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Evaluation of the Crawford Fund master class in biotechnology: A tracer study of participants, their sponsoring institutions and course providers

 

The master classes in biotechnology represent a new development in the retraining of professional scientists in developing countries The specific purpose of this training has been to expose mid-career scientists and scientific administrators involved in agricultural research to the principles of molecular biology underlying the new techniques and tools of biotechnology, and the application of these to improve the efficiency and outcomes of the research activities in their own institutions. The catchment for candidates for the master classes in biotechnology has been East and South Asia, which corresponds to the major focus for Australia's aid funds. Within this region, participants have been drawn from 14 countries, with over 70% coming from six of these, Thailand, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam. Of the 11 master classes held to cater for these candidates, 7 have been held in Australia, 2 in International Agricultural Research Centres in Asia and two in more advanced Asian countries, Thailand and Malaysia. This independent evaluation of the master class program was initiated by ACIAR, who has been
the major supporter of the program since its inception, The objectives of the evaluation were to assess the extent to which the program has achieved its objectives, the quality, rigour and relevance of the courses and the benefits and impact of the new technologies on the research programs of the participants and their institutions The evaluation also considered future strategic issues that are likely to influence the operation of the program, including the design
scope and possible expansion of the program and its funding sources.
Because of the difficulty of interaction with all those involved in the master classes, the evaluation committee developed three detailed questionnaires which were distributed to all those who had been involved in presenting the classes to the participants, and to the agricultural research organisations supporting their attendance. Interviews were also held with a wide cross
section of those involved with the master classes in Australia including other stakeholders who were interested in the program and the special training approach These surveys demonstrate the master classes had an excellent reputation and were judged to be of a high standard, effective in achieving their objectives and relevant to the client's research and teaching needs A total of 90% of the participants, together with those providing the courses
material, felt that the length and content of the material presented was about right, but at the same time, about half of the participants expressed a preference for more 'hands on' practical exercises. There was general agreement that it was not necessary to have had previous training
and experience in molecular biology, but that a science background and some awareness of the field of biotechnology through previous teaching or research was sufficient to understand the material and benefit from the training.
The major benefits of the master classes as indicated by the participants, were that they opened up new areas for research and teaching in their organisations and opportunities for collaboration with their own colleagues and others in the region and in Australia. They also indicated that this background gave the staff greater access to research grants and further training opportunities.