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"Higher education is the key to a nation’s future success"

Higher education is the key to a nation’s future success. Here developmental and educational cooperation have to grow together, says BMBF State Secretary Georg Schütte in an interview with Bmbf-online about the significance of cultural education in development cooperation and about the German-South African Year of Science.

The focus of Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum this year is culture, education, and the role of the media. People say that edcation is the key to an entire society’s future. Is this true?

Schüte: Yes, absolutely. If we look, for example, at North Africa, at Egypt, then we can see a young generation hungry for education. And hunger for education means hunger for future opportunities. The young people aspire to attend university; they hope to earn a degree with career prospects, and having career prospects means shaping the future. In this context, the concept of nation-building should be interpreted quite literally - helping to build a nation. In this sense education, as well as higher education, is a key for the future and to the future.

And do you think that education should be a stronger focus of development policy than it has been in the past?

Schütte: Yes! When we began the Strategy for the Internaliyation of Science and Research three years ago, we said that cooperation in development and cooperation in education have to grow together. We’ve also made quite a bit of progress along this path. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has developed an education strategy, and we’re cooperating closely. At the same time, we at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research are working on a strategy for cooperation with developing countries and particularly with Africa. Here too, we want to explore new paths – and we will.

Some go so far as to claim that without education, peaceful coexistence between nations isn’t possible. But doesn’t this risk going too far? Is it really so simple?

Schütte: No, it isn’t so simple. Education isn’t the key to everything. But a great deal is impossible if we don’t begin with education. We must ask: what can we do? We won’t manage to build educational systems in all of these countries and raise them to a level comparable to ours. Here the individual countries have work – and homework  - of their own to manage. But we can climb aboard and get involved in places where cooperation can create something new, where we can learn from each other together. This is our responsibility.

Do you have a concrete project in mind?

Schütte: In spring of last year, we started to lead a discussion in Egypt about how cooperation could be expanded beyond the area of technical sciences. In this area there are plenty of collaborative projects. We thought about how we could cooperate in the humanities and social sciences. We considered what contributions these disciplines could make towards building the foundations for an open society and the emergence of a democratic community. Here too, we see chances for cooperation.

Is there similar cooperation is Asia?

Schütte: Yes, the spectrum is very wide here too. A key point is water researcher. We're cooperating closely with Vietnam in this area. We’re looking at how water supply and sewage treatment can be developed in, for example, Hanoi. This is an example of the themes that arise from the specific conditions of a location. We are also cooperate closely with China – the large emerging nation in Asia which many say is one of the future world powers. Water is a major theme here as well. We are currently working together with Chinese partners to construct a pilot sewage plant in which it will be possible to reclaim substances from the sewage and return them to the value-added chain. At the same time, it’s become clear that with a country like China, cooperation cannot be limited to the technological. That’s why we have started an innovation forum in which we can conduct a dialogue with our Chinese partners about the conditions that need to be arranged in both countries for innovative businesses, and how much freedom is necessary to do business. We believe that such dialogue is also important in uncovering new paths for future cooperation.

Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum in Bonn focuses on the relationship of culture and education – on cultural education. What exactly is this and why is it so valuable, for example, in African countries and particularly in development policies?

Schütte: In the broadest sense, education is part of the cultural systems of individual countries. And for this reason, it’s correct to anchor education in a cultural context. Educational cooperation and cultural cooperation go hand in hand. Education continually reinvents and reconstructs a counry's educational traditions.  And looking from the other side, education can’t be separated from cultural contexts. In Germany, there’s a tradition of foreign cultural policy which reaches back to the founding phase of the BRD (the Federal Republic of Germany). It was about integrating Germany back into the context of the world community in fields and at levels where Germany had previously been recognized. This is the basic idea of foreign cultural policy, which Willy Brandt later called the third pillar of foreign policy – next to security and economic policies. Educational policy has gradually become a more integral part of this foreign cultural policy. For this reason, the term was expanded at the end of the twentieth century, and we no longer speak of foreign cultural policy alone, but rather of foreign cultural and educational policy.

And this policy is currently experiencing a Renaissance. Never before have there been so many people learning to speak German.

Schütte: That is correct. Germany's economic success has led people to look a little closer at what sort of country this is. There’s an increased interest in gaining access to the German economic system by means of the German language. In addition, there’s  interest in better understanding the country and the reasons for Germany’s economic success. And the German language is the key to this.

The German-South African Year of Science, which takes place this year, is focusing on cooperation in the area of research policy and networks. Why is this area of cooperation so important for the BMBF, for Germany, and for the Federal Government?

Schütte: South Africa is a partner country that plays a major role on the African continent in general, at least south of the Sahara. South Africa is a country with a long academic tradition, with a long scientific tradition, with internationally recognized universities, and with internationally recognized research institutions. Cooperation with South Africa is a key for cooperation with other African countries. South Africa occupies an important role here and actively builds and develops academic relationships with other countries –cultural relationships as well. In this sense, a partnership with South Africa is also the way into multilateral partnerships in Africa.
And South Africa is also one of the up-and-coming countries of the world?

Schütte: That’s right. Together with the other BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, and China - South Africa is on the path to playing a stronger economic and also scientific role than it has in the past.

Two regional research centres have been established in western and southern Africa. Both focus on climate change and land management. Germany is building these centres together with partner countries there. What are your hopes for this collaboration?

Schütte: WASCAL is a consortium of ten West African countries with meteorological stations in ten countries. Data is collected in Ghana. There are graduate schools in all ten countries where young students are trained to work with the data, to evaluate it, and to make it relevant for individual countries. What’s the idea? We want to learn how climate change influences the regions, and from this we want to derive how the land can be cultivated in such a way that it remains fertile in the coming years. So it isn’t just about understanding climate change, it’s also about drawing very practical conclusions which are of significance not only for the government, but also for the individual farmers of these regions. This is the goal of both WASCAL and SASSCAL. SASSCAL is a group in southern Africa – with South Africa, Namibia, and other partner countries – with the same goal: on the basis of data collection, to understand climate change and its effects on land and soil, to train young scientists, and to ensure the transfer of research findings into practice.

And what is Germany’s interest?

Schütte: We want to make Germany’s competence in research useful internationally, and both of these projects show that it is possible to cooperate with scientists from Africa on equal terms and towards a common goal. It isn’t about producing a one-sided knowledge transfer from North to South, but rather about creating a common platform for learning on both sides. If we can discover more about the processes of climate change in Africa and learn something, then this helps climate research in Germany too.

The German-South African Year of Science focuses on many other topics as well. One that stands out is astronomy. What is this all about?

Schütte: Astronomy has a long tradition is South Africa. In the nineteenth century, the British colonial government set up an observation tower in Cape Town. It was important at the time to provide data for shipping traffic around the Cape of Good Hope. Since then, South Africa has built up scientific structures in order to advance astronomical research. Today, astronomy is one of the areas of natural science in which South-African scientists can compete at the top rank of international research. For example, there’s a current project in radio astronomy for which telescopes are being built in the dessert and the most modern instruments are collecting new astrological data. This means that astronomy is a key for South Africa to gain access to the international cutting edge of natural science research. This is the goal of the South African government, and for this reason, they are working hard to play a leading role in future large-scale projects.

Why are people so fascinated with astronomy - with looking at the stars?

Schütte: It’s true, there’s something fascinating about it, and it fascinates young people in South Africa. While visiting Cape Town, I saw how young students were working with these instruments. There’s a great deal of excitement, and a lot of ambition. The most modern know-how is being developed here. Students are gaining knowledge that reaches far beyond astronomy, and which will later be significant for completely different occupations. A concrete example: modern astronomy is currently very involved in the most modern data processing, which means astronomy research is also the key, for example, to expanding the IT know-how in these countries and thus setting modern economic structures in motion.

Beyond the fascination, what is the concrete use of astronomy research?

Schütte: The first answer is that in basic research, you can’t ask about quick, direct use.  For a start it has to do with human curiosity about our place in the universe. But, the research findings are relevant at diverse levels. A look at the universe is a look at the origin of the universe, and thus a look at the smallest material particles which are also being researched on Earth with the particle accelerator. A look into the far distance is also a look into the very small details. And these small details are highly relevant for materials research here on Earth. In addition to this, modern radio astronomy is a science that works with the newest technical instruments and the newest technical methods. I just mentioned data processing. Another challenge for astronomy is the energy supply for telescopes in regions where no power infrastructure is available. This means that topics such as photovoltaics, energy self-sufficiency, and battery power are significant for astronomy. When an infrastructure is built for astronomy research, relevant know-how is simultaneously generated for completely distinct fields. Countries that lead the way with astronomy research need to become highly technologically competent in other areas as well.

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The Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum is a congress with international reach. It draws media representatives from around the world and people from the fields of politics, culture, business, development and science.The Global Media Forum 2012 takes place from 25 - 27 June in Bonn. Click here for the programme and registration.


© 01/31/2015 04:44 Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung