture, University of Sydney, Australia: Many students in other programmes do not have the follow-up support on returning home. This is a critical issue.

 

3. Regional Crop Protection Center, Davao City, Philippines: The scholarship slots need to be increased but the Department’s funds are very limited.

 

4. Rothamsted Research: (two responses)

1.We receive numerous enquiries from students in Developing Countries wishing to do PhD’s at Rothamsted. We are only able to accommodate a small percentage of these, and only those who are able to secure funding. There is a need for more funding schemes to allow access for people from the developing world to advanced training in advanced institutes.

            2. I think there is an issue about the selection of the research topic. Overseas students should not be just looked upon as cheap labour, as hands to do the host institution's research.

 

5. University of Sydney, Australia: We are very keen to continue to train people from Developing Countries but there is a need for careful selection of students and the provision of adequate funds for support.

 

6. Biological Farming Systems Group, Wageningen University: Even though we have some students with funding from NUFFIC or national governments, the number of fellowships is limited, and many more candidates are accepted than can finally come (due to lack of funding).

 

7. ADAS, Cambridge: ADAS is a privately owned company. The only training we provide is to staff and to students who may be placed with us as sandwich students or as MSc or PhD students who may be supervised by an ADAS staff member.  We have close links with some universities (notably Nottingham, with whom we have a formal link) who value our position with regard to science in agriculture.  We rely on the universities to come to us with students although we may occasionally have funding for specific projects where we approach the universities. We give training a high priority with students who are with us and they would normally get training in issues not directly associated with their degree.

 

8. IRRI, Philippines: Training in plant pathology should prepare students to do basic research in plant pathology and be able to do field work at the same time, not just learning theories. They should be able to do hands-on work. It is an advantage to be able to have good communication skills and interpersonal skills, especially when there are opportunities of working with the farmers when they go back to their home institutions.

 

9. North Carolina State University, US: It's becoming increasing difficult to fund a foreign student because less monies are available for this purpose. Approximately half of our graduate student population was comprised of foreign students, but this has dropped to approximately 25% and no foreign students have been admitted in the last few years unless extramural funds were available from a US source.

 

10. Plant Pathology & Biocontrol Unit, Uppsala, Sweden: Sweden will very much (totally) cut down these activities (i.e. training of personnel from Developing Countries) after 2003 (political decision).

 

11. University of California, Department of Nematology, Riverside, CA 92521: In California, except for Mexico, I am not aware of current programs addressing education in Plant Pathology in developing countries. Although in the past US-AID did provide fellowships targetting education in Agriculture related fields in developing countries, these funds have disappeared in the last 10 years.

 

12. Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin: If they had their own funds, our dept would more willingly accept them. There is some doubt in the ability of students from other countries as we do not know their education quality well.

 

13. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada/Agriculture, London, Ontario, Canada: I very much enjoyed this session. Having been the President of the Canadian Phytopathological Society I watch with dismay the disappearance of this important discipline. I would say that capacity in grad student training in Canada has been reduced by more than half over the last twenty years and if current trends continue will disappear by 2020. The primary reason is that all new research funding is aimed at molecular disciplines. Someone pointed out that Plant Pathology is an applied science and this is now viewed as blue collar work. Since Universities can acquire more money and status from molecular based sciences all those teaching Plant Pathology will not be replaced. University of Toronto from 1940 - 70 trained more than 50% of all working plant pathologists in Canada. As of July this year, when my former professor retires, they will no longer teach this discipline. I would like to see a Canadian initative to put funding in place to train foreign students from third world countries. There was such program in place in the 70s. Unfortunately, most of the students that graduated from such programs never went back to their country.

            The core of today’s world dilemma is that people with money have access to more food than they need and obesity is a major medical problem in developed countries. I am convinced that governments have a hidden agenda to reduce food production and thereby stop the considerable drain of tax dollars to the farming community in the form of subsidies. If we had as much money for research as the US government spend on subsidizing sugar and wool and god knows what else, we could pretty well fund the entire globe’s research initiative into plant protection. It is not unusual to see growers plough down 5-10 acres of tomatoes once they have harvested sufficient quantities to meet their quota with the processors. This is their “just in case” overproduction. As plant pathologists we can't quite comprehend agricultural economics as we are often wrapped up in the big picture.

Yet the head scab of wheat has had dramatic impact on the US and Canadian wheat industry and has displaced thousands of families from farms they had worked for many generations. These are the people that are our clients and their need is immediate and beyond the global economic picture of wheat supply.

 

14. USDA, ARS, 1815 N. University St., Peoria, IL 61604 USA: As noted above, we are not associated with a university and therefore do not offer courses and degrees.  However, we have excellent research facilities that could potentially be used by a student to complete part of a degree offered elsewhere.

 

15. CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products Research, Australia: We get regular visits by OS researchers especially from SE Asia for training associated with ACIAR projects or other. These costs are embedded in the project funding.

 

16. Department of the Volcani Center, Israel: The frame of these courses is mainly in postharvest physiology and pathology.

 

17. Department of Plant Pathology, The Ohio State University, Columbus OH USA: We have one of the top graduate programs in plant pathology in the United States. We currently have 29 graduate students in both M.S. and Ph.D. programs. Research projects vary from basic molecular studies to practical disease management issues. Over half of our students are currently international.

 

18. Department of Plant Pathology, China Agricultural University (west), Beijing 100094, P.R. China: Thanks for collecting information. I think more opportunities to study in developed counties for Ph.D. candidates selected from developing countries is worth considering since they can acquire more advanced knowledge and learn new technologies.

 

19. Department of Genetics, University of Pretoria, South Africa: This questionnaire was developed for persons operating out of "developed" world situations. This makes it quite difficult for me to answer. It also assumes that "one" has only a limited number of postgraduate students. One of the realities of those of us in the developing world is that the skills base is so small that we take on too many students, knowing that we can still only hope to scratch the surface.

I find that often colleagues in the developed world who train students from the developing world do not always understand the limitations of these students and sometimes allow the students to graduate despite the fact that they have not really "made the grade". The comment has been made to me more than once that these students will go back to their countries and it "doesn't really matter" that they aren't on a par with the other students as they will be going back to where they came from. In fact the opposite should be done. The developing world does not need substandard scientists. If anything the developing world needs only the very best as sending home mediocre students only perpetuates the problems. Of course the really good students often don't "go home". They are very eagerly employed in the developed world which only serves to increase the gap between the developing and developed world.

The developing world needs to develop sustainable infrastructure. Quick fixes and small injections of advice and funds only help for a very short time. Unfortunately, such infrastructure takes a long time to develop and needs the "buy in" of the local government and people. I have no real solutions other than to say that one should look at the successful examples and try to learn from these if you wish to help the developing world.

The South African dynamic is an interesting one as we have a huge amount of infrastructure. But we currently have an ageing scientific community. This is driven by the fact that many of our young scientists leave rather than try to build their lives in a country having an uncertain future. For those who do not want to leave, the salaries of research scientists are very low and do not serve to attract the people who should be doing science. It is a common phenomenon that people who have been able to educate themselves despite their socio-economic backgrounds are far more likely to choose careers that are going to be well paid and research science is not well paid in any country. However, in the developing world the gap between business and research science /academic salaries is often larger than that in the so called first world.

 

20. University College London, UK: The non-European Union registration fee for a degree course in Biological Science (currently > 13,000) makes it prohibitively expensive for most students from Developing Countries (DCs) to study for a Higher Degree here. Moreover, since no overt part of this fee is earmarked for consumables, an additional bench fee has to be charged in order to provide the student with the wherewithal to accomplish his or her work. There are many acute plant pathology problems in DCs which are crying out for attention and there are a number of people in “Developed Countries” who would be glad to be involved. However, it is not easy to tap into supplies of money that will enable them to do so and it appears to be becoming harder. One of the problems of Plant Pathology is the difficulty in getting data on the losses caused by pathogens until there is a raging epidemic. Yet a visit to the field with a local agriculturist in a DC usually makes it plain that the crops are often seriously under-performing. Usually the local person has so many crops to look after that even if he is able to make a survey there is little he can do about controlling the diseases he finds. So, in my view, there is a need for interested individuals in the Developed World to establish contacts in DCs, identify diseases of importance and train at the postgraduate level young scientists in the techniques to control them. Besides learning such techniques, a further bonus of being trained abroad is that the student is removed from the immediate problems of the DC Research Station or University and can focus on the job in hand.

     

Conclusions:

1.      It is not clear from the results whether the 101 people who received the questionnaire and did not reply were simply unable to do so for various reasons or whether they felt it was not worthwhile as their institutes did not provide postgraduate training for students normally domiciled in Developing Countries. If the latter, then fewer than a quarter of the institutes contacted provide such training.

2.      People from institutes in several DCs responded. Although there was little mention among them of lack of funding, it was clear that this and its consequences were important since lack of literature, facilities and equipment were mentioned. One DC respondent made the point that returning graduates should be able to do field work and have good interpersonal skills.

3.      Lack of funding to train students from DCs was a recurring theme among scientists in institutes located in Developed Countries. Moreover, funding appeared to be decreasing. Other points concerned the difficulty of recruiting students with an adequate background and the possibility that they would not be trained to an adequate standard, thus exacerbating rather than solving the problems of their country of origin on their return. Moreover, some students never return.

Selection of topic is an important issue. My policy has always been to ask overseas applicants the identity of the more important crops in their country and their diseases. The final choice of the topic is usually made on the basis of the importance of both crop and disease and preferably a visit to the country concerned in order to evaluate the problem at first hand. This has two advantages: the student realises the value of his/her work and also has a better chance of finding an appropriate job on return to his/her country. I totally agree with respondent who stated that foreign postgraduates should not be looked upon as cheap labour to do the host institution's research.

 

The way forward:

Readers of this web site are encouraged to contact me by E-mail r.strange@ucl.ac.uk with suggestions as to how the decline of postgraduate training in Plant Pathology can be reversed, particularly in relation to DCs. In order to provide a starting point I make the following suggestions:

1.      Funds should be made available internationally for Plant Pathologists in well-found laboratories who have an interest in DCs to travel to such countries. The purpose of such visits will be to discuss Plant Disease problems of the DC with local scientists, to make field visits to view the problems, to formulate project proposals jointly for funding and to identify and interview potential candidates for training.

2.      Successful candidates should be awarded a scholarship which would adequately fund bench work, fees and living expenses in the host laboratory. Suggestions as to how such scholarships could be funded and administered would be particularly welcome.

3.      The scholarship should stipulate that the candidate must return home and work in a relevant field for at least three years after the award of the degree.

 

Richard Strange

18th August 2003