My very best wishes for 2016! The new year is shaping up to be a special one, for IOB. Again.
Indeed, in 2015, we went through two assessments, one on our Master programs and one commissioned by the
Flemish Minister of Education. And we did very well. The follow-up is scheduled for 2016. By the end of this year, we
will have fixed a new policy plan for the next five years. One of the ingredients of this plan, and one of the big tasks
ahead, will be the globalization of our Master programs, i.e. to organize parts of our Masters in close cooperation
with some of our partner institutes in the global South.
This is indeed a challenge, but it is also a necessity. Development studies has a Cold-War history of transfer of
knowledge and capital from North to South. We know by now, however, that these early decades were perhaps
providing the wrong answers to wrong-headed questions. In the meantime, and quite unrelated to international
efforts for international development, large parts of the so-called Third World countries discovered their own
development formulas. The globalization process also implied an increasing blurring of the boundaries between
“developing” and “developed” countries. We now talk about the global North and the global South, merely
geographical references, devoid of any normative idea about the direction of change. In the same vein, the European
Association of Development Institutes redefines development studies as an interdisciplinary field of study that tries to
understand change, not just “in developing countries” but “at national, regional and global levels”.
The question, then, is what to do next with our Master programs? At this point, we just have a procedural answer: An
Akan or Ewe proverb has it that “wisdom is like a baobab tree, no one individual can embrace it”. Accordingly,
workable ideas for development need some collective thinking among members from a variety of disciplines,
methodological frameworks, backgrounds and experiences. It is not just that development issues are too complex and
too applied. This is indeed the case, but in fact our multidisciplinary and multi-method profile already tries to capture
this. It is not just that our students have to be able to live an intercultural experience or to engage in fieldwork. In fact
they can already do this, the Master program we organize in Antwerp already brings together more than 30 countries
in one classroom and students already have the possibility to engage in fieldwork while preparing their Master
The change we have in mind goes deeper. The relevant vantage point from which we are writing and analyzing
processes of social change can hardly be fully circumscribed by our disciplines or our methods, it is also determined
by the wider academic, social and political context that shapes our work. Our daily experiences of the world are
important, if only because they give us the language we use to read, write and participate in public debates. It is
not that we should necessarily forget about the ideal of objectivity in science. It is rather that coming to a better
understanding of social change implies a need to build in a broader array of perspectives, also geographically.
This is the basic idea behind our plans to gradually globalize our master programs. But the idea does of course
resonate well with a vibrant alumni community too, another crucial set of hands to embrace the IOB baobab tree!
Tom De Herdt