Water Research & Education Needs to Flow Towards Developing World

By Colin Mayfield and Hamid Mehmood
HAMILTON, Canada, May 30 2019 (IPS)

Post-secondary education relevant to the global water crisis is
concentrated in wealthy countries rather than the poorer,
developing places where it is needed most.

Meanwhile, water research is largely assessed by counting the
number of papers published and their citation by other researchers
rather than whether the work actually leads to successful,
practical solutions.

Twin papers from UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for
Water, Environment and Health highlight and document these
weaknesses in the global effort to address inadequate water supply
and sanitation, problems that rank among the top-10 global

There’s no global source of information on water-related
academic activities. To uncover trends in water-related
publications, therefore, we had to devise indirect measures using
several databases, including one that indexes 22,800 journals,
magazines and reports from more than 5,000 publishers.

Nor is there a list of water resource-related post-secondary
programs. Similar detective work was required, therefore, to locate
the world’s 28,000 or so universities that offer degrees in
water-related programs.

Our most troubling finding at the end of the day: altogether too
little training and research takes place where water problems are
most acute. Instead, global water research relies on Western –
particularly US – scientific outputs.

Globally, we found, water-related research is published in 88
countries but just two of them — the United States and China —
accounted for 33% of the 1.2 million papers published between 2012
and 2017.

About 70% of the academic journals that publish water research
are based in just four countries — the United States, Britain,
Germany and the Netherlands; 2% are in China.

All 15 countries leading in publications per million population
are among the world’s wealthiest, suggesting water research does
not emerge as a reaction to water scarcity but, instead, to some
economic value in a supply and sanitation industry expected to be
worth $1 trillion (US) in 2020.

The average number of citations for any given paper dropped
precipitously, from 22 in 2012 to just three in 2017. This
suggests, at least in part, that lower quality papers are being
written to conform with government sponsored policies on
publication, or reflects increasing pressure in academia to produce
research — publish or perish.

This pressure might be critical for researchers to survive, but
it is hardly conducive from a development perspective.

Meanwhile, most universities offering water-related courses are
in North America, Europe and parts of Asia. In Sub-Saharan Africa,
which faces severe water shortages, very few postgraduate
institutions offer recognised programs on water.

And many students from water-stressed countries who attend
university in North America or Europe don’t return home after
graduation, depriving their countries of badly needed

Any incentive, process or practice that encourages the return of
these highly-qualified students to jobs in the water sector could
benefit the home country.

Given the highly autonomous nature of universities and their
faculty members, it’s unreasonable to expect widespread
cooperation in curriculum design and delivery but some sharing of
materials would be very beneficial.

We suggest that a consortium of universities offer large-scale
water studies, courses or programs using the specific expertise of
their combined faculty members.

Other recommendations: encourage more women to enter the
water-resources field. And find better ways to convey in a
practical way the research findings, learning and knowledge in
research publications to actual users in need of the knowledge.

Teacher and teaching ratings should likewise be based on
outcomes — including assessments by previous students at
different intervals since graduation about the quality, content and
relevance of their programs.

The bottom line: When it comes to water research, the publish or
perish philosophy that drives many researchers must take second
place to the goal of on-the-ground results, especially in the
developing world, where there also must be a more structured focus
on water education.

The UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) sets
ambitious targets for improvement in water supply and sanitation.
To achieve the water-related SDGs, however, we need to use insights
into academic shortcomings to make reforms, and soon.

*Their papers, “Higher Education in the Water Sector: A Global
Overview” and “Bibliometrics of Water Research: A Global
Snapshot,” are available at www.inweh.unu.edu. UNU-INWEH is
supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada
and hosted by McMaster University.

The post
Water Research & Education Needs to Flow Towards Developing
appeared first on Inter
Press Service


Colin Mayfield, is Senior Advisor, Water
Education and Knowledge Management at United Nations University
Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), and
Hamid Mehmood is a Senior Researcher*.

The post
Water Research & Education Needs to Flow Towards Developing
appeared first on Inter
Press Service

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Water Research & Education Needs to Flow Towards Developing World