A partnership with academia

Building knowledge for trade and development



The Virtual Institute's online course on Trade and Poverty, co-funded by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Government of Finland, concluded November 30, graduating 77 researchers from 45 developing and transition countries around the world.

"Post-course evaluation questionnaires brought the Vi team much positive feedback," said Vi Chief, Vlasta Macku. "While all participants said the course met their expectations to various extents, many of our students literally raved about it."

Isaac Shinyekwa, of Uganda's Economic Policy Research Centre, for example, said he was "'blown apart' by the technology and level of order and organization."

"Many courses tend to offer more theoretical teaching with little focus on the empirical and practical aspects," said Khutsafalo Sekolokwane, of the South African Customs Union Secretariat in Namibia. "This course has been an exception in that it balanced and aligned the theoretical and empirical aspects. The hands-on and the videos guiding the empirical exercises were very useful in enhancing our learning and application of the instruments at hand."

All participants also said that the course enhanced their knowledge of data sources, tools, methods and policy-relevant research questions on trade and poverty, one of the top objectives of the training.

"Before I attended this online course, I had little knowledge about the research on trade and poverty," said Dahai Fu, of China's Central University of Finance and Economics. "Upon completion of this course, I have learnt the mechanisms through which trade affects poverty and also mastered some tools that I can use to analyze the specific situation in China."

"I learned how to write a complete policy paper on trade and poverty from the policy questions, the data, the methodology and the presentation of the findings," said Didier Yelognisse Alia, of AfricaRice in Benin.

"What I really appreciate is that I learned more about policy relevance," said Christian Otchia, of the University of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. "Before attending this course, I was giving priority to how complicated my methodology should be. But now, I have learnt that it is all about policy relevance."

According to the 70 evaluations received, 52 participants felt that after completing the course they can independently undertake policy-relevant research on trade and poverty and/or teach their students about the tools and methods used in the econometric analysis of trade and poverty. Nineteen participants answered that they can capably contribute to a trade and poverty research project in partnership with a more experienced researcher, while two felt that although they were not quite ready to take on a trade and poverty research project, they were motivated to continue developing their skills in this area.

"I definitely will research in this area and contribute to the policy debate," said Marjan Petreski, of Vi core member, the University American College Skopje, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. [And] "although I consider the course to be more relevant for my research, I also gained some knowledge which I would like to transfer to students."

"After completing my course, I am eager to do policy research on trade and poverty, such as on the impact of exchange rates, trade facilitation measures and transport infrastructure, because our country, Myanmar, is just opening the doors, changing a lot and needing the right policies to get growth and reduce poverty," said Thida Kyu, of Myanmar's Yangon Institute of Economics.

The course generated a storm of ideas and applications for the new knowledge. Although the bulk of examples provided by the participants concentrated on research -- they mentioned 62 specific papers of relevance to their countries on which they would like to work -- 28 of them said that they had already started to integrate or would integrate materials from the course in their university teaching at the undergraduate, graduate and PhD levels.

"I will introduce new bibliography on trade and poverty in the traditional program of International Economics," said Maria Priscilla Ramos, of the Universidad Argentina de la Empresa. "I will also be capable to supervise students' theses on the use of micro data to evaluate poverty and inequality related to trade and trade policy."

"I included the trade and poverty topic into my International Trade Theory and Policy class taught to Master's degree students at the Belarus State Economic University," said Yulia Vashkevich. "I also plan to go through some of the articles analyzed in the course with my undergraduate students to show them the way econometric techniques are used in international economics research."

Participants also gave top marks to the course's technical aspects and proposed learning activities, rating multimedia lectures and hands-on exercises as the most effective in helping them learn.

"The full package of the course was carefully prepared and was very effective in making sure that the modules were clearly disseminated to the participant. After reading all the materials and listening to the lectures, one would thoroughly understand the concepts taught," said one of the students. "The technical elements of the online course were excellent," said another. "The course DVD was amazing," added another.

In terms of complexity, the largest part of respondents rated the difficulty of the course as moderate or "just right." About 20 percent found the difficulty level high. One participant considered the course's difficulty very high. On average, it appears that the course required about 11 hours of study per week per participant, although some spent considerably more time reviewing the materials and completing the required module quizzes and final assessments.

At the end of the 12-week course, 77 of the 102 enrolled participants successfully completed all activites required.

"A special mention needs to be made about the women participating in the course," Macku said. "Of the 31 enrolled, 29 went on to pass the course, and 11 of them were among the top graduates."

All successful participants were granted certificates of completion. The best 27 graduates (from Argentina, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Kenya, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Viet Nam and Zambia) also received copies of  the UNCTAD/WTO book, "A practical guide to trade policy analysis" and the UNCTAD discussion paper, "Trade, income distribution and poverty in developing countries: A survey."

The 27 have also been invited to submit research proposals for the subsequent phase of the Vi trade and poverty project, in which 10-15 researchers, in cooperation with national policymakers, will write papers on trade and poverty topics of policy interest to their countries. Selected projects will receive coaching support from UNCTAD experts and financial grants from the Vi.

"This was another great opportunity the Vi has given its members," said affiliate university coordinator and course participant, Orlando Da Silva, of Brazil's Federal University of Viçosa.

"I am really thankful and grateful for this opportunity," said Mamello Nchake, of the University of Cape Coast, South Africa. "The course has been an eye opener in terms of policy research on trade and poverty issues which is very crucial for a low-income country like Lesotho."

"My first contact with the Vi dates back to 2008 when I took a course on 'Teaching and Research of Economic and Legal Aspects of International Investment Agreements,'" said Kassahun Aberra, of the Ethiopian Economic Association. "Since then I am an active attendant of their website and have access to the materials. I strongly believe that the Institute has a fair share in my professional development in the area."