How can aid workers study without giving up the day job? Your thoughts please.

February 3, 2014

     By Duncan Green     

For a sector that employs a relatively large number of people, the ‘aid business’ often still seems to think small. Getting a job in it is a lottery – very few graduate entry schemes, or other ways to identify and recruit keen and talented people. Instead people are supposed to scrabble their way into jobs by somehow gaining ‘experience’, when jobs nearly always require you to have experience already. Nightmare. See here for some other thoughts on getting a job and here’s a big list of job websites.

Then suppose you’ve got a job, and you want to improve your understanding of development issues through study, either for personal reasons, or as part of improving your job prospects. Tough. The sector Father-working-on-laptop--008seems to give priority to activism over reflection. New arrivals at Oxfam go on a KOO (knowledge of Oxfam) course, but there’s no accompanying KOD (Knowledge of Development). Across the sector, there is very little focus on learning or study, in contrast to say, the medical profession with its requirements to stay up to date on new developments, clinical doctorates etc.

Instead, if they want to study, people often assume they have to go back to college. But many can’t do that – they have kids, responsibilities etc so can’t drop everything and go back to being a full-time student. What options are there for distance learning that enables them to brain up while still paying the bills? I get asked this a fair amount by keen types I come across in Oxfam and beyond, and struggle to answer.

Also, if you want to reflect on your work, link theory and aid/development practice etc, rather than just pursue a purely academic course, where should you go?

I need your suggestions here.

The best course that I know of that ticks both boxes is still the Open University Masters in Development Management. Everyone I know who has done it raves about it, and I’ve used the materials myself in the past. The blurb for the course reads:

‘This MSc is for anyone with a professional and/or personal interest in development and a desire to bring about good change. It addresses the needs both of those who would label themselves development managers, and those, such as engineers, health workers, educationists, agriculturalists, bankers, scientists, who need the capacity to manage development if they are to do their work oulogo-56effectively. It engages with development at all levels, from the local to the global, and is as relevant in rural as in urban contexts. It addresses development in diverse fields, including health and well-being, livelihoods, education, the environment, war and resettlement, infrastructure, with the issues of poverty and inequality running through all. It takes theory seriously; consciously and constantly linking it to practice and policy, looking to enhance the competence of individuals and the capacity of agencies to undertake development successfully.

It is designed for anyone in government, non-governmental organisations, international and inter-governmental agencies and public MOOCand private enterprises, who have responsibility for development interventions, programmes and policies. It is also of value for anyone wishing to move into such areas, or who for personal and/or professional reasons wants to build up a better understanding of the complex processes labelled ‘development’, with a view to managing those processes better.’

But that course has been running for decades. In this world of MOOCs and online everything, I’m assuming there are other courses geared to the needs of mid career aid people who want to dig deeper. Please tell me about them.

February 3, 2014
Duncan Green