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"We don’t import researchers, we export research questions"

"We don’t import researchers, we export research questions"

FHML’s ‘Maastricht Method’ reaping rewards in India

MAASTRICHT. There was a time when there were great plans: Maastricht University was going to conquer India. Those plans have been readjusted in the meantime and it appears that only the Faculty of Health Medicine and Life Sciences has made a success of its co-operation with India. It is a matter of great patience, investing a lot of time, and focusing on research projects that fit in with the UM’s existing themes. For the Dutch embassy in New Delhi, the ‘Maastricht Method’ – having led to some thirty PhD research projects, the first award ceremony of 2015  being next Thursday – is an example for Dutch institutes that want to do business with India.

There is a thundering laugh in Randwijck when the main objectives of the Maastricht India project from 2009 are read out: three hundred Indian students and PhD students by 2015, a profit of 1.8 million euro, an office in Bangalore, and an institute in Maastricht that would function as a centre of expertise for Western Europeans who want to do business with India. “That was not even realistic at the time,” say Jos Smits, FHML board member responsible for research, and Dorine Collijn, senior policy officer. Together they form the faculty’s India team. “The UM had appointed an Indian director who want to make a big hit. He mentioned large numbers and great amounts of money that were based on nothing. That is part of India, they like to blow things out of proportion. You have to be able to see through that. ” The Executive Board at that time didn’t see through it and embraced the plans.

That level of student influx was never reached, the then director is long gone, but the office in Bangalore still exists. They don’t work for the entire UM anymore, just for FHML. It is run by an Indian director, Dr. Shyam Vasudevarao, who has a research background, and an Indian assistant who took a master’s in Maastricht. Smits and Collijn: “The other faculties, which focused on recruiting master’s students, pulled out along the way. After our first visit in 2008, we decided to focus on research, and the recruitment of PhD students. They have master’s programmes in India too, they don’t need Maastricht for that.”

Smits and Collijn realised fairly early on that they would need a lot of patience.  Collijn: “You are not the only one dropping by. One time we heard: ‘what are you doing here? Utrecht was here last week. Next week it will be Groningen.’ So you have to invest, visit them regularly, seek common ground and keep coming back to that. We had two points of departure: the collaboration had to fit in with one of our faculty’s research themes. And it had to be a win-win situation.”

What could and can FHML gain from it? Not, at any rate, the 1.8 million euro a year promised in 2009. Smits: “We are not in this for the money at all, we work together because of the research possibilities. India is a large country, it has an immense patient population that can be useful for our research. For example, we had an Indian PhD student who wanted to research a tumour on the retina. He needed sixty patients for that. You will never manage that, was the reaction from an ophthalmology researcher in Maastricht. In all the years that he had worked here, he had only ever seen two patients with this disorder. The PhD student persevered: at the end of the year I will have sixty. He actually had more.” In addition, illnesses that many people in the Netherlands suffer from (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, COPD) are also prevalent in India. Something else that certainly plays a role, is the talent that is in India. “The PhD students are very keen, more so than the average Western European, and extremely motivated.”

Today, FHML works together with twenty partners – hospitals, universities and research institutes – and there are approximately thirty PhD research projects. “We are not involved in brain drain. ,” Collijn explains. The PhD students work in India; they have one supervisor there and one in Maastricht. “They sometimes come to the Netherlands for a few of months for a course or research. The rest is done through Skype.  We stimulate the UM supervisors to go to India at least once. It is good to meet each other.” And to get to know the culture better. Smits, grins: “You have to learn that when an Indian PhD candidate says ‘yes’ he actually means ‘no’.” Collijn explains: “They don’t want to hurt your feelings, Indians are very courteous. They say yes and shake no with their heads. It is only when an Indian says ‘yes, I will do that’, that he will actually do it.”







Five PhDs this year

Five ‘Indian’ PhD award ceremonies have been scheduled for this year. Last year already one PhD defended his thesis. The first is on Thursday, 18 June. Rohit Shetty, ophthalmologist and vice chairman of an Ophthalmology hospital in Bangalore, will defend his voluminous thesis. The focus is on an eye condition in which the cornea slowly becomes thinner – keratoconus – which is quite common in India. Maastricht professors Nuijts and Weber are the supervisors. Place and time: 14:00hrs in the auditorium on the Minderbroedersberg.



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