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A Groningen-Maputo dialogue

Last December, the dull Dutch winter was brightened up by an exotic PhD ceremony. PhD student Arlindo Sitoe came to the Netherlands together with Dr Orlando Quilambo, Vice Dean of the University of Mozambique to defend his thesis on learning in Mozambique. This PhD ceremony was the result of years of cooperation between the University of Maputo in Mozambique and the University of Groningen. Vice Dean Quilambo: ‘You want an example of the results of this good cooperation? Just take a look at us!’

The cooperation between the Eduardo Mondlane University (EMU) in Maputo and the University of Groningen started in 1983, when the Mozambican civil war was in full swing. Initially, the cooperation mainly consisted of setting up basic facilities such as libraries and laboratories. From the late 1980s onwards, this ‘capacity building’ was supplemented by a staff development project, which included the training of lecturers. In the early 1990s, when the war was coming to an end, a new project was set up in cooperation with the Technical University of Twente and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, which aimed to develop a Faculty of Education, essential for getting the field of education back on track in Mozambique.

The cooperation between the universities has yielded great academic and social results for Mozambique. Quilambo gained his PhD at the RUG in 2000 with a method for improving Mozambique’s peanut crop, and since then he has been extending this research to other plants as a supervisor. In addition, he is heavily involved in developing the technological side of the university. For example, he is currently discussing the possibility of setting up a joint IT project with the RUG, ‘in order to find a more efficient way to manage student information’, says Quilambo; ‘information that is currently stored on paper.’

Dr Sitoe examined the hierarchical ideas that Mozambican students have about gaining knowledge. His thesis may in fact be directly applied to actual practice: ‘Mozambican students will have to realize that knowledge is not just hard facts that they can be fed by their lecturer without any thought or discussion. We are therefore going to train lecturers and make them aware of how their students think. Lecturers should not only provide knowledge, but also stimulate their students to participate. Reasoning and arguing should be encouraged. I hope my research will result in space and facilities being created for more investigating and curious minds’.

The projects are financed by means of development funds from NUFFIC, the Dutch organization for international cooperation in higher education. However, the Vice Dean emphasizes that the cooperation consists of more than just development aid. Quilambo: ‘Even during the war we had an institutional partnership that focused on two-way traffic rather than just sending money. We also had students and PhD students from the Netherlands coming over to do their field research’.

Professor of Adult Education Max van der Kamp, RUG supervisor of the educational projects and Sitoe’s PhD supervisor, agrees. ‘At first it was mainly a question of giving more than we received in return, but we have slowly developed into a real partnership. Now there are internship possibilities there for RUG students, PhD students from Mozambique come here to give lectures, and two PhD theses have already been successfully defended.’

The RUG’s interest in the relationship with the EMU is growing – perhaps a bit too much at times. According to Van der Kamp, self-interest sometimes tends to play a role when recruiting Mozambican students for RUG Master’s degree programmes. ‘We need to fill up these programmes, but for these students from Mozambique it may be much more convenient and practical to follow the same Master’s programme in South Africa. The RUG feels we must provide a window on the world and that this involves a social duty to help people enter the academic world. But now you start seeing the RUG thinking: “Look! We can get a couple of students for our Master’s programme there!”’

The Faculty of Education is now up and running and NUFFIC’s new financing policy is aimed mainly at short-term projects, looking on a per-request basis at where the expertise is and who is most suitable to implement the project. That is a pity, says Van der Kamp: ‘I don’t think that this is the most appropriate way to work together. Our strong point in Mozambique is that we have gained an understanding of the culture and context and have entered into a dialogue. The new policy is moving toward flying in expertise. Someone who goes in, gives his lecture and then leaves again. But such people often don’t even know the country’.

Van der Kamp thinks good communication is essential, for example because not all Western models can simply be applied to Mozambique. He mentions problem-based teaching (PBT), a Western teaching model that the Mozambicans are interested in. ‘You need lots of modern facilities for a PBT system, such as good infrastructure. So we have to be careful not to make them so enthusiastic that they start saying, “We want that too. Just tell us how it works”, and have us take out our ‘Problem Based Teaching: 1, 2, 3’ manual. You should always look at what is possible there. Working together also means having discussions and sometimes even quarrelling.’

In addition to differences in context, there are cultural differences as well. Sitoe: ‘Dutch people are much more informal than Mozambicans. I had to learn to call my supervisor Max, for example. This type of difference in etiquette never resulted in actual conflicts, but surprising situations did arise at times, such as when our Dutch colleagues simply knocked on the Chancellor’s door when they had a problem.

Van der Kamp: ‘It’s a bit of a china shop there, and you don’t want to be the bull. You should constantly try to avoid bypassing people. If you make an agreement with a staff member, you should always involve the dean, or else it may turn out that the agreement you think you have was in fact made with the wrong person.

There were also problems that did not so much involve the academic climate but rather the Dutch bureaucratic system. Sitoe: ‘Sometimes we needed certain material at a specific time in the year due to the research conditions, and it turned out that the equipment was available, but it would take months for us to actually get it as a result of all kinds of bureaucratic rules. People thus received their material long after the season was over, so they had to wait another year to do the same experiment.’

Despite all these minor irritations and surprises, the Groningen-Maputo partnership seems to be a success story, which will not finish any time soon as far as the Vice Dean is concerned. Quilambo: ‘We would very much like to consolidate our existing relationships. We are familiar with Groningen’s strengths, so whenever an opportunity for cooperation arises we will focus on Groningen. Cooperation is important in this world, and Groningen has always been a good partner for us. I don’t know who chose these people, but we are very happy with them’.

Last modified:15 November 2016 3.09 p.m.
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