The first global initiative to provide rigorous professional training for future leaders in the field of sustainable development was unveiled today at Columbia University. The program, which was recommended in a newly released report by the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice, sets a new standard for other universities hoping to design their own Master’s degrees along this model. MacArthur has committed $15 million to seed the creation of such Master’s in Development Practice programs at up to 12 universities worldwide over the next three years. Columbia’s program will begin in the fall of 2009. The Foundation will issue a request for proposals from other universities later this month.
The two-year Global Master's in Development Practice (MDP) programs will build a new host of generalist practitioners able to diagnose and address factors impacting sustainable development. Study for the degree will include a rigorous core curriculum emphasizing practical, cross-disciplinary knowledge from the health, natural, and social sciences with a strong focus on leadership and management skills. Courses will cover topics such as agronomy, climate change, and tropical diseases and will be supplemented by two summers of field training.
“Drawing on knowledge from across the natural, health, and social sciences and management, courses in the new MDP programs will train students to address the complex challenges contributing to poverty in proven, practical ways,” said MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton. “It is our hope that MacArthur's investment will not simply fund this initial group of schools, but will also encourage other universities to establish similar programs. We expect that these programs will quickly become self-sustaining, and that they will set a new standard for development education. We welcome the time when the MDP will become as familiar and ubiquitous as the MBA.”
Creation of the program is one of the core recommendations of a report from the MacArthur-supported International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice. The year-long Commission was co-chaired by John McArthur, Chief Executive Officer of Millennium Promise and Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and comprised of 20 top thinkers in the field of sustainable development including Ann Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF; R.K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and Goolam Mohamedbhai, Secretary General of the Association of African Universities.
“The field of sustainable development is growing rapidly and facing challenges of increasing complexity,” said Sachs. “Today's practitioners must confront the enormous and interconnected crises of climate change, extreme poverty, epidemic disease, hunger, rapid population growth, and environmental degradation. The new Master’s in Development Practice will train professionals with the multi-disciplinary knowledge, tools and management skills they will need for success.”
The core curriculum for each MDP will combine classroom study in a range of disciplines including agriculture, policy, health, engineering, management, environmental science, education and nutrition with field training experiences. This curriculum expands training beyond the typical focus on classroom study of economics and management found in most development studies programs today. Open-source, online courses will also allow universities in developed and developing countries to expand their curricula to new fields.
“A central aim of the MDP program will be for students to learn to solve problems by collaborating across the fading boundaries of national borders. By leveraging new video and internet technologies, schools will have enormous potential to improve the teaching and practice of sustainable development on a global scale,” said John McArthur. “As just one example, global courses will help students, faculty and practitioners at institutions around the world to connect for discussions, assignments and other rich forms of interaction and joint learning.”
The Commission’s work included an analysis of the educational needs of development managers and practitioners, an assessment of current education programs, and an identification of the “core competencies” required for professionals working in sustainable development. The Commission held seven consultations on five continents before preparing its recommendations.