Recent years have seen government deficits grow and foreign aid budgets contract. However, according to the Centre for Global Development’s ‘Commitment to Development Index 2012’, providing assistance to developing countries is not solely about donating large quantities of money.
An array of influencing factors must be examined when assessing a country’s devotion to development: Do its tariff rates encourage foreign trade? What are its migration policies? Do its intellectual property laws restrict or advance technological innovation in poorer countries? It has been claimed that, per capita, the Irish are among the most generous donators in the world, yet the report places Ireland bottom of the list when it comes to overseas investment. The reason? ‘It is one of only three CDI countries without a national agency to offer political risk insurance and also lacks policies to fully prevent double taxation of corporate profits earned abroad.’
A postgraduate degree in Development Studies allows students to deepen their understanding of such concerns. Familiarity with the various factors of development – whether they be social, economic, cultural, political or environmental in nature – is crucial, as is recognising the guises that the associated problems may take around the world: from food security and conflict resolution to human rights and environmental sustainability. By examining and analysing the issues in context, students also learn about the policies currently in place, along with their alternatives.
According to Tom Campbell, Registrar and Lecturer in the Kimmage Development Studies Centre, the swelling popularity of Development Studies courses marks something of a response to the limitations of current international growth processes: ‘There has been a re-evaluation of human well-being and progress indicators. Emphasis is placed not just on economic growth but on building more equitable, sustainable and resilient societies.’
While theoretical understanding is a vital component of postgraduate Development courses, they also provide students with the practical skills required to work in the development sector. Project management, problem solving, leadership and motivational skills are all fortified. The development of research ability is another key element, with students learning both quantitative and qualitative methodologies during the preparation of their dissertation. In addition to these benefits, Campbell adds that ‘the focus on group dynamics, human development and critical self reflection gives student an opportunity to develop a range of personal skills and competencies which are ideal for working with groups and in diverse contexts. Usually the numbers in postgraduate classes are no more than twenty-five, and so there is increased emphasis on learner participation, dialogue and inter-cultural learning’.
While well-established Development Studies courses are available from DCU (e.g. Management for Sustainable Development), UCC (European Development Studies, Planning & Sustainable Development) and the University of Limerick (Peace and Development), there are many related postgraduate programmes available elsewhere. A recent addition is the MA in Development Practice, delivered jointly by Trinity College and UCD. Because this programme is run in collaboration with the National University of Rwanda, students will be given the chance to undertake cross-disciplinary fieldwork there; they will also have the opportunity to undertake internships with leading international organisations.
As Development courses are generally international in outlook, the chance they provide for students to travel remains one of their most potent attractions. As with the TCD-UCD programme, NUI Galway’s MA in Environment, Society & Development Students contains a foreign component – its field-based module takes place in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here students will get to observe the development work of the European Commission along with various UN agencies. Along with deepening students’ appreciation of cultural difference, such time abroad helps them understand how initiatives on the ground are often framed by a nodus of broader geopolitical, economic and institutional structures.
Readers who are more interested in development careers a little closer to home can avail of postgraduate programmes in DIT (Community & Local Development) and NUI Galway (Community Development). These courses provide a practical and theoretical understanding of the issues faced by underdeveloped communities in particular. Students learn how to collect and analyse socio-economic data, understand communal development in terms of regional policy, and develop the practical management skills needed to bring about positive change in the community.
Kimmage Development Studies Centre has also expanded its range of postgraduate programmes so that along with the standard MA in Development Studies (which is of fourteen months’ duration and is also available as a nine-month Postgraduate Diploma) students can choose from among a range of specialist MA pathways, including Faith and Development, Development and Management, and Globalisation and Change.
Distance learning presents an excellent option for those who may have more demands on their time (e.g. work or family) and so require greater flexibility. Kimmage offers a ‘fast track’ option through which such students can obtain their MA after twenty-five months. Conversely, the ‘slow track’ option is taken over four years. Another distance learning option is Mary Immaculate College’s Graduate Diploma/MEd in Development Education. This is informed by the work of organisations such as Trócaire and Concern and their dedication to producing teachers who can facilitate effective societal change and development through education.
According to Campbell ‘Graduates of the MA in Development Studies have typically gone on to work with Irish and international development agencies, working at management and programme-officer levels, as well as being involved in campaigning, advocacy and awareness raising on global development issues. Others have opted to use their skills in project management, participatory development and leadership to work in the community development and voluntary sector here in Ireland.’
With the welter of choices on offer, it seems that the career options are just as varied.
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