Joint development and implementation of the master program ‘Regional Policies and Development’

ZIMMERMANN, Friedrich M.

The University of Graz, Austria, in collaboration with the University of Novi Sad, Serbia, have developed and implemented a master program on ‘Regional Policies and Development’ at the University of Novi Sad. Both the curriculum as well as joint lectures have resulted from this cooperation. The project development has been implemented by the World University Service Austria and is funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation. The master program aims at establishing and strengthening partnerships between higher education institutions, at exchanging knowledge and teaching approaches, and fostering mutual and intercultural as well as intergenerational learning. The courses provide expertise in sustainable regional planning and development as well as systemic, holistic approaches of thinking and working. The students are educated to become responsible future decision makers who are able to respond to regional challenges and guide Serbia towards an integrated sustainable development. 

Introduction

 

Serbia aims at strengthening regional and local development co-operation to reduce regional imbalances and to strive for sustainable development. Thereby specific attention is given to cross-border, trans-national as well as interregional co-operation. Both these intentions as well as Serbia’s application for becoming a member of the European Union lead to a rising demand of experts in the field of regional planning and development, who are trained in integrated, multidisciplinary thinking and problem solving. The implementation of a particular academic master program at the University of Novi Sad presents a step forward, and a contribution to reach these goals. The idea to develop a joint master in ”Regional Policies and Development” originated from the rector’s offices of University of Graz as well as University of Novi Sad. The project development has been implemented by the World University Service Austria and is funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation, which sets a project focus on South-Eastern Europe. Integrated regional development as well as the investment in education to raise the standard of highly qualified people and enhance employment opportunities and wealth, are given priorities in Serbia (Austrian Development Cooperation 2011).

 

Objectives

 

The joint development of the master program “Regional Policies and Development” between the universities of Graz and Novi Sad aims at networking, capacity building as well as mutual learning opportunities in higher education to prepare students for a systemic and holistic perception of development as well as to provide interdisciplinary knowledge of sustainable regional planning and development. Further objectives focus on strengthening the cooperation between EU and South-Eastern European universities as such, exchanging and sharing knowledge and teaching approaches between the lecturers, integrating different disciplines as well as enabling intercultural learning.

 

The master program in ‘Regional Policies and Development’ represents a multidisciplinary development cooperation program interlinking economic, social, environmental and institutional aspects of regional planning. The curriculum and the implementation have been developed in close collaboration between professors of the Department of Geography and Regional Science at the University of Graz as well as professors of the Department of Architecture and Urbanism of the Faculty of Technical Science at the University of Novi Sad. The master program is currently offered by the Department of Architecture and Urbanism, whereas professors come from different departments and disciplines. As a consequence students get to know various and interdisciplinary paradigms and approaches of regional planning and development, which enable them to acquire a holistic and integrated way of thinking and acting. The collaboration between the two universities is supported by an e-learning platform, face-to-face lecturers offered by professors from Graz at the University of Novi Sad, visits of the teaching staff from Novi Sad as well as a student field trip to Graz and the surroundings. By visiting each other and jointly working together in the regions, both sides are learning from each other’s experiences. The master program expands over three semesters with a total of 90 ECTS-credits. ‘Regional Policies and Development’ offers expertise in sustainable regional management as well as competent knowledge in the fields of sustainable urban and regional development that is investigated under social, economic as well as environmental constraints. Additionally the master program covers topics like entrepreneurship, innovation and marketing strategies for regional development, challenges of globalization and cross-border cooperation, strategic management and leadership, sustainable tourism, city management, as well as project management and methodological tools like Geographic Information Systems. Students acquire innovative know-how on the basis of blended learning courses. Due to the internationality of the program, intercultural, interdisciplinary as well as innovative working and mutual learning will be ensured. After graduating the students will be able to apply their knowledge and scientific skills in inter- and transdisciplinary teams to solve complex regional development problems and support sustainable development processes in Serbia as well as in other European regions. The courses are held on the basis of practical teaching and learning approaches so that students can directly include the learned methods into their working environments. Furthermore a holistic understanding of sustainable development is given in order to train and educate the students to become responsible future decision makers as well as responsible citizens. This master program on “Regional Policies and Development” contributes to the improvement of particular knowledge and skills in the field of regional development and meets the rising demands of the labour market. Moreover future experts in regional planning will strengthen the institutional capacities for cross-border co-operations and hence respond to Serbia’s challenges regarding the integration process into the European Union.

 

First results

 

The first semester of the master program at the University of Novi Sad started in April 2010. Eleven students from Serbia attend the master – young students as well as students coming from various professional backgrounds. This provides an interdisciplinary and even intergenerational as well as transdisciplinary working and learning environment from which both the students as well as the lecturers benefit. The collaboration between the two universities contributes to university wide partnerships and fosters networking and capacity building. Additionally courses that are jointly lectured by professors from Novi Sad as well as Graz present an added value because of their intercultural character, multifaceted perspectives and ways of teaching. These courses are facilitated by new media and e-learning elements, which allow temporal and spatial flexibility for the students as well as closer communication with professors of the University of Graz. A student excursion to Graz and the wider region is also part of the master program. Students get to know how regional development and participation processes in Austria are being developed and implemented. Furthermore they are having the opportunity to apply and deepen their acquired knowledge through discussions with local experts as well as by visiting sites of practical application.

 

Innovative aspects

 

Innovative aspects within the master program especially result from the close collaboration between the two partner universities:

  • Joint development and implementation of the master program: The master program on ”Regional Policies and Development” was jointly developed and implemented between an Austrian and a Serbian university and illustrates the growing demand of European university co-operation – especially with South-East European countries to reduce transnational as well as interregional imbalances.
  • Joint teaching of the courses: Courses within this master program are lectured in close cooperation between professors from Graz and Novi Sad. This exchange of know-how in higher education, networking and capacity building fosters intercultural and mutual learning as well as knowledge creation.
  • Joint supervision of master theses: Each master thesis will be supervised by two professors – either transnational, where one professor comes from the University of Graz and the other form the University of Novi Sad, and/or interdisciplinary, where professors are coming from different disciplines.
  • Blended learning: The integration of e-learning, which is based on EU project experiences by the Department of Geography and Regional Science, University of Graz (cp. VCSE (2008); Trummler, M., et al. (2010); 3-LENSUS (2010)), provides an additional value for the students. Moreover such international programs are a main instrument for the dissemination of results of EU-research-projects to a wider public.


Resume and recommendations

 

The development of curricula in collaboration with other universities, cooperative, intercultural lecturing of courses as well as the integration of blended learning leads to a set of new experiences, a rethinking of personal teaching methods and an improvement of the academic horizon. Lecturers get to know different teaching and learning approaches as well as diverse regional challenges of other countries. Students on the other hand benefit from the international and interdisciplinary composition of professors as this fosters a holistic and integrated thinking approach – an essential ingredient for sustainable development in Higher Education Institutions.

 

References

  • Austrian Development Cooperation (2011): South Eastern Europe – Serbia: www.entwicklung.at [accessed January 2011]
  • Trummler, M., et al. (2010): Networking in the interaction between regions and higher education institutions. In: 3-LENSUS (2010): Best Practices in Learning for Sustainable Development, Grosvenor House Publishing, UK – in print
  • VCSE (2008): Virtual Campus for a Sustainable Europe - Best Practice Guidebook, 123 p.
  • 3-LENSUS (2010): Moodle Database on Learning for Sustainable Development: www.3-lensus.eu/moodle [accessed December 2010]

 

More information about this good practice can be found at GUNI.HEiOBS

About the author

Prof. Dr. Friedrich M. Zimmermann is Chair of the Department of Geography and Regional Science, former Vice Rector for Research and Knowledge Transfer, University of Graz, and President of COPERNICUS Alliance. His research focuses on regional development using sustainable approaches. Additionally he focuses on tourism planning and is consultant for private and public institutions. He has published widely in international journals and was/is visiting professor in Germany, the US and Serbia.

 

Marlene Trummler studied Environmental System Sciences at the University of Graz, Austria, and Gothenburg, Sweden, and graduated in June 2009. Mrs. Trummler works as a research associate at the Department of Geography and Regional Sciences at the University of Graz since March 2009 as well as at the RCE Graz-Styria since January 2011. Mrs. Trummler is involved in European wide projects dealing with education and learning for sustainable development.

Partners

  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya
  • Ajuntament de Barcelona