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Case Study: The birth of a discipline

Professor Ruth Pearson and Dr Simon Lightfoot from POLIS acted as consultants to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project charged with setting up academic Development Studies programmes in Romania. Like all EU accession states Romania has had to re-orientate itself from being a receiving of aid to becoming a donor and the establishment of specialized courses in "Development Studies" is one element of the government’s strategy on development policy.

NDP organised a workshop 'Development Studies - Perspectives for Romania' on January 14th 2009 as part of this strategy.  It brought together interested academics from the major Universities in Romania (Lasi, Timisoara, Bucharest and Cluj) together with international experts – from the UK, Ireland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic to discuss the possibility of setting up development studies courses.

Professor Pearson and Dr Lightfoot provided an overview of the discipline of development studies in the UK, how it evolved and the major challenges it faces. Different models of programmes of study were outlined at both MA and BA level to show both the content and infrastructure necessary. It was clear that in the Romanian universities there are individual courses and modules  that can be just re-adjusted to include a development perspective or to form the core of a programme, and the Leeds model of nesting development studies within a larger school (in our case in POLIS) was seen to be most appropriate.

Discussions were held with individual academics as to how the Romanian higher education system differed from the UK system and to the impact this may have on creating development studies programmes. The role of internships as part of the study programme was also discussed, given POLIS’s long track record in this area. It was clear that the Romanian experience was going to be one of Development Studies in the context of the new Europe and so the unique Leeds MA in European and Development Studies provided a useful potential model. Practical advice was also given to the UNDP as to how they could take forward the ideas from the workshop and the role that the University of Leeds could play in helping them achieve their ultimate aim of the establishment of an MA programme in Development Studies by 2010/11.

Professor Pearson is one of the leading experts on development studies in the UK and has considerable expertise in the area of curriculum development both in the UK and the Netherlands, in Australia, Palestine and Thailand. She has also been heavily involved in other UNDP projects as well with the EU and other international organisations. She is currently working on 2 major research projects funded by the AHRC and the IDRC which is the Canadian development research arm.

Dr Lightfoot had just completed a British Academy/Elizabeth Barker funded research project on the role of the new donors in Central and Eastern Europe and had been an invited guest speaker at the Socialist Group of the European Parliament’s Annual Development Day in the Romanian Senate in October 2008.

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