Western Balkan Rural Extension Network through Curriculum Reform
The Tempus IV project "Western Balkan Rural Extension Network through Curriculum Reform" will address the deficiency and need for rural development curriculum reform in the Western Balkan region through the training, development, and implementation of rural development programs following 2 streams: formal and non-formal rural development education. Within the framework of these two streams, the following objectives of the project have been established: 1) To develop and improve the competencies of current non-formal education professionals, who will work alongside EU experts to create and deliver non-formal, modular based trainings to stakeholders in rural development. 2) To introduce an interdisciplinary, ECTS compliant Certificate in Rural Development (CRD) program at lead Western Balkan Higher Education Institutions (State University of Tetovo, University of Novi Sad, University of Banja Luka, and Agriculture University of Tirana). 3) To establish Center for Rural Extension (CRE) at lead Western Balkan Higher Education Institutions which support CRD program and non formal education activities. 4) To increase regional cooperation in rural development and extension / outreach within the Western Balkan Rural Extension Network.
The WBREN consortium will achieve these ambitious objectives by engaging leading acadmics, researchers, and practicers from the European Union and Western Balkan region (specifically, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, FYROM, and Serbia). Over the 3 year project period, the proposed consortium will be host to several intensive trainings and development workshops, with special focus on developing the capacities of current formal and non formal education providers. The final outputs of developing the capacities within these two streams will be the creation of the Certificate in Rural Development (formal education) and modular based rural development training programs (to be delivered through non formal education channels). Ultimately, the synergies generated through these intensive and cooperative trainings will lead to a strengthened rural development network within the Western Balkan region. In this way, higher education institutions in the Western Balkan region can become the foundation from which sound and meaningful rural development policies shape the progress of its rural communities.
Various activities and trainings will take place in the EU, including the UK, the Netherlands, and Finland, respectively. Training and development activities in the Western Balkan region will take place at lead Universities in each country (Agriculture University of Tirana - Albania; University of Banja Luka - Bosnia & Herzegovina; State University of Tetovo - fYROM; University of Novi Sad - Serbia). In the following paragraphs, yearly activities and objective descriptions are highlighted to reveal how the need for rural development educational outlets at the formal and non-formal level will be addressed through the WBREN Tempus IV project.
Objective 1: Modular Based Rural Development Training Programs
The need for developing the competencies of current extension / advisors working in the area of rural development is great. Thus, the WBREN project will train several leading non-formal education professionals in creating training modules in rural development, which will later be used to train extension / advisors throughout the Western Balkan region. These continuous learning training modules are primarily meant for those learners who, because of the limitations of time and resources are unable to take up formal training through Higher Education Institutions, but are still interested in having a comprehensive orientation in rural development within a short period of time based upon their specific needs.
The modular based Rural Development programs target several individuals, including: municipal employees dealing with economic and rural development, particularly within rural communities; Ministry of Agriculture staff, advisors, and / or representatives; current extension / advisory service professionals; farmer association management professionals and stakeholders; NGO professionals involved in agriculuture, environment, civil society, and economic development related issues; agriculture secondary school providers; and vocational education and training professionals working with rural populations. Ultimately, the goal is to focus resources on the competency development of individuals advocating on behalf of their members, or who are involved in providing services geared towards the development of rural populations.
Training module material may include, but is not limited to, competency building in the following subject matter: rural dimensions of society, rural entrepreneurship, rural economic development, community-based / sustainable resource management, rural sociology, public policy of rural communities, extension education, pedagogical preparation of teachers in agriculture and rural development, and competence development.
Project Activities Brief:
The duration of Objective 1 will begin in Year 1 and continue indefinitely. In Year 1, activities will include: training non-formal, non-academic partners on modular based rural development training programs (utilizing a ToT methodology) and creating and disseminating training program manuals . During this stage, partner non-formal education providers will gain increased knowledge in rural development theory/principles and teaching methodologies. In Year 2, the first group of professionals in the modular based rural development training program (5 professionals in Year 1) will be enrolled and begin coursework through the Center for Rural Extension. Trainees in the program will meet once a month over the course of 4 months. Each training will last 3 days. Reports will be written on program progress by Center Director, to be analyzed by the WBREN Working Group at the end of Year 2. The WBREN WG, made up of EU rural development and extension experts, will provide recommendations for improvement to the contents or overall program. Appropriate recommendations will be implemented for Year 3, in which 5 new professionals will be admitted to the program during semester one, and 5 professional admitted for semester two. At the end of Year 3, 15 professionals will have completed the modular based training program at each Center for Rural Extension, with a total of 60 professionals in the the Western Balkans receiving this specialization.
Groups Involved (See Section III. 1b for detailed description of individual partners):
Total EU trainers - 6 (project staff); Total Western Balkan non-formal education providers - 8 (target of trainings, project staff for implementing modular based trainings) ; Total professionals completing modular based rural development training program - 60 (15 in each partner country, 5 year two, 10 year three; beneficiaries)
Mobilities: There will be 9 training and development workshop mobilities focusing on content development and competency building of rural development professionals from Year 1-3. Of those, all 9 will be EU to Western Balkan. Mobilities will also take place for the mentoring and monitoring of training implementation. There will be 4 of these (EU to Western Balkan) throughout the life cycle of the project.
Objective 2: Certificate in Rural Development (CRD)
The Certificate in Rural Development (CRD) will be an innovative, interdisciplinary, and ECTS compliant 1-year certificate program that provides participants with a broad understanding of socio-economic factors affecting the transformation of rural society. The course contents will be designed to build upon the technical knowledge of current agriculture students, and prepare them with the proper tools and effective leadership skills that are crucial for rural development in the Western Balkan region. It is primarily meant for those learners who, because of the limitations of current Higher Education Institutions in the Western Balkan region in providing undergraduate or post-graduate studies in Rural Development, now have the opportunity to earn a comprehensive orientation in rural development. The Certificate will be offered through the Agriculture University of Tirana - Albania; University of Banja Luka - Bosnia & Herzegovina; State University of Tetovo - FYROM; and the University of Novi Sad - Serbia.
The program will provide students improved skills and the opportunity to develop:
- a critical awareness of the social, economic and management dimensions of rural society;
- analytical skills relevant to the social and economic dimensions of agriculture and rural development;
- operational skills pertinent to working in the public or private domains;
- the ability to engage with, and influence, rational debates concerning the optimal direction of rural sector developments;
- enhanced communication and presentation skills, and increased competencies in utilizing ICT within the rural development complex and;
- the ability to access rural development literature and pursue effective research.
The project consortium has envisioned various innovative courses to be implemented at their universities following the completion of intensive training and development workshops, as well as observing rural development / extension education courses in the EU. These courses may include, but are not limited to: rural dimensions of society, rural entrepreneurship, rural economic development, community-based / sustainable resource management, rural sociology, public policy of rural communities, extension education, pedagogical preparation of teachers in agriculture and rural development, and competence development. Students will be required to take (4) compulsory/core courses (to be determined), which are aimed at dispensing a solid foundation in rural development principles. Students are then able to select (2) elective courses, which give the student an opportunity to choose courses that are relevant to his/her area of interest or expertise. Pedagogical methodology includes classroom lectures and farm-based teaching. Students will take 3 courses each semester (2 semesters total) for a total of 30 ECTS credits.
Graduates with a Certificate in Rural Development will go on to take careers as extension and outreach advisors, consultants, advisors to municipal and national governments, development agencies, etc.
Project Activities Brief:
The duration of Objective 2 will begin in Year 1 and continue indefinitely. In Year 1, activities will include: curriculum training workshops (utilizing a ToT methodology), development of curruiculum and program structure, EU mentoring and site visits, preparation and publication of teaching materials, and the recruitment and selection of students. During this stage, WB professors will have gained increased knowledge in rural development and new teaching methodologies. In Year 2, the first group of CRD students (10 students in Year 1) will be enrolled and begin coursework through the Center for Rural Extension. Student evaluations and professor peer reviews will constitute the quality control mechanisms of the program, as well as reports written by program Director, to be presented and analyzed by WBREN Working Group. The WBREN WG, made up of EU rural development and extension experts, will provide recommendations for improvement to courses, curriculum, and/or overall program. Appropriate recommendations will be implemented for Year 3, in which 10 new students will be admitted to the program. At the end of Year 3, 20 students will have completed the Certificate in Rural Development program at each university, with a total of 80 students in the region receiving this specialization.
Groups Involved (See Section III. 1b for detailed description of individual partners):
Total EU trainers - 9 (project staff); Total Western Balkan professors - 12 (target of trainings, project staff for implementing CRD programs) ; Total Students graduating from CRD programs - 80 (20 in each partner country, 10 each year; Target group of beneficiaries)
Mobilities: There will be 11 training and development workshop mobilities focusing on curriculum development and new teaching methodologies from Year 1-3. Of those, 2 will be Western Balkan to the EU, and 9 will be EU to Western Balkan. Mobilities will also take place for the development of curriculum and preparation for accreditation. There will be 4 of these (EU to Western Balkan).
Objective 3: Center for Rural Extension
The Centers for Rural Extension will collaborate with citizens, non formal education practitioners, NGOs, and others, to promote excellence in rural development education and extension services that are provided by higher education institutions. Most importantly, they will collaborate with their partner offices (offices located at AUT, UBL, SUT, and UNS) in developing and sustaining a healthy regional network that builds lasting linkages between knowledge producers (universities) and knowledge consumers (agriculture and rural development stakeholders) in the Western Balkan region.
The Centers for Rural Extesnion will accomodate the interdisciplinary and ECTS compliant 1-year certificate program, as well as serve as the office where the modular based rural development training programs will be offered (see Obj. 1). As such, the purchase of new equipment will ensure that the newly trained specialists and professors are adequately prepared to implement exceptional courses and trainings for beneficiaries beyond the life of the project. The equipment (computers, laptops, software, projectors, and rural development literature / teaching materials) will provide beneficiaries with the most innovative and cutting edge tools being used in meeting the practical needs of rural society. The equipment will also aid in the management of both formal and non formal educational activities being implemented through the Centers.
Objective Activities Brief:
The creation and functioning of the Centers for Rural Extension (CRE) will take place from Year 1 to beyond the life of the project. In Year 1, EU experts will implement skills-based trainings for Center Directors and staff on management, professional development, and communication skills. The installation of equipment will also take place at the end of Year 1, so that these tools may be utilized during activities throughout the remainder of the project. In Year 2, the CRE will develop a website and database of experts whom can provide rural development advisory services to stakeholders. Finally, the CRE will begin to offer activities through the Center for students and adults seeking lifelong learning opportunities, including a speaker series, workshops, conferences, and the implementation of field experiments in rural areas.
Mobilities: There will be 6 skills-based trainings for Center Directors and staff from Year 1-3 (2 each year). These will be EU to Western Balkan mobilities. There will also be 2 trainings on the installation and maintanence of equipment (EU to Western Balkans).
Objective 4: Western Balkan Rural Extension Network
The Western Balkan Rural Extension Network will operate as a mechanism for sharing best practices, building relationships with partner universities in the region, and finally, as a platform for managing the development of trained professionals in the field of rural development. Currently, very few regional rural development networks exist in the Western Balkans, and the partner consortium are unaware of any which exist amongst higher education institutions. Thus, WBREN intends to become the structure from which involved partner institutions can rapidly work together in meeting the demands of rural development initiatives through academic measures.
WBREN Activity Brief:
The creation and functioning of the Western Balkan Rural Extension Network will initially take root in Year 1 as a natural progression from meetings, trainings, and development functions held in each of the four participating Western Balkan countries. In Year 1, EU experts will be implementing training and development workshops in meeting the Obj 1- 3. Through these training and development workshops, informal networks and communication channels will be established. At the end of Year 1 (and subsequently at the end of each year - Year 2 & Year 3), the partner consortium will officially organize the Western Balkan Rural Extension Newtwork Conference.
The goal of the conference is to share country specific best practices, barriers to CRE and CRD development, as well as develop the infrastructure and relationships within the network. Each country (and their representatives), will provide a country assessment and yearly progress reports, and break-out training sessions and network building activities will be performed. Quality Control and Monitoring (see 5.3 for more detail), as well as the overall Management component (see 5.4 for in-depth detail), will largely be drawn and take place within the WBREN conference.
Mobilities: There will be 27 EU to WB mobilities under this objective from Year 1-3. There will be 48 WB to WB mobilities to attend the WBREN conference from Year 1-3. WB mobilities will include 2 academic representatives (1 from each partner institution), and 2 non-academic representatives (1 representative from each non-academic partner).
Number of Teaching staff trained or retrained: 24
Number of Trainers trained: 8
Number of Trainees trained: 60
Number of stutdents involved or trained: 80
Pedagogical methodologies utilized: Formal course instruction, non-formal course instruction, Training of Trainers (ToT), experiential learning (field experimentations)
Problem Analysis / Relevance
As Western Balkan countries implement critical reforms in meeting the requirements for EU accession, ample support in the area of rural development remains a vital component for economic, social, and environmental sustainability (EU Western Balkan Progress Report, 2009). For over a decade, farming, the rural economy, and rural society have been increasingly transformed by the realities of globalization, requiring increased strategies for maintaining the health of rural communities. Unfortunately, weak linkages between governmental bodies, higher education institutions, private enterprises, and stakeholders in Western Balkan rural development continues to impede progress, and the insufficient number of adequately trained professionals working within this discipline remains remarkedly high (Daku, 2005). As rural extension and outreach operations provide an appropriate mechanism for supporting synergies between these relevant stakeholders, the establishment of professional training programs (through higher education institutions in the Western Balkans) is desperately needed.
For years, agriculture extension and outreach operations in the Western Balkan region have struggled to play a significant role in the development of rural communities. Government run extension services in the region are often filled with individuals ill-equipped to deal with the rural development realities facing their countries, with scarce professional study in the principles and theory behind rural development / extension work (Sida, 2004). Furthermore, Western Balkan higher education institution involvement in extension education has been minimal. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Naitons (FAO) has stated that extension, as an educational input, can make an important impact to sustainable agricultural producation and rural development (FAO, 1996). At the same time, it is evident that the extension methodology segment of agriculture curricula and programs is inadequate or completely missing in Western Balkan HEIs. The tendency among many agricultural education institutions is to place emphasis primarily on providing scientific and technical knowledge in the various agricultural disciplines. However, little attention is given to providing multi-faceted, interdisciplinary courses that are important in preparing students for significant extension or rural development work. Lastly, educational learning components which include experimental and practical learning approaches (field based training) are also bypassed in order to increase specialized technical curriculum into their agriculture programs. Clearly, major review and revisions to current models of study must be made.
Reconizing the insufficient number of trained professionals whom are prepared to assume leadership and advisory roles in meeting rural development demands, the identified Western Balkan partner universities will address the aforementioned problems and issues with the formation of the Western Balkan Rural Extension Network (WBREN). Within the formation of the WBREN, four main objectives must be met in order to solve the current lack of adequately trained professionals and weak advisory services in the field of rural development: 1) Develop and improve the competencies of current non-formal education professionals, who will work alongside EU experts to create and deliver non-formal, modular based trainings to stakeholders in rural development. 2) Introduce an interdisciplinary, ECTS compliant Certificate in Rural Development (CRD) program at lead Western Balkan Higher Education Institutions (State University of Tetovo, University of Novi Sad, University of Banja Luka, and Agriculture University of Tirana). 3) Establish Center for Rural Extension (CRE) at lead Western Balkan Higher Education Institutions which support CRD program and outreach activities. 4) Increase regional cooperation in rural development and extension / outreach within the Western Balkan Rural Extension Network.
- Competency and capacity building of current non-formal education providers in the field of rural development has been identified by regional experts to be of high importance (Groome, 2009). Thus, WBREN will address this problem by utilizing a training of trainers methodology and train two non-academic partners from each country, who will work together in creating a modular based rural development training program to be implemented in the field. These trainings will implemented through the Centers for Rural Extension, linking non formal education providers to higher education instutions and ultimately increasing the knowledge transfer between extension professionals. As there is currently a lack of continuing education possibilities for extension professionals in the Western Balkan region, this project directly fits the development strategies of non formal education providers who seek lifelong learning opportunities, as well as countless stakeholders whom depend on their expertise for improved progress in rural development.
- The creation and implementation of an interdisciplinary, ECTS compliant Certificate in Rural Development (CRD) program was chosen as an intervention for several different reasons. First, the grant applicant is unaware that any ECTS compliant Certificate program in agriculture (and more specifically rural development) exists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania, or Macedonia. By providing an ECTS Certificate program, partner institutions will be the first in the Western Balkan region to provide increased opportunities for their students to become recognized professionals and specialists in Rural Development theory and principles, which can be accomplished alongside their technical degrees. This also aids in the employability of students upon graduation, as they can be professionally recognized as a specialist in rural development issues. Furthermore, Western Balkan professors will be trained in Bologna principles and ECTS standards, which willl further the reform of Western Balkan agriculture faculties to the EHEA model. Finally, gIven it's interdisciplinary approach, the CRD programs can more readily adapt to current course offereings from different faculties, including courses from sociology, business, and political science disciplines. With this in mind, the CRD programs can be intiated in Year 2, with two groups of CRD students receiving certification in each country at the end of the project, Year 3.
- Establishing Centers for Rural Extension (one in each partner country) will address several issues. First, students of agriculture rarely have the opportunity to engage in practical and experiential learning excercises. Through the Center for Rural Extension, CRD students (and other agriculture students) will have the opportunity to partake in field experimentation demonstrations, extension and outreach consultations, as well as participate in workshops and seminars hosted at the university through the Center. By establishing the Center for Rural Extension on campus, students have substantial access to experiential based learning activities, increasing their employability upon gradution. Furthermore, each Center will be equipped with the appropriate technology and software, which will allow students in Western Balkan institutions to catch up to their Western European counterparts on ICT developments within the fields of agriculture and rural development. Centers will also establish a database of extension specialists, which will later be linked to the the WBREN database, thereby creating a regional database of agriculture and rural development specialists prepared to lead in the areas of policy formation, economic development, and technical agricultural specialties for the Western Balkan region.
- The establishment of the Western Balkan Rural Extension Network (whose members convene annualy for a dissemination / management / training conference) will help solve the issue of incongruence with Western Balkan curriculum to Bologna and ECTS principles, harmonizing curriculum and teaching methodologies of partner universities. By linking professors and non formal education providers in the region, the WBREN project hopes to bring partner universities to the same level of functioning. Furthermore, WBREN creates a forum in which rural development and extension professionals can share best practices, coordinate regional initiatives at the MAFWE level, and further the goals of partner countries in EU accession.
In summary, rural development education reform is the key to providing relevant stakeholders, within and outside higher education institutions, the opportunity at building a framework for EU accession and meeting the goals of each country's National Rural Development Strategies. By building these capacities, overall rural development goals can be better achieved, and progress in our rural communities can be realized.
This project proposal was prepared by representatives of State University of Tetovo (SUT) and the University of Reading (UR), with direct cooperation from the project consortium universities. Through consultations with various sector experts (FAO, Ministries of Agriculture, EU delegates to Macedonia), the Macedonian National Tempus office, and Western Balkan professors teaching in the fields of agriculture, a resounding consensus was formed on the need to implement a project which provides a specialized certificate program in rural development which enhances the extension and outreach capabilities of university professors and non formal education providers. In doing so, regional development in the areas of agriculture and rural development would be greatly increased, aiding each country's reforms for EU accession and economic progress.
Agricultural University of Tirana announced the call for enrollment of new applicants of the MA in Rural Development and Sustainable Environment.
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