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Still riding the crest of the wave: Oceans & Lakes programme celebrates decade of interuniversity and international cooperation

The Master of Science in Marine and Lacustrine Science and Management, more commonly known as the Oceans & Lakes programme, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. A decade of ‘Oceans & Lakes’ means more than 200 trained graduates from across the world. For the 2020-2021 academic year, over 80 students are currently enrolled.

This multidisciplinary Master programme has a wide range of scientific disciplines and offers skills and insight training to its students in research and management of aquatic environments. ‘Oceans & Lakes’ is a young and energetic programme with roots that go back to the early 1980s with early predecessors called ‘MARELAC’, ‘ECOMAMA’ and ‘FAME’. The current programme is unique in that its students graduate from three Flemish universities (Belgium) under one diploma.

As Professor Nico Koedam, the programme’s director, explains: “The past decade has been an enriching experience for us all. Close collaboration with colleagues from three universities, combining our views and varied expertise towards one single objective: a solid and coherent programme. It looked like a challenge, but the gains have been so rewarding. It has increased our own learning tremendously, by taking the best from each university in every relevant field. The time that International Course Programmes were viewed as one-directional are gone, and internationalisation@home is seen as one of our university’s core values. The COVID-19 period has been a stress test, but our students have moved around virtually in an international scientific environment as easily as a trans-equatorial fish migration!”

The programme’s international nature is obvious: graduates and students hail from 39 different countries, forming networks that are inherent to the programme’s collaborations in projects, theses, research, and internships. Throughout its 10 year history, the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR-UOS) has played a crucial role as a partner in the programme, funding it as an International Master Programme (ICPs), offering 12 scholarships every year for new students, facilitating teaching and fieldwork in Belgium and abroad, at sea, on lakes, in mangroves and marshes, and wading in rivers.

The best example of this collaboration and international nature is the Monsoon School, a course organised with partners in the Global South (i.e. in a VLIR-UOS partner country). The last editions were held in Zanzibar and Kenya, and students from the Oceans & Lakes programme worked together with local partner universities and their students on local environmental issues and finished up their work by submitting a consultancy report on one of the relevant topics. While doing all this, they receive expert guidance from teaching staff, alumni and other partners in the programme who are experts in different topics.

Juana Jiménez Alcántara, from Peru, and Oceans & Lakes alumna (2017-2019) explains, “I always wanted to find my role and contribute to marine science. Through the ‘Oceans & Lakes’ programme I found my career path. This unique master programme gave me worldwide experience and provided me with a global perspective of marine and lacustrine science, learning to consider ecological, social, and economic problems in different parts of the world. I had the amazing opportunity to do field work as well as an internship, and to create an extensive network in places I would never have imagined (such as Zanzibar and Kenya). Now this network has become a family.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrations of the 10th anniversary have been postponed. But online celebrations cannot be locked down! Among other things, the programme has started creating a testimonial book that will include facts and figures of the Master programme, information on teaching formats, extensive fieldwork campaigns and current activities, and of course more about alumni and their careers.

This will be available on the programme’s website, www.oceansandlakes.be, by the end of the year.

Photo at top: ©Kochzius, students O&L, 2018-2000