75 years  

Education for Developing Countries 1973-1985

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Professor Peter Williams : lecturer 1973-1987, Head of Department 1978-1984

Peter recalls how the department changed during its time as Education for Developing Countries. He refers to the physical move, differences in atmosphere and ways of working, the issue of student fees, connections with overseas and home institutions and changes in the curriculum:

"My own first memory of the Department is of attending the much-respected John Lewis’s ETA seminars in 1972.  These started promptly at 0900 and were quite an effort to reach from the wilds of Surrey where I lived, with not altogether reliable public transport.  John locked the door firmly on the dot of 9 o’clock.  Woe betide the late-comer!  You could not slip unobtrusively into the back row but had to knock loudly on the door and publicly interrupt the session so that you could be admitted, with huge embarrassment and a very red face, to find your seat, muttering apologies as you went.

The Department that John Lewis handed over in 1973 to the temporary care of Jack Wilson for a year, and to Reg Honeybone from 1974 to 1978, had changed profoundly by 1985, the year of our merger with DICE. There were continuities of course: colleagues like Hugh Hawes and Roy Gardner, and I believe Elwyn Thomas, served for the whole of the EDC period; and John Cameron, although he retired from full-time work in 1980, continued to help on a part-time basis on some of our specialised programmes.

An obvious major change was the physical one.  We moved in 1976 from 25 Woburn Square to our new home, the ‘orange’ corridor on the 6th floor of the Bedford Way Building. With the move we lost our separate common rooms and a little of our separate identity perhaps, but against that some of our isolation from the rest of the Institute also disappeared.  The Institute Library remained in Ridgmount Street, however, so it seemed even further to get there than before.

In the twelve EDC years there was also what appears to me to have been a shift in atmosphere, to greater democracy and equality both among staff, and between staff and students.  This may be a totally subjective view, but I have to say that when I first joined the Department as a youngish man in my 30s I received a warm enough welcome but found things hierarchical, authoritarian and somewhat claustrophobic.  It seemed to me to change at once when Jack Wilson took over the helm, and within a decade we had student representatives in staff meetings, staff-student consultative fora, elected chairs of the department, a much more participatory style of teaching, and everyone on first name terms.

In those days EDC was like a large family.  I am sure this tradition has continued, but it is less easy with the disappearance of departments and more limited resources.  Strong friendships developed between students from different countries, and between them and staff.  We had our departmental home, our two wonderful presiding ‘matriarchs’ in the persons of Margaret Richards and Rajee Rajagopalan -  sister confessors,  advisers and departmental managers all rolled into one.  They had great support from our secretarial team of Marjorie Taylor, Christine Scotchmer, Jane Jarvis, Alice Henfield, Gundi Bock and others.  Beyond the Department were our allies in the library: Margaret Couch, Thelma Bristow, Diana Guthrie and Peter Moss; people like Derek Hollingworth as Overseas Student Adviser; and many friends in the administration – Eric Earle chief among them – who recognised the importance of what EDC was attempting to do.  And we had great fun together on the annual expeditions to Paris, on visits to the Open University, to schools and local education authorities, on week-end days-out in the countryside, at EDC staff-student  parties with marvellous feasts of dishes from every corner of the world, at the occasional international seminars and conferences, or the annual book exhibitions and symposiums organised so energetically by Roy Gardner and the publishers. 

Our curriculum was considerably diversified. Specialist options started around 1974 in the MA: they were at various times in educational planning, curriculum development, teacher education and distance education. Increasing numbers of students enrolled at higher degree level, the MA, a joint MA with SOAS, MPhil, PhD. There was also a range of special and short courses: tailor-made ones for special groups like the Indonesians, Pakistanis or Ismailis; and intensive three-month programmes in inspection, curriculum development, planning of TVET, distance education or book development.

The Department formed a series of special relationships internationally and nationally.  We had link arrangements with Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, Institute of Education Research in Bangladesh, and Kenyatta University College outside Nairobi. Large new ODA-funded education improvement projects opened up in Andhra Pradesh in India and in Indonesia.  The 1970s was when we started our annual pilgrimages to Paris, mainly to IIEP but also to UNESCO and OECD and came back loaded: but in those far-off scholarly days it was loaded with pamphlets and papers and books!  Legendary international educators like C. E. Beeby, Senteza Kajubi, Torsten Husen, Arnold Anderson, Anil Bordia, Philip Coombs and Philip Foster addressed us: and from within the Institute Richard Peters, Denis Lawton and Mark Blaug. 

At home we linked up with the International Extension College in Cambridge, and the Institute of Ismaili Studies. We continued the excellent tradition of ‘county surveys’ with visits to the education systems in the west country and East Anglia, to East Sussex and the Isle of Wight.  We had a close association with the British Council, which seconded large numbers of staff for study and refresher courses.  Relations with ODM/ODA, now DFID were also close whence Douglas Smith, and both Jack Thornton and Bill Dodd on their retirement from the Chief Education Adviser post, came to join us.  The culminating point of this alliance was the Cumberland Lodge Conference on Education in Africa, organised mainly by Hugh Hawes and Trevor Coombe, which was one of the most exciting I have ever attended. Some of us still remember with affection the first Chief Education Adviser, Sir Christopher Cox, prancing around on the tables in Senate House at our 50th anniversary lunch to get a better angle for his snapshots.

We had wonderful students and a superb staff! Many of the students from that period have gone on to great things.  They came from an ever- wider group of countries, as we gradually shed the image of a ‘colonial department’ and began to attract students from Latin America, the Middle East and non-Commonwealth Asia.  Rapid inflation, rising tuition costs, and indeed full-cost fees introduced by Mrs. Thatcher from 1980, all began to create serious financial hardship for our students.  Four things provided some relief for them.  A few Governments continued their policies of providing scholarships from public funds.  The UK government increased the number of awards to help students come here.  A number of oil-producing countries  - Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran and other Middle eastern countries, Indonesia and so on  - were comparatively awash with money after the 1973 oil boom.  And finally the growing development and prosperity in South-East and East Asia resulted in a growth in self-funded students.  The majority were experienced professionals with a great deal of wisdom to share and to contribute to the learning of their student colleagues and their teachers.  For nearly all of them this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that had to be seized with both hands: and students worked very, very hard.

The same of course was true of the staff.  We had a great array of talent and experience among the ten or twelve academic staff that the Department had on its books over most of this time. Hugh Hawes in particular was a tower of strength and author of many of our best innovations.  We were not yet in the era of the Research Assessment Exercises, but we knew that we had to engage increasingly in research, to publish more, and to become better qualified.  By 1985 possession of a PhD was mandatory for new recruits, but in appointing new staff we also looked for a depth of exposure to the practical realities of education systems in developing countries and, just as important, to a sense of personal concern and commitment to the well-being and progress of our students.  Personal qualities were given a heavy weighting when choosing between well qualified candidates.  We inched forward in terms of gender balance, but it was only a little.  For me, as manager of the team for six years, life became increasingly complicated.  The Institute’s financial position was worsening, and it became ever harder to persuade the Directorate, headed by Bill Taylor and Denis Lawton in the EDC years, to give long-term contracts.  An ever higher proportion of staff were on short-tenure appointments, a trend that has accentuated since.  At the same time those staff that we had were increasingly in demand for secondments and consultancies abroad, or for Institute student-recruitment missions.  Balancing the needs of students for continuous access to their teachers and supervisors, the advantage of the Institute and Department in these assignments, and the personal career-advancement interests of individual staff members, was quite tricky. 

And so in 1985 EDC was merged into DICE in one of those endless reorganisations so beloved of managements.  I am one of those backwoodsmen who is not convinced that ‘bigger is better’.  One special regret of mine at the merger was that DICE did not design itself a crest with the motto “DICE – Never Say Die”!

The greatest delight for me, and I am sure for many others at this anniversary, has been the continuity of friendships initiated both in Woburn Square and in this building.  Our anniversary celebration today reminds me of countless happy encounters around the world in remote schools and colleges, district offices, national capitals or international agencies with former EDC staff and student colleagues.  They have more than repaid anything we in the EDC Department were able to do for them.

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Compiled and edited by Clare Bentall and Angela Little. First issued Spring 2005.