In a recent World Development article, Tugendhat and Alemu present primary research on China’s short-term technical and policy training courses on agriculture.
Who attends these courses?
- Technical civil-servants (~ 3 months, practical, hands-on training)
- Senior officials (~ 2 to 4 weeks, more observation and policy but still some fieldwork)
- Ministerial-level officials and secretaries (~ 14 days or less, networking, business, and policy
How do the short-term courses work? The short-term courses are “funded by the Department of Foreign Aid in MOFCOM, and the short-term courses are managed by MOFCOM’s ‘‘Academy for International Business Officials” (AIBO). A number of courses are also hosted at AIBO but more often funding is provided to other Chinese institutions such as universities, research centers, and relevant companies. Flights, accommodation and lodging are all paid for by MOFCOM, and the only costs borne by the participants or their ministries are the visa fees and stipends” (74-74). African ministries are allowed to pick which staff go (corruption/patronage or efficiency?) Almost all courses were taught in Chinese with an interpreter translating (generally into English or French). Authors observed a roughly even split between courses focused on technologies and technical methods and those focused on policy and management methods.
The authors consider three major questions:
- Do the training courses push a unified, central model of development. In other words, is there a Beijing consensus? While there were a few central messages pushed onto the courses (esp. China as a brethren developing country with technological experience emphasized with banquets and field trips to the countryside), there was no unified model of development or best practices dictated to course lectures. Instead, course content was largely left to the individual trainers. While course content does need approval from the central government, the lecturer’s interviewed said they rarely received comment on their submitted lesson plans.
- Do the training courses serve as vehicles for China’s commercial interests? The authors’ analysis shows course participants come from a diverse group of development countries and not just the resource-rich countries. However, a third of participants were offered the opportunity to buy goods connected with their training course.
- How do the training courses articulate China’s soft power? The majority of the participants interviewed retained a positive impression of China. Both participants and organizers highlighted newly established relationships as the lasting impact of the courses.
The authors found no direct impact of the training courses:
“The greatest impediment to implementing the lessons from the training contexts in home contexts was either that courses were not relevant to the unique climate or socio-economic contexts the participants were from, or the job that they actually carried out” (78).
In other words, the courses weren’t geared to meet specific needs. Further, there seems to be limited options for follow-up work or funding for projects inspired by training course. Participants and lecturers alike stressed to the authors that relationship-building was more important than tangible impact of training. Tugendhat and Alemu conclude we’ll see long-term impacts from these training and they may be right. However, I can’t help but wonder if there was a more structured follow-up mechanism accompanying the training if we wouldn’t see more short-term impacts as well. It really just depends. Are the training courses about seeing China in a positive light or are they about equipping participants with the knowledge needed to improve their local situation?