Agricultural Higher Education in the 21st C:
global challenge in knowledge transfer to meet world demands
for food security and sustainability
This conference was led by the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies was led by CIHEAM in conjunction with four partners from 15 to 17 June 2015, at CIHEAM Zaragoza, Spain. This conference was sponsored by the OECD Cooperative Research Programme on Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems. It was partnered with ICA.
Twenty-nine conference speakers, chairpersons, and facilitators from seventeen countries guided an interactive conference where all participants were able to engage in three formal general discussions focused on the analysis and recommendations for future development of curricula in the agricultural and life sciences, as well as informal discussions and networking for sustained collaboration beyond the conference. The conference program included the following sessions:
Session I: Challenges for agriculture in the XXI century
Session II: Are current agricultural educational models suitable to meet global challenges?
Session III: Addressing the needs and challenges for innovation in agricultural curricula.
See the detailed conference background, programme and the presentations
More than 80 participants from 27 Countries (Albania, Algeria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, France, Holland, Hungary, India, Ireland, Japan, Lebanon, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America) attended the conference, representing agricultural higher education institutions and other stakeholders in agricultural curricular reform. Backgrounds of participants: most of participants were academic authorities (rectors, deans and directors) and professors of 35 Agricultural Universities and Faculties of the represented countries. Eleven participants were directives and staff of four international organisations (OECD, CIHEAM, Union for the Mediterranean, Commonwealth of Learning). Eight participants represented seven national and international associations involved in Agricultural Higher Education. Three researchers from public research institutions, 2 Administrations high officers and 2 private firms’ executives also attended the conference.
Major highlights from the presentations
Participants discussed the main challenges and uncertainty that affect agriculture today, and the role of Higher Education to respond to them. These are challenges that are not well understood, have ambiguous and conflicting interpretations, and shift with time. Challenges mentioned often during the conference included problems with food, environment, climate change, energy, and water. Higher education must respond by helping adapt practices, processes, and products to improve productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of agriculture to produce more food, healthier food, in less land, and to make it more accessible to more people, as well as adapt and mitigate climate change. To do that, Higher Education must appropriately identify social, economic, environmental, educational, technological, and political factors and clarify local, regional, and global focus, mission, vision, values, and goals.
The role of Higher Education in the bioeconomy to in developing innovative curricula is crucial to respond to these challenges. Conference participants agreed that paramount to the development of innovative curricula is a change of paradigm. This new paradigm should strengthen its focus in the co-creation of knowledge and innovation with all stakeholders, follow a cycle of analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation; improve quality assure and accreditation processes; and lead innovation through both incremental optimization and transitions.
Participants agreed that to do that, Higher Education should address institutional changes, develop effective collaboration with all stakeholders, and institute curricular reform that changes what we do and how we do it (learning goals, teaching and learning methods, course structure, program operations, course content, and materials). Finally, it is important to continue research to examine the trends, competencies, and frameworks in the higher education curriculum in the bioeconomy.
Major outcomes/conclusions in terms of policy relevance
Much of the discussions focused on questions regarding what Higher Education needs to do to position itself to develop innovative, impactful, relevant, rigorous, accessible, efficient, and quality curricula. Key needs addressed included the following:
1) Better identify local, regional, and global challenges in agriculture and higher education that will help determine the curricular goals and changes necessary to meet future demands;
2) Shift from a focus in agriculture to a focus on the bioeconomy, which encompasses the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value added products, such as food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. The bioeconomy must be managed with due regard to environmental sustainability;
3) Examine competencies for the curriculum. Much emphasis was placed on the balance between breadth and depth of knowledge within disciplines, and on preparing graduates who have better communication skills, are holistic thinkers, and effective problem solvers; and
4) Enhance pedagogical methods toward a more learner-centered education, and promote authentic and social learning. While many participants indicated that their institutions were being successful, others agreed that a score of universities still had to address institutional, environmental, and human resource challenges to be successful in that transition, which called for research regarding the challenges/barriers and possible solutions to improving pedagogical methods.
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