SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

Home Pagelista alfabética de revistas  

Servicios Personalizados




Links relacionados


Gayana (Concepción)

versión impresa ISSN 0717-652Xversión On-line ISSN 0717-6538

Gayana (Concepc.) v.66 n.2 Concepción  2002 

Gayana 66(2): 141-146, 2002


Helen Young¹, José R. Stuardo² & Ian S.F. Jones³


This paper addresses the question of why the intellectual leadership of Oceanography is currently vested in developed countries while it is argued that developing countries have greater needs for the outcomes of Oceanography. The norms of the research science culture are discussed. These norms are not embedded in the culture of some developing regions but are central to western industrial societies. English language, as a carrier of the culture of science, is identified as a key element in enabling graduates to be leaders in their region and players on the international stage. The prospect of regional schools of excellence to educate indigenous graduates in Oceanography is explored as a way of empowering developing country professionals and of halting the brain drain.

KEYWORDS: Oceanography, graduate education, English as second language, scientific culture, leadership, developing countries.


Se aborda la pregunta de porqué el liderazgo intelectual de la Oceanografía se encuentra en la actualidad en países desarrollados mientras se argumenta que son los países en desarrollo los que tienen mayor necesidad de los resultados de la Oceanografía. Se discuten las normas de la cultura científica de la investigación. Estas normas no están incorporadas en la cultura de algunas regiones en desarrollo pero son centrales a las sociedades industriales occidentales. La lengua inglesa, como portadora de la cultura de la ciencia, se identifica como un elemento clave para capacitar a los graduados como líderes en su región y actores en el escenario internacional. Se argumenta la posibilidad que tienen las escuelas regionales de excelencia de educar en Oceanografía a graduados locales, como una manera de potenciar a los profesionales de los países en desarrollo y detener la fuga de cerebros.

PALABRAS CLAVES: Oceanografía, educación de postgrado, Inglés como segunda lengua, cultura científica, liderazgo, países en desarrollo.


Why is the intellectual leadership of oceanography dominated by people from developed countries and why are oceanographers from developing countries not proportionally represented in the international networks that regulate modern science? What can be done to re-dress this imbalance?

These issues are beginning to attract international attention as Oceanography is increasingly seen as a global science. To be inclusive of all regions requires the active participation of people from developing maritime countries. Participation as equals demands equal educational opportunities.

Generalizations derived mainly from Latin American experiences and the overall situation in other developing countries, indicate that a number of constraints restrict the development of advanced education in Oceanography and the building of technological capacity to study the oceans. (Stuardo & Yuras1998; Stuardo 1999). Some of these constraints are:

a.) 0The inability to provide the minimal standards of living and the economic framework to support education because of the rapidly increasing human population.

b.) 0The lack of capacity in many countries with emerging economies to build advanced, integrated academic institutions and expertise to allow participation in national and international research.

c.) 0Cultural systems and languages that may be too diversified to allow close regional co-operation. One international language and a high academic standard should be agreed upon for graduate education.

d.) 0Unequal regional distribution of world class universities, capable of leading the development of graduate programs.

e.) 0The lack of an overall systems approach to fisheries and other marine resource exploitation in countries with rudimentary economies.

f.) 0A traditional education too focussed in Biology and Natural Sciences at the undergraduate level, leading to specialization only in the Marine Biology component of oceanography.

g.) 0The lack of research capabilities, equipment and infrastructure.

An understanding of the above listed constraints may provide an answer to the question of why there is a shortage of leaders in Oceanography from developing countries.

It may be possible to redress this imbalance by the establishment of regional graduate schools in Oceanography which concentrate not only on postgraduate scientific education but also on building leadership qualities in their graduates.

A study funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, backed by the Scientific Committee for Oceanic Research (SCOR) and the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) was undertaken to look at the design of graduate schools which would earn high reputations, provide first class science education as well as equip people for international leadership. This paper discusses some of the important language and cultural issues which need to be considered in designing such schools.

To explore the first question regarding the domination of oceanography by developed countries we need to look at how revered science is in the cultures of the various OECD countries. Science has a high profile in these cultures because it has produced the technological changes of the last centuries which have dramatically improved the general standard of living and prosperity. This prosperity initially allowed enough leisure time amongst the educated and privileged to pursue scientific enquiry. Later government funded science and technology put men on the moon, pumped oil from the ocean floor, split the atom and spliced genes. The names of the most famous pioneers of science are glorified in western history - Aristotle, Archimedes, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Madame Curie. When the Age of Enlightenment swept over Europe in the 18th century, science took a prominent role in the culture of these countries.

At the beginning of the 21st century, no education in OECD countries would be considered adequate without a large science component. Science attracts wide media coverage in the developed countries and children grow up absorbing it in their thinking from an early age. It is part of the culture of these countries.

In many of the developing countries science does not play an important role in the culture. Students from some of these regions may not present with an understanding of the philosophy, practices and ethics of science. To provide "a level playing field" for them, we need to explicitly introduce graduates from developing countries to the scientific culture.

Regional graduate schools need to examine how to provide this exposure to the culture and practices of international science.


First we should identify what is needed to participate successfully in international science and then consider ways regional graduate schools could transfer these skills.

Science has its own culture. By culture we mean an integrated system of learned behaviour patterns that are characteristic of the members of the group. The ethos of science has been described by Merton (1942) as involving universalism, communalism, organised scepticism and disinterestedness. `Universalism'or what we would now refer to as the internationalism of science runs counter to the efforts of many developing countries to engender nationalism in their population. `Communalism' embracing egalitarianism is one of the most difficult aspects to be accepted by many people from cultures with a long authoritarian tradition. Science relies on challenging existing knowledge and postulating new theories and experiments. The culture gives young scientists the right to participate in the debate equally with established scientists. While it is customary to hold important scientists and their institutions in respect, it is not part of the practice of science to be deferential. `Organised scepticism' often invokes public hostility in all societies when cherished beliefs are questioned. Science students need to learn how to question without losing the support of their communities. `Disinterest' is the ethos of not making science the vehicle of personal acquisitiveness which has so driven western expansionism.

While there has been considerable interest in the sociology of science in western societies (e.g. Farkas 1979), students from non-western cultures at graduate schools need to obtain practical experience in the nuances of the science culture. Study of the history of science can play an important role here, but it cannot substitute for direct exposure to the culture. Students need to attend workshops and participate in international experiments rather than rely on reading only theoretical studies.


There are many compelling reasons why oceanographers need English. As is well known, English is the international language for all the sciences, business, engineering, diplomacy, aviation, and the like. It is the language for international scientific conferences and journals, networking across cultures and communicating with colleagues from all parts of the globe. This, however, is not a chauvinistic judgement of the merits of one language over another. As Widdowson (1997) has suggested "The international spread of English is sustained only by the institutionally specific purposes it serves". He also notes that "language is regulated by the requirements of the profession" and that "native speakers have no jurisdiction over the way the language is modified to suit professional purposes". However, it is generally accepted that English is the most commonly used second language and as such its importance for oceanographers and scientists wishing to communicate with their international colleagues is self evident.

This does not mean of course that scientists should not use or expand their own native languages. It is essential that science is communicated, taught and practised in the indigenous languages in all regions _ how else could it benefit the local populations? International scientists need both their indigenous languages and English to be effective.

The above facts are not new or surprising. But given that most post graduate science education and international science is conducted in English, it is surprising how little support is given to young graduate scientists in making them fluent, and confident in using English. Mastering a second or third language, unless acquired from early childhood, is no easy feat. So much effort is required for many to become competent not only in reading, but also writing, listening and being able to speak in a way that is comfortably intelligible to others. Graduates require competence in English to attend conferences, present papers, contribute to journals and communicate with their peers. Speakers with poor faltering English are most likely to have great difficulty in transmitting their ideas. They are consequently subject to the impatience and arrogance of native English speakers. Even the most clever and talented scientists can look and feel inadequate when trying to communicate in a language in which they are not fluent. Faltering language is disempowering. Scientists can also be put at a disadvantage by not understanding the culture in which western science is conducted. Most people recognise that leadership in any endeavour depends on a person's ability to communicate well.

The quiet unassuming manner of a Thai for example might be interpreted as a lack of interest and the voluble Punjabi described by Gumperz (1990) risks irritating his colleagues with his loudness and level of pitch. Often the failure to use hedging words in English to soften questions, requests and assertions, leads to offence.

It might well be asked why so little time is spent on teaching skills to young graduates for communicating in their own languages and in scientific English, when the value of good communication is now widely recognised. The answer may lie in that educational institutions have not kept up with the changing nature of science.


Leadership is about making things happen and influencing the future. It is about providing a role model. Science students in developing countries need role models. Dynamic leaders can inspire young people to embrace the rigorous training needed in science.

People lead science in the direction of the needs of their own society. Leaders can influence the course of international ocean science to be relevant to developing countries needs. In many senses these needs are greater than those of developed countries. Lack of expertise has allowed the pollution from onshore developments to destroy the marine ecosystem from which many people derive their sustenance. Developing countries need better fishing and coastal management more than they need research into the nature of the atom or flights to the moon. Their priority is feeding and educating their population. The Law of the Sea has given many countries a new resource but most developing countries do not have the people with the skills to exploit these opportunities wisely. Leaders are able to argue on an equal footing for priorities relevant to their regions and be heard.

Leaders from different cultures provide a fresh perspective on science which encourages diversity in scientific approach. For example some cultures emphasise harmony which contrasts with the adversorial nature of traditional western science and its search for anomalies.

Science reporting adopts a particular style of language. It is direct, efficient and non-emotional. For the non-scientific audience, the language needs more embellishment and refinement if the ideas presented are to be persuasive in the indigenous culture. It is important that the skills and use of the indigenous language are honed to carry the message to the local community. The responsibility of being an indigenous leader is to advance the well being of his or her own society through science.

Science is an enriching activity. The enlightenment of the spirit is as much of the birthright of people in developing countries as it is to those in OECD countries. Why should it be denied to developing country nationals?


Successful graduate schools involve a critical number of faculty and students. There is not enough demand in most countries to graduate many oceanographers. However when countries are grouped into regions, the demand does exceed the critical mass. Regional schools make sense - the oceans do not recognise national boundaries. The science of Oceanography as pointed out by Jones & Jones (1992), was founded on the sharing of knowledge amongst scientists for the good of mankind. Oceanography by its very nature has always been a leader in the internationalization of science, a step towards the globalisation of science and the understanding of global phenomena.

A regional school would spread costs in areas where science budgets are small. Sharing research vessels and curriculum development and advanced training makes economic sense. Affluent countries, such as the G8, may well wish to support the establishment of regional schools as they share a common ocean. Some of this support could be in the form of mentoring the new schools, which individual scientists are often most willing to do.

There is some debate about the philosophy of education for master and doctoral degrees around the world. The Oxbridge model is based on residence with little formal instruction - the US model involves much more course work and is of longer duration, while developing countries have relied on sending graduate students abroad. We wish to set these issues aside to address the special requirements of graduate schools in developing regions.


We believe what will be needed to provide language and cultural skills is a curriculum that differs from that of the successful western graduate schools where the language and cultural skills of the students are presumed. It might take two years longer than is customary to obtain a Ph.D. that equips a person for leadership in the international arena.

Traditionally, transporting students to science based countries is how people were exposed to the culture and practices of science. Students who went to America or an English speaking country had the opportunity to acquire language skills. We now advocate bringing OECD opportunities to students of new regional institutes.

The teaching in regional graduate schools, we would argue, should be based on active student participation in the classrooms, on research vessels and in scientific laboratories. Rather than a passive teacher - driven style that students may have been accustomed to, a regional school could expose them to the questioning style culture of science. Such an approach is often not comfortable for students from many developing countries where consensual values are sought and individualism considered culturally offensive.

Students will need a training in ethics. The scientific culture does not allow fraudulent results or plagiarism. It is unacceptable to publish misleading data. Examples of fraud in science (Wade & Broad 1982) are few, in comparison with fraud in business. The perpetrator of fraud in science is cast out for ever from the scientific community, whereas in business it is often quickly overlooked.

To achieve the necessary English language skills students would benefit from an specifically designed course for scientists. As Widdowson (1997) says "The English for Specific Purposes program is designed to instruct students in the effective use of the language which serves their professional purposes". Techniques may involve visiting academics lecturing in English, video taping of their lectures for review by students, visits abroad to partner universities and attending conferences.

The University of Concepcion has "trail blazed" the concept of international visiting faculty supported by a UNESCO Chair in Coastal Oceanography which, since 1993 offers annually a set of 6 - 7 advanced courses for graduates and young Latin American scientists in different fields of Oceanography. As a result, during the last nine years over 300 young scientists have been favored in their specialization what is, no doubt, a good example of the perspectives offered in further developing the idea of regional graduate schools for developing countries, now promoted by SCOR and IOC. The Chair is complemented with an annual programme for doctoral fellowships and visits funded by Germany's DAAD to serve the Latin American region as described in detail by Stuardo & Gross (1998). Further, the University of Concepcion has been developing links with universities in OECD so the graduate students of their regional program can eventually spend three months or more abroad under the supervision of previously visiting faculty and funded by the sponsoring organizations. There they are immersed in western culture and the scientific ethos and observe science practised by members of the "scientific establishment".

Students need to attend international conferences to practise the networking and social skills they gain in their formal instruction in regional graduate schools.

Generally speaking, foreign languages learned during school years are not renowned for equipping their students with much more than some grammar rules and vocabulary. In many developing countries there are not enough experienced and fluent English teachers. Rarely, without extra attention and tuition or time spent in an English speaking environment, will school leavers be able to understand or be understood in anything other than their mother tongues . Many undergraduate students may well have more interest and knowledge of mathematics and physics than they will of English. And yet they will be expected, when they become post graduate students, to be able to read in English, text books, journal articles and information on the internet in their disciplines.

The training in leadership needs to engender the expectation of success and the building of confidence. Renowned graduate schools for science and technology equip their students with these qualities.


The intellectual leadership of Oceanography is currently dominated by people with mastery of the international language of science and an understanding of the norms of research science culture. We have argued that unless scientists from developing countries sit on international committees and their regional councils, their countries' interests may not be represented adequately. The current model is for potential leaders to be educated in western institutions but many do not return to support their developing economies. A way of addressing the problem is to design and establish regional graduate schools that can provide education to equip scientists from developing countries to be leaders in their regions and on the international stage. We have suggested a curriculum for regional schools that differs from that of the successful western graduate schools where the language and cultural skills of the students are presumed. We need to inspire the future leaders in Oceanography in developing countries so they can inspire others in their countries.


The authors would like to thank the Rockefeller Foundation for supporting the workshop at Bellagio, Italy where many of the ideas contained herein were developed.


Broad, W. & N. Wade 1982. Betrayers of the Truth, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 256.

Farkas, J. 1979. Sociology of Science and Research, Adakemiai Kiado Budapest, pp503.

Gumperz, J J. 1990. "The Conversational Analysis of Interethnic Communication" in Scarcella, R C , E.S.Andersen & S D Krashen (1990) Developing Communicative Competence in a Second Language, Heinle and Heinle, Boston, pp356.

Jones, I.S.F & J.E Jones 1992. Oceanography in the Days of Sail. Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, pp288.

Merton, R.K. 1942. A Note on Science and Democracy, Reprinted in The Sociology of Science, (1973) University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 605.

Stuardo, J. & G.Yuras. 1998. Developing capacities for satellite oceanography in Latin American countries facing the Pacific. (374-385) In: R.Brown. Remote sensing of the Pacific Ocean by Satellites. Earth Ocean & Space Pty. Ltd., Sydney NSW Australia, 454 pp.

Stuardo, J. 1999. Promoting mechanisms for graduate education in oceanography in developing countries: hopes and realities (pp.15-18). In: Ming-Xia He & G.Cheng (eds.) PORSEC-98, Quingdao,China, Proceedings, 930 pp.

Stuardo, J. & E. Gross 1998. Workshop Report on regional graduate schools of oceanography, SCOR, Baltimore, 24 pp.

Widdowson, H.G. (1998) "Communication and Community: The Pragmatics of ESP", 17, 3-14.

Fecha de recepción: 26.09.00
Fecha de aceptación: 29.08.02 

¹Earth Ocean and Space, University of Sydney, Australia,

²University of Concepcion, Chile,

³University of Sydney, Australia,

Creative Commons License Todo el contenido de esta revista, excepto dónde está identificado, está bajo una Licencia Creative Commons