Picture, (c) Magdalena Lackner
by Katharina Albrich
Magdalena Lackner is one of the coordinators of the Joint IUFRO-IFSA Task Force on Forest Education. She is currently completing her Master’s in Forest Sciences at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna, Austria. Magdalena has been volunteering for IFSA in different positions over the past six years.
Please tell us a little bit how you got involved with IFSA and the Joint Task Force.
I became active in IFSA already at the beginning of my studies when we renewed our Local Committee at BOKU. I soon also started volunteering in IFSA internationally, first as Liaison Officer to IUFRO (International Union of Forest Research Organisations) and then as Head of the Commission for Forest Education. When I became involved in the topic, plans to collaborate with one of IFSA’s oldest partners, IUFRO, in the field of forestry education (FE) had already been discussed for several years. But due to the changes of office holders in IFSA, the discussions were always postponed. I was lucky enough to engage in the talks for a longer period of time and we finally decided last year to establish the Joint Task Force on Forest Education (JTF).
How is the Joint Task Force structured and what are its main tasks?
The work of the Task Force is divided into four work packages. One is a research project bringing together researchers and students from all over the world; another project was to establish an online tool on Forestry Education. A third work package focuses on providing training activities for IFSA students and last but not least, there is our aim to find a way to counterbalance students’ efforts outside university with university credits. The Task Force is co-headed by Sandra Rodríguez-Pineros, representing IUFRO, and me, representing IFSA.
Which activities of the Task Force are planned for the future and how can students get involved?
One of our main projects was to establish a global online database on forestry programmes. Together with the Global Forest Information Service (GFIS.net), we developed an interactive tool. Students can search for different programmes online and can easily access information on study facilities. In the future, the platform should get even more interactive. We plan to create a space where students can publish early research outcomes such as bachelor or master theses and where educational events are highlighted. This tool will not only provide useful information but also increase students’ mobility.
Another project where IFSA students are currently involved and can get involved in the future is the global research project “Global Outlook on Forest Education” (GOFE). The main purpose of this project is to bring together researchers and students from all over the world to identify gaps and problems in the forestry sector. We were able to fund students to conduct their research in their home region. We hope to carry on with this project in the future.
Another opportunity for IFSA students are free training courses organized by the JTF during IUFRO and IFSA events. These opportunities can be seen as pilot projects, hopefully motivating other IUFRO office holders and IFSA officials to organize student trainings during the numerous IUFRO and IFSA events. The next training will be organized at the Northern African Regional meeting (NARM, May 2017 in Ghana) and the IUFRO 125th Anniversary conference (September 2017 in Germany).
The focus for the next year will also be on identifying case studies of universities giving credits for voluntary activities of the students. As we are working for a non-profit organization and receive no financial contribution for our hard work, we think counterbalancing the efforts with university credits could be a fair solution. There are few universities which are already implementing this system.
As you can see, there are quite some activities planned for the upcoming year and many opportunities for students to get involved! One of my main goals will be to find a successor for coordinating the work of the JTF. The term of the working group will end in September, but we would be interested in continuing the activities of the JTF.
In your opinion, what are the biggest current challenges in forestry education and what is needed to train foresters for the future?
The biggest challenge for such a global project might be that we are facing very different problems within the different countries and regions. It’s difficult to narrow it down to just one or two major issues. Some regions are recording rising numbers of forestry students while facing budget cuts in the educational sector, other countries have problems with decreasing numbers of forestry students while having a stable budget. As Yemi Adeyeye highlighted in the last issue, of utmost importance is that forestry education does not get forgotten by policy makers! The world constantly changes and so should the educational sector.
About the author:
Katharina Albrich is a member of the IFSA LC at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria where she is currently doing her PhD.