The Samoa Pathway outcome document of the UN SIDS summit, held last month in Apia, Samoa, proposed the creation of such a course at the University Consortium of Small Island States (UCSIS) as part of the states’ commitments to capacity building.
It is supposed to be part of more investments in education designed to develop human and institutional capacities to use and retain knowledge, including traditional knowledge, and help build resilient societies and economies, according to the pathway document.
In 2005, during the Mauritius SIDS meeting at which UCSIS was officially launched, a similar suggestion to run online degrees was made — but it never took off, says John Agard, head of the life science department at the University of the West Indies, one of seven members of UCSIS.
“I don’t have a good answer for why it didn’t work out,” he tells SciDev.Net. But he adds that UCSIS has since gained experience in offering online classes.
It has just launched an online master’s programme on island sustainability, which is offered by the seven universities, with funding coming from Spain. The course covers topics such as green economy and environmental management and its research results could help form the basis of a focused SIDS training programme in sustainable development as indicated in the Samoa Pathway, according to its website.
The University of the West Indies also works with four universities, including the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, to provide an 18-month online master’s course on biodiversity management and sustainable development in the Caribbean.
So far, the two-year-old programme has enrolled 76 students, with most of them coming from SIDS. It is supported by a €500,000 (around US$630,000) grant from the European Union.
“We’ve been running the biodiversity management programme successfully and it’s taught us that there is a need for sustainable development training in a small island context,” says Agard, who chairs the programme.
Agard envisions that the proposed sustainable development programme will last for about a year and comprise 15 classes focusing on the three main pillars of sustainable development: the needs of society, economics and the environment.
One possible concern is access to a reliable internet connection, which could pose a particular challenge to students in remote Pacific islands. Another is funding.
David C. Smith, coordinator of UCSIS, adds that it is never easy to secure funding.
“I’m optimistic, though realistic,” he tells SciDev.Net. “It’s likely to take a year or more to raise the funds required.”
And even if donations are secured, Agard warns that the money is likely to last for only a few years. When the funding runs out, says Agard, the programme will have to find a way to be self-sustaining.
But for now, plans to create the programme are still at an early stage.
“We have had preliminary discussions with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, but not much beyond that,” says Smith.
> Link to Samoa Pathway