UNE helps Bhutan train remote civil servants

Published 07 April 2008

bhutan.jpgTen academics at the Bhutan Government’s Royal Institute of Management (RIM) are undertaking a graduate program through the University of New England that will enable them to develop training courses for civil servants throughout Bhutan.

They recently began studying towards UNE’s Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, and will complete the year-long course by distance education – except for two weeks of face-to-face instruction from UNE staff members who will visit Bhutan later in the year.

UNE, well known for its expertise in distance education, won a competitive grant of $139,000 from AusAID, the Australian Government’s overseas aid agency, to teach the course in Bhutan as part of the AusAID Asia Public Sector Linkages Program.

UNE’s Associate Professor Tom Maxwell developed the grant application in collaboration with officials from RIM, which is responsible for developing Bhutan’s public administration human resource capacity. “The rugged nature of Bhutan poses problems for RIM,” Dr Maxwell explained, “because it is often very expensive – in time as well as money – to bring civil servants to the campus in Thimphu for training. Distance learning could provide the solution they need.”

Dr Maxwell said that he had visited Bhutan in 2006 with the Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Alan Pettigrew, and Professor Robin Pollard (who was then the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor, Development and International), and that their discussions with senior government officials, highlighting UNE’s experience in distance education, had led to the collaborative project with RIM.

Associate Professor Belinda Tynan and Dr Robyn Smyth from the Teaching and Learning Centre at UNE are conducting the course, and it is they who will travel to Bhutan for the two-week residential school later this year. “The program for the Bhutanese academics includes the development – by each of them – of a training module for civil servants to be delivered by distance education,” Dr Tynan said. “During the residential school they will have an opportunity to practise the techniques involved.”

While Dr Tynan will be visiting Bhutan for the first time this year, Dr Smyth was there last year as part of another collaborative project involving distance education. She was helping staff at the Samtse College of Education prepare distance-education material for the professional development of primary school teachers throughout the country. UNE’s School of Education and the Bhutan Ministry of Education have collaborated since 1993, in association with UNICEF Australia, on a project – led by Dr Maxwell – that has successfully developed the skills of teachers working in “multigrade” (i.e. small primary) schools in remote areas of Bhutan.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Associate Professor Belinda Tynan (left) and Dr Robyn Smyth displayed here has a Bhutanese scene for a backdrop.