Viewpoint: "We have benefitted enormously from the bilateral exchange between Colombia and Germany"

Photo by Yesim Pacal

September 14, 2023.  

Interview with Professor Tomás León Sicard, project leader of the German-Colombian Doctoral Studies Support Program (DSSP) at the National Universiity of Colombia (UNAL)

How do you think the National University of Colombia (UNAL) has benefitted from participating in the DAAD-funded SDG Graduate School program and from the cooperation with ZEF?

We have benefitted from this arrangemnt in so many ways. First of all, we have improved our capacities in different areas. Not only our logistic capacity to organize courses but also our capability to conduct research, mainly interdisciplinary research, in so many fields. We have had students working on issues of health, air quality and city transportation in Bogotá, and another student working on the effects of beetles on soil fertility and managing agrobiodiversity. This shows that we work by combining different fields and offer a study program with a highly comprehensive approach. With ZEF, we share the same philosophy of what environment is. For us, the environment entails the relationship between ecosystem and culture, between nature and society. We show these relationships in our research but also in our academic courses. We engage in conversations about this with colleagues from ecological economics, from agro-ecology and from the conflict areas in Colombia. Colombia has many problems due to the internal conflict stretching over the past 60 years. However, we have been studying not only the conflict but also the resolution of conflict. We think the alternative to conflict lies in bringing together the interests of the environment, which includes society and nature.

You are the project leader of the SDG Graduate School DSSP in Colombia. What has been the feedback of the students about the program so far?

The students have had the possibility to exchange knowledge, for example by writing a term paper in groups of three students with different academic backgrounds. Students write their term papers about any subject based on an exchange of visions and ideas related to environmental issues. The SDG program also has improved our capacity of publishing our academic outcomes. The cooperation between ZEF and IDEA has resulted in publishing together in IDEAS’ journal ‘Gestión y Medio Ambiente’. Thanks to the DSSP support, colleagues in Colombia have been able to publish their articles in scientific journals.
In addition, due to the support of the SDG program we have published three to four books in other fields, such as agrobiodiversity. Finally, we have been able to discuss the concept of sustainable development from a different approach, looking beyond pure economy. Sustainable development is also about education, technology, symbolic ideas, and ethics. With this interdisciplinary approach, our students are able to understand life in a better way.

What are the challenges the students and the program have been dealing with?

First of all, we are very happy with the program. It has enabled us to extend our master program to a program on environment and development and to other cities and Campuses of the National University (UNAL). We have been hosting professors and students from Germany, one of them doing his thesis in our country. But, if there is something to improve it would be the exchange on the level of professors, with more Colombian professors and lecturers going to Germany, and not only the German colleagues teaching in Colombia. This would make a real exchange and discussion of experiences possible and enrich perceptions of Latin America studies. I dream about this kind of exchange, doing some classes, courses, lectures in Germany about Colombia. Our country and the other South American countries are very complex, and this
complexity is quite difficult to understand for outsiders. That is why I think that we can improve the exchange by having professors from Colombia going to Germany.

Watch the full interview on ZEF's Youtube channel:

The ZEF-led Doctoral Studies Support Program (DSSP) is funded by the German Exchange Service (DAAD) in the framework of its SDG Graduate School program. The seven SDG Graduate Schools met in Bonn in June 2023.

This interview was published in ZEF News No. 47.

More info about DSSP:

The interview was conducted by ZEF PR Team



Alma van der Veen


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