GERMANY: Boosting development cooperation

Excellence for Development is a new competitive programme the German Academic Exchange Service or DAAD has invited universities to take part in, as previously reported in University World News.

The five winners of the competition are being supported with EUR1 million (US$1.4 million) a year over five years with funds provided by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The aim is to establish five think-tanks at which research and teaching will be performed with universities in developing countries.

DAAD commissioned Kristin Mosch to talk to Dirk Messner, Director of the German Development Institute and Professor of Political Science at the University of Duisburg-Essen, about the development research in Germany. Messner is supporting the Excellence for Development competition as a reviewer. Since 2004, he has also been a member of the German Advisory Council on Global Change and has been its Deputy Head since March.

What role does the DAAD university competition play for development cooperation in Germany?

Messner: It addresses a gap that has not been bridged so far. Development cooperation has been scaled down considerably at German universities over the last few years. In the context of specialisation processes at institutions, chairs focusing on development issues have been terminated.

This is difficult to comprehend for if you want to play an active role in globalisation, you need an understanding of the world - and development research deals with two thirds of the world's countries and population that do not belong to the rich OECD states.

In comparison to other western countries, like the UK in particular, whose investment in development research is 10 times higher than here, we have a lot to catch up on. I hope that the DAAD programme is going to trigger dynamics that will once again make German development research competitive.

So there is a big difference in standards between German development research and that of other western countries. What do you think the reasons are for this?

For France and the UK, development cooperation efforts are a direct consequence of their history as colonial powers. In contrast, since 1945, and up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, German foreign policy had chiefly focused on the Eastern Bloc, which of course also has its historical reasons.

Even today, the French and UK public are much more interested in international developments than the German public are. This is also reflected in the media. The BBC broadcasts far more reports from abroad than the channels under public law do here.

For a long time, Germany just happened to be an economic power without any corresponding political ambitions. This is slowly changing. In order for Germany to be able to assume its international responsibilities, we also have to improve our research on global development issues, for both astute development policies and effective international policies depend on excellent knowledge.

Development research used to be research on developing countries, and development was understood as a one-way process of transfer. In what way are changes happening here now?

For the last 10 years, a growing tendency has been observed to engage in development cooperation on the basis of common research. Now, the DAAD university competition is also giving this approach a crucial boost in Germany. It is a sign that the insight that excellent research can also be found in developing countries is increasingly gaining ground.

Moreover, one acquires a better understanding of developing regions if one works "with" researchers from these regions rather that just doing research "about" them. There are several examples of good research expertise in developing countries.

For example, intensive research is in progress in Africa on desertification and its impacts on agriculture, while there are numerous projects on the protection of rainforests in Brazil, and China has developed the most successful programmes on poverty alleviation. However, one problem is that good researchers from these countries frequently migrate to the industrialised countries.

This is why programmes to support higher education institutions there are urgently required. They offer the local experts an incentive to stay where they are. There, they are urgently needed as contacts for their colleagues from the industrialised countries.

Why is academic cooperation so important?

It is important because problems can no longer be contained regionally but are increasingly having global impacts. Poverty produces political instability, and forms a base for failed states in which terrorism, human trafficking and piracy can thrive.

Epidemics will not stop at the frontiers of countries, and water or food scarcity leads to increased migration to the industrialised countries. Common solutions need to be found to address such issues. Most of the world's major problems can only be solved in cooperation with the developing countries - which is why we also have to do research together on these issues.

The key challenges of the next few decades are going to be located at the borders between the different economic systems, political systems and natural spaces. Climate change is the best example. From 2030 on, the developing countries will be significant contributors to global warming.

Only if we know precisely what is happening economically in these countries will we still be able to influence developments. Traditional development research was still shaped by our western, European views; in the globalised world, we need a 360-degree view of the world's problems if we want to find solutions: International research teams have to examine the challenges from different perspectives.

So this also means that academic cooperation plays an important role in foreign policy?

International research projects can provide important foundations for foreign policy. Over the next few decades, we are going to witness the emergence of a new world order. The significance of the G7 states, i.e. the leading industrialised countries, will drop relatively.

Currently, the GDP of the G7 is around three times as high as that of the E7, the Emerging Economies, among them Brazil, China, Russia and Turkey. From 2050 on, their GDP is going to be about 25% higher than that of the G7, bringing about fundamental changes in the global power structure. In order to develop this process in a peaceful and constructive manner, we would need a boost to the internationalisation of our research.

So significantly more money would have to be invested in development. But with the current economic crisis, are we in a position to afford this?

We should view solutions to the economic crisis together with coping with development problems. The crisis offers a unique opportunity for structural change. Supporting the economy can simultaneously represent a contribution to combating climate change, without which the developing countries are going to slip into a disastrous development crisis.

At the moment, for example, there is a one-sided emphasis on supporting the car industry. Why aren't we investing the money for the old banger bonus ("Abwrackprämie") into developing electrically powered cars? Supporting industry should be made conditional on aspects like reducing the emission of hazardous substances by 80% by 2050.

Instead of restoring the old structures, we can develop new ones. Neither must efforts worldwide to combat poverty be neglected, otherwise there will be the threat of an international humanitarian crisis after the economic crisis that can easily spill over into violence.

* Kristin Mosch is a journalist with Lemmens Publishing House in Bonn.