Education in water is never wasted
Developing countries are in desperate need of people with higher education who could help them build a better future for themselves. Safe water and functional sanitation comprise one of the most important areas of expertise these countries must have access to before any development further is possible. TUT has a wealth of experience in collaborating with the water services industry and training professionals in the field.
"TUT has always put much emphasis on the societal impact of its education," say Adjunct Professor Tapio Katko (center) and his colleagues Research Manager Petri Juuti and Project Manager Pekka Pietilä from TUT’s Laboratory of Civil Engineering.
CADWES Research Group takes part in Finland’s centenary celebration
CADWES Research Group (Capacity Development of Water and Environmental Services) is a TUT-based research group that focuses on the organisation, institutions, operating policy, and management of water services. The group has published dozens of books, several peer-reviewed articles, and produced approximately a dozen doctoral dissertations.
In honour of the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence, CADWES is currently conducting a project looking back at the past hundred years of water services in Finland in collaboration with a number of water utilities all around the country. CADWES researchers are taking a look at the central choices made by the water utilities and the municipalities’ strategic choices and turning points. Based on this information, the researchers will create a wide-ranging, cross-disciplinary comparative analysis of the long-term developments in Finnish water services.
From 1972 to 1974, the Helsinki University of Technology had an English-language Master’s degree programme in water engineering. The programme was tailored to support the training of East African water engineers. For the period of 1979–1992, the programme moved to the Tampere University of Technology. Overall, this programme trained almost a hundred African engineers from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia.
“This group was one of a kind. Graduates from the programme have since gained leading positions in their home countries and their water sectors, in ministries, government agencies, and wastewater utilities, as consults and contractors, in universities and other education institutions, in international organisations, and even in top government positions,” says Adjunct Professor Tapio S. Katko from TUT.
Thanks to the long tradition of water services collaboration that began with this Master’s degree programme, TUT is still attended by a number of doctoral students from African countries every year. Tapio Katko and his colleagues Project Manager Pekka Pietilä and Research Manager Petri Juuti from TUT’s Laboratory of Civil Engineering know that the reason behind Tampere’s popularity is that TUT has always put much emphasis on the societal impact of its education. In turn, the secret behind this impact is the structure of education.
“TUT tailored the students’ education to fit the needs of their native countries. TUT students also often write their theses on matters related to their home country. It could therefore be said that the funds invested in education were reclaimed in their entirety in the developing countries,” says Pekka Pietilä, who has spent long periods working in Namibia and other African countries.
The three researchers stress that education is never wasted. On the contrary, education is one of the most efficient ways of supporting development cooperation.
“The emphasis is often on basic schooling, which is important, but the building of a society requires university-educated people, as well. Developing countries are in dire need of such people,” Tapio Katko says.
“In addition to studying in Finland, there has been much interest in our open online courses, such as the Water and society course that has been available for 7 or 8 years,” says Petri Juuti, who is very familiar with South Africa.
Issues first, not gadgets
Nearly a billion people around the world lack safe water, 2.5 billion people live without basic sanitation, and 80 per cent of wastewater around the world remains beyond any water treatment. There is thus a great need for more work and expertise.
“There’s a lot of work to be done in the most basic things. Implementing the newest technologies is not enough to solve all the problems. Research in the field, both in Finland and around the world, often emphasises water treatment techniques at the expense of everything else. Water treatment techniques are important, but they can’t affect the field’s big issues, such as organisational management, institutional rules, and pricing. It is these themes that our group has focussed on in research and education,” says Katko, director of the CADWES Research Group.
“The usual story in a developing country is that they have the technology, they have the money, but they can’t get the system working. Water-related issues are realised in very concrete ways in other areas of life. In Africa, for example, half the people currently in hospitals have dirty water and poor sanitation to blame for their condition,” Pekka Pietilä says.
Towards international careers
Finnish students have had much to gain from the research projects in Africa.
“The development cooperation projects used to employ young students a lot more, but nowadays the emphasis is on organisations. However, our students still need international work experience to have the international careers they strive towards. TUT’s research projects have given many tech students their first chance to work in an international position,” Pekka Pietilä says.
Repairing a pipe break Ondangwa, Namibia.
Finnish experts are in high demand in the field. Their expertise is up to date, and Finland seems a suitably neutral country to the former colonies. In the future, the demand could be even higher.
“Tampere3 will only further our expertise in system management. There are connections to many other fields of study, such as social sciences. By working together, we can improve our research in the field even further,” Tapio Katko says.
Water services systems have to be functional if safe water and sanitation are truly to be made more accessible in developing countries. Management of these systems is a part of the expertise TUT’s training programmes should take into special account.
“Water issues always rise out of local factors, but good practices are universal. There is no one correct way of doing things, but certain matters related to water services operators, organisations, legislature, and other institutional matters must always be in order,” says Tapio Katko, who has written extensively about the matter with other researchers.
Out of all the Finnish universities, TUT is the most active in exporting water services expertise, especially to developing countries. The research projects support Finland’s bilateral development cooperation projects.
“Different forms of development cooperation support one another. The most important thing is to keep the research subjects relevant to local conditions. For example, many of our doctoral students are writing their theses on the impact the different forms of development cooperation have in their home countries,” Katko says.
TUT also has important collaboration partners in the field of water services in countries outside Africa. For example, TUT conducted close collaboration projects with Tallinn University of Technology in the 1990s. In addition to Finnish students, the continuing education programme in water services was attended by students from Russia, Poland, and the Baltic countries.
“Both sides have always much to learn. We Finns aren’t always just the giving party in water services matters,” Katko says.
Long-term international collaboration has built a wide network of partners for TUT. Investment in collaboration has also contributed to TUT’s wealth of expertise. One token of this expertise is the only Nordic UNESCO Chair in the field of water services, which is currently held by Tapio Katko.
“Expertise in the field of water supply and sewerage could prove to be one of Finland’s high-potential areas for exports and education in future,” Katko says.
Just like Tampere a century ago
A hundred years ago, just before Finnish independence and civil war, Tampere’s small city centre was bristling with people. The factory workers’ living districts were packed incredibly dense.
“Conditions were very similar to the slums in the big cities of developing countries,” Petri Juuti says. “The problems are much alike. Water supply and sanitation were inadequate, and typhoid fever and stomach diseases killed a great number of people.”
Juuti is a historian who found himself working at TUT as a result of his long collaboration with the CADWES group.
“As I was writing the history of water services at Tampere with Tapio Katko, I decided to also write a doctoral thesis about the subject in 2001. When the CADWES group moved to TUT’s civil engineering department, it was also a good opportunity for me to transfer here from the University of Tampere. TUT’s long and creditable tradition of industry collaboration has made way for a deeper understanding of how mutually beneficial scientific research can be conducted,” Juuti says.
According to Juuti, a historian’s greatest assets are a multidisciplinary mindset, versatility, and the ability to grasp large, multi-faceted concepts.
“In many matters, the essential thing is to know the long-term developments concerning the subject. This is especially the case with water services and the infrastructural development of cities. Choices made in the past have a very real effect on the possible development paths available to us,” Juuti muses.
Text: Sanna Schildt
Photos: Virpi Andersin and Pekka Pietilä