Water education makes a global difference
Finnish water education has an impressive track record of international achievements, as the graduates return to their home countries and bring back their education, experience and skills.
The lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene kills 10,000 people every day. Each year, children lose 400 million school days due to diseases caused by unsafe water. Dr Ezekiel Nyangeri Nyanchaga, senior lecturer and consultant from the University of Nairobi, sees the challenges threatening access to safe drinking water and sanitation every day: exponential population growth, widespread environmental problems and inadequate systems.
Nyanchaga is aiming to overhaul the entire water infrastructure in Kenya. As he holds a doctorate from Tampere University of Technology, he is well prepared for the task ahead. Various development cooperation projects have enabled Nyanchaga and a host of other professionals from developing countries to pursue studies in Finland.
Education since the 1970s till 2000s
The first implementation round of the international postgraduate programme in water management was arranged at Helsinki University of Technology in the early 1970s and the next six implementation rounds at Tampere University of Technology between 1979 and 1992. Finnish professionals with first-hand experience from developing countries were extensively involved in the programme.
The majority of students conducted their thesis in the target countries Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia or Tanzania on topics that the countries considered most critical. Their thesis writing process was supervised in cooperation between the organizers, local and Finnish professionals and local universities. The students almost invariably returned to their home countries after graduation, with the exception of a few Ethiopians who could not go back due to political unrest.
During the negotiations relating to the Namibian peace process, Tampere University of Technology launched a tailored programme to train 14 construction engineers in 1988-1992. After graduation they returned to Namibia that had meanwhile gained independence from South Africa.
After the government suspended funding for the programme, Finnish higher education institutions continued their efforts to improve water education worldwide. For example, Tampere University of Technology and Tallinn University of Technology organized water education training for professionals from the Baltic countries and Finland. The training programme, which largely consisted of supervised traineeships, was part of the environmental collaboration between countries bordering the Baltic Sea.
In Kosovo, Finland supported the implementation of the first master's level course in water and environmental management at the University of Prishtina in 2000 - 2005. The course featured lecturers from Tampere University of Technology, Finnish companies, Finland's environmental administration and water industry.
Ministers, directors, professionals
Finnish education in water management has reason to be proud of its international accomplishments and students. So far, around a hundred Master's of Science in Technology have graduated from the programme and six African students have obtained a doctorate. The graduates have climbed the career ladder to prominent national and international positions. They hold an impressive list of titles: director of water resource management, leading ministry official, senior ministry advisor, provincial water engineer, director of a water facility, expert and CEO of a consulting company and contractor business, dean, professor, school principal, lecturer, presidential advisor, and so on.
MSc (Tech) Hailemariam Desalegn who graduated from TUT in 1992 was appointed Ethiopia's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in 2010. He, too, is facing a difficult challenge: to inject momentum into the Nile Water negotiations that have already been going on for 15 years with the riparian countries, especially Egypt.
One of the participants of the water education training in the Baltic region was Raimonds Vejonis, who has served as the Minister of the Environment of Latvia since 2002.
Tampere University of Technology has also arranged more short-term training, research workshops and several global conferences together with international organizations, such as UNEP, UNIDO and the International Water History Association.
In 2002, Universities Finland UNIFI, formerly the Finnish Council of University Rectors, set up a joined body to promote academic collaboration with developing countries. The North-South-South programme that opens up opportunities for mobility and cooperation between higher education institutions in Finland and developing countries was launched a few years ago. It is funded by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Another proposal has been submitted to the HEI ICI programme. By involving the African water alumni particularly we will try to develop further the collaboration and knowledge sharing based on north-south and south-south activities.
Education and research that encourage critical thinking among students provides a solid foundation for the future leaders of Africa. Tailored education that takes the specific needs of the target countries into consideration has the potential to achieve excellent results. It serves as a stepping-stone toward a brighter future.