UCD and TCD together with Irish Aid have recently been running a seminar series on development issues as part of an on-going project to put a unique, new, cross-institutional masters-level initiative on the ground in Ireland.  It has led to some some very interesting talks both here at Belfield and also in Trinity. Well… until now at any rate!

Friday was my turn to take the floor.  It’s probably reasonable to say that while I think it went off well enough, my penguins didn’t fly and one of my elephants (problems we prefer to ignore) came as a bit of an unknown for a lot of those at the seminar.  The moral of the first part is simple; always make sure Quicktime is installed on a presentation PC in a place you’ve not spoken in previously before trying to play your comical-but-pointed Quicktime video.  The second was a bit more worrying.  I brough up Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid criticism of the political processes and rational underpinning norther governments’ involvement in overseas development and aid. But surprisingly a fair number in the room hadn’t yet come across her particular brand of smooth, loaded rhetoric.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise. The programme that Paul Walsh, Padraig Camody et al.  are putting together is very much in the Amartya Sen / Jeffery Sachs tradition; reasoned and hopeful.  The question of needing to engage the more sensational  counter-currents is however a thought for a necessary future year 1 inclusion. After all, if the course graduates aren’t aware of all of the type of  ideologically charged, anti-aid stuff that’s out there, it’s hard to see them not being phased by it when they hit it in the fieldwork stages.

The superpipes part of the talk was more like home ground; technology and its affordances for education in a developing world setting, the sometimes ambivalent IT / Telco sector practices, the telecommunications superpipes now hitting developing countries’ shores around the world – as well as the ownership of these and the continuing paucity of provision for the African situation. We also looked briefly at the ITU role in all of this and the part played by ‘maverick’ initiatives such as OLPC, and the increasingly valuable role of ‘northern’ universities in supporting and promoting development and meaningful collaboration with southern counterparts.

But as always the best part of the talk was the conversation that followed.  Many of the seminar participants may not have heard of ‘the best looking voice’ on the anti-aid side but their passion and intelligence was obvious in our discussion.

As an academic and humanistic initiative, this programme deserves to succeed. I hope it gets a kinder reception across the university more broadly that it has in my own school.