Encountering the World Class, from the “developing world”

The Maldives

Photo credit: Mohamed Shamikh Zubair

Greetings from the Maldives. Yes, you have peers even on this remote archipelago of islands. I welcome you to my experience with the BSc Development and Economics programme. The programme, such as its name sake, has two very distinct personalities. Let’s talk about the development side of things today.

One of the principal concerns I had while deciding to join this programme was about how relatable the course content would be to the “developing world”*. I was concerned that engaging in distance learning would leave me incapable of comprehending ‘the local’. I imagine quite a few of you still sitting on the fence about the programme are anxious about this as well. Fortunately, the programme is designed well. I personally found the content delivery to be highly relatable. Of course, it would be ludicrous for me to expect the programme to be written in the exact context of the Maldives. It is however, delivered in such a way that makes it easy to relate its content to domestic contexts. The problems explored are often global, current and delivered through the perspectives of several different schools of thought.

This is at the core of one of the great strengths of studying with the University of London. You are free to develop your own style of thinking and writing. I personally found myself favouring literature on the centre-left and tend to approach my examinations accordingly. You have the freedom to explore the areas that interest you as deeply as you wish and will scarcely find yourself with a shortage of reading material. It is hence entirely plausible for what I take away from my studies to be remarkably different from what you may experience.

One of the more interesting courses you will encounter in your very first year of study will be ‘Contemporary Sociology in a Global Age’. You will be greeted by the delightful 1,000-page monster that is Giddens and Sutton Sociology, the essential reading for the module. The book can be an intimidating foe, but it reads well and will set the foundational personality of most of the development courses that will follow. You will also read journals and research papers concerning some of the most heated social issues today; including race and immigration, crime, gender, health, war and so on.
My favourite intro course however, was ‘Introduction to International Development’. Unlike sociology, this course, like all development (DV) courses, is remarkably tailored to fit the palette of us from the “developing world”. Most of the DV courses I have encountered so far share an ethic of looking into global problems through the lens of a “developing country”. Though the essential reading for this course is not the Goliath that is Giddens and Sutton, the reading is intense, comprehensive and arguably more challenging.

This course and its associated readings will have you exploring the many persistent problems facing the ‘developing world’. Some of the problems you will encounter in this course are probably going to be more personal to you than others, but regardless, all of them are important to the rest of your programme and to your understanding of development. Personally, I found myself frequently reading into the topics of democracy and corruption, topics that, if you were familiar with news in the Maldives at the time, were quite hot. In taking this course I began to develop a keen interest in local and international politics and shortly after began writing about these issues for a few local civil society organisations.

One of the things I highlight here is that this programme does significantly improve your capacity to contribute to development organisations, such as the UN, the World Bank and CSOs. You will begin to understand the complex functioning of these organisations and their philosophical stances. As a student who has worked in international donor funded projects (including those from the World Bank and the UN), I confidently assure you that the knowledge, skills and ethics you learn here will be valuable in engaging in such work

To conclude, this is a course that will keep you engaged throughout your years of study. To those of you considering studying this programme and those who just started, I leave my words of advice: “Your study will be a steep uphill struggle. But this is a mountain worth conquering.”

*I use the quotation marks in phrases like “developing world” and “developing countries” to reflect on the ethic taught in the programme. There is growing controversy around using these terms to identify poorer countries in development literature, but few credible suggestions for alternatives.

Mifrah is studying BSc Development and Economics in the Maldives.

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