Exchange to Change | September 2015 - Page 13

The birth of the baby and early childhood Before the early 2000s, development studies were scattered in Antwerp. There were two institutes in separate university colleges (the Centre for Development Studies and the College for Developing Countries), as well as some researchers working on their own, outside of any structure. Already in the 1980s, long before the University of Antwerp merged into one institution, it was clear to me that this fragmentation was not viable, and that we were in need of a minimal critical mass. My initial attempts at better coordination and eventual merger were met with scepticism and even overt or covert hostility and resistance. Many preferred the illusory comfort of their own small niche rather than embarking on a more ambitious and, in the longer run, inevitable project. It took many years, until the second half of the 1990s, to have things move slowly in the right direction. I was attached to the College of Developing Countries, and I found a soulmate at the Centre for Development Studies in the person of Stefaan Marysse. After having together set up a centre for the study of the African Great Lakes Region spanning both institutes, we embarked on a crusade to convince reticent minds. With the help of both the Flemish Minister of Education, who promised to reward the merger financially, and some allies higher up in the hierarchy of the University of Antwerp that was in its formative stage too, we eventually prevailed in 2000. IOB started functioning effectively in early 2001, and I became its first chair. The fact that we had to start from scratch was an opportunity and a challenge at the same time. We rapidly developed a common corporate culture, got our structures, staff policies and regulations in order, designed the branding of our education, research and service delivery, and soon became visible in the European landscape of development institutes. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear to me that development studies would no longer exist in Antwerp had we not created IOB. As I retire at the beginning of 2016, Iā€™m very happy and confident to leave this youngster in able hands. Filip Reyntjens The anniversary of IOB is a good occasion to ponder on how the institute has evolved over the years, why it took some turns and not others, where it may be heading in the future, and, more importantly, where it should be heading. I guess this is why those who have witnessed the history of IOB from the first row, and were actors in shaping it, were asked to contribute. Not to suggest how IOB should evolve in the future, for this is a task the able new generation at IOB is well equipped to address. But I am happy to draw attention to some issues that preoccupied my generation and that, I think, will not go away. First, an institute like IOB by definition draws on several (social science) disciplines. But how to balance them without losing focus and scientific edge, in particular in terms of staff composition, teaching programmes and research agendas? And how far to go towards mixing these different perspectives: are we juxtaposing or are we trying to fuse disciplines? In my time this led to fascinating discussions. I guess we never managed to settle the debate, but our deliberations were helpful in shaping strategic decisions. Second, the very name of IOB suggests that it must be policy oriented. But how to square this with academic excellence and independence? What, for instance, is the role of consulting financed by development agencies? Again this is something that we kept scratching our heads about, without finding the magic formula. And third, much of development thinking was based on premises about the world around us ā€“ the prevalence of all sorts of poverty traps, the ensuing dichotomy between rich and poor countries, and the critical role of international aid to address the problem ā€“ that, even in our time, were increasingly being questioned. At present, it is fair to say they are just out of date. So why are development institutes still around, and why in Belgium, for what precise purpose? IOB has done well. But it is partly because it was not eschewing such existential questions. So please, keep on questioning yourselves. Wishing IOB, and its staff, a bright future. Robrecht Renard The long path to real North South University cooperation When could we state that partnership between North and South institutions and exchange between the people that is the bloodline of university cooperation is sustainable, mutually beneficial and balanced? The question may become less and less relevant as the boundaries between North and South, or between rich and poor, or between developed and less developed change the whole time but even then the question will arise on the terms and usefulness of international exchange and partnership. The question remains and is a complex one, and maybe it helps to make a difference between the experience you can have as exchange students, which is a direct and personal experience and the ties that institutions build between them on a more or less institutional basis. Almost half a century ago, the world opened up for me through the scholarship I got from the Belgian authorities to study at the Sorbonne in Paris in international economic relations. But these years (68-69) were quite turbulent and professors and authority were severely criticized up to a point where my academic learning curve was less important than the discovery of the diversity of the world by student representatives from all over the world. After all these years I still have very personal and regular contacts and exchange on how we look and experience the world around us. If we have not changed the world, as we were certain to do, we at least try to understand it better. This experience has been an important drive in my belief that an institution like IOB was worth fighting for, because exchange of people from different horizons in the same position not