Photographer:Fotograaf: Nrupaja Bhide/ Harry Heuts
Morning symposium Opening Academic Year
MAASTRICHT. “This morning we had six people on stage. All women. It shows that women are actually more action-driven than men,” says Rob Bauer, professor of Finance. He points to himself and his fellow female jury members, joking: “I’m the only man. And as men are probably better speakers than women, I’m doing this talk.” At the end of the morning symposium, he congratulates student Nrupaja Bhide and legal philosopher Marieke Hopman, who both won an action research award of 3000 euro.
Action research. The theme of the morning's meeting fits in seamlessly with what this Monday, 4 September – the opening of the academic year - is all about, i.e. whether academics can change the world. Shyama Ramani, a classic example of an action researcher and professor of Development Economics at UNU-MERIT, tells a story that urges universities to take a closer look at their role. “They must become connectors with citizens, with victims, with policy makers. Universities must train people, have spin offs, make the world a better place.” After the tsunami of December 2004, she founded a project called ‘Friend in Need’, which aims to improve sanitation coverage in rural India. Together with inhabitants, volunteers, professionals, and students, Ramani is trying to bring about change in her home country. It doesn't matter how small that change is. In an interview in Maastricht University Webmagazine, she says that they are still experimenting “with different models by which to accomplish our mission,” but the main goal is to “convince the villagers to use garbage bins and toilets”.
Her thoughts on action research: “You have to focus on a problem, co-identify yourself with it and expand the research to other stake holders, address the problem with the people who are dealing with it. Don’t write academic papers for your own glory.”
Three students and three PhD researchers seize this morning's opportunity to convince the jury (including professor Shyama Ramani and professor Rob Bauer) in four minutes how valuable their project is. Nrupaja Bhide, student at the School of Governance, has been concerned about the enormous garbage problem in her home country India from a very young age. She hopes that the introduction of the compost bins – one for each household – will prompt a behavioural change. “Shared responsibility, so that everyone contributes to make the country healthier.” The award for Nrupaja Bhide is well deserved, says jury member Bauer, because “the project is so your own”.
The second winner of the morning, Marieke Hopman, PhD candidate at the Faculty of Law, is striving for better education in the Central African Republic (CAR), “a forgotten country. While it figures prominently on many different lists, from least developed country and poorest to unhappiest country in the world.” A civil war has raged in CAR for years, there is a lot of violence, and the education system that they have is below par. Hopman carried out field research for weeks, spoke to children, teachers and others parties involved, she also visited various class rooms. “How can we help to improve education there?” She argues for workshops for teachers, ministry officials and NGOs and hopes for a national dialogue in the African country. As an example, she mentions a radio debate. “You reach many more people through the radio than through newspapers or video clips. It’s an oral culture, many people can neither read nor write, or have no access to computers.” Besides bringing it to the attention of people in her own country, she also hopes that the situation in CAR will become more visible to the rest of the world. “You win this award because we can see you really need the money to do it,” says Bauer to Hopman.
The action research award is sponsored by the Brightlands Campuses. Through this competition, the university would like to invite UM's academic community to put research and knowledge into action to help meet the sustainable development targets.