Scaling Up Development at MÉK

2020. August 03. - 11:42 Associate professor László Stündl has been appointed Dean of Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences and Environmental Management (MÉK) of the University of Debrecen by Rector Zoltán Szilvássy. The new head has taken over the management of the faculty as of July 1.

“For any institution of higher education, in addition to preserving its traditions, it is a compulsory task to continue searching for new paths, directions and solutions. I believe in change and in the necessity of dynamic acclimatization to the processes taking place around us; however, I also reckon that stability and the right points of departure are represented by our past, our traditions and the achievements of our predecessors. In a world of the currently decreasing potential enrolment figures and future student numbers, for the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences and Environmental Management (MÉK), one of these possible paths is to head towards the international marketplace. We need to reconsider our program structure, the syllabuses and the curricula accordingly, so that we could continue to meet the requirements and expectations of what we perceive as the effective demand. We must provide quality education that can attract international students from any part of the world to come to learn with us by enrolling in MÉK. At present, only 10% of our students are from abroad. By increasing the number of courses and programs offered in English, this figure could be made even higher,” said the new faculty head to hirek.unideb.hu.

As there is a huge transformation going on in agriculture, this sector turns from its classic position occupied in general crop cultivation and animal husbandry towards specialization and diversification.

“Special programs and channels of sharing knowledge become more and more necessary. As my revered predecessor, István Komlósi, used to say: what is happening in agriculture is not just a change of pace but rather a scaling up of activities. From the level of the individual, we are moving to the level of the cell. There is a growing demand from domestic agricultural businesses and enterprises for specific knowledge of special areas in basic sciences, including molecular biology, genetics, cell biology, as well as plant anatomy and animal physiology. If we are able to conduct internationally acclaimed research and teaching activities, it will prove to be a market edge and advantage for both the Hungarian agricultural businesses and our students,” said László Stündl.

The segments that play a more and more significant part in agriculture include, for example, precision farming, biotechnology, remote sensing, plant protection forecasts in crop cultivation and production, reproductive biology, assisted reproduction, livestock proteomics and metabolomics in animal husbandry, and nutrigenomics as the cross-disciplinary field between nutrition science and food sciences.

“In Hungary, there are but a few businesses that take care of their research and development needs with the help of a research team and a system of implements of their own. Our objective is to become the primary scientific service provider and consultant for the majority of actors in the marketplace. This would mean cost-efficiency for the actors in the food chain, while it would also act as a prompt and motivation for us to continue to access and transfer state-of-the-art knowledge,” added the new dean.

At the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences and Environmental Management of the University of Debrecen, the basic intention is to transform the system of BSc and MSc programs as well as that of the five-year undivided MSc programs in a way that these could respond more sensitively to the overall market demands.

“The two-tier program structure makes it possible for the students to get to know the businesses on the demand side and to obtain useful practical experience among real-life circumstances in their chosen professional field. The seventh semester of BSc programs comprises a 12-week practical course. We need active connections with market entities in order to make the system work effectively, while we also have to make sure that we encourage our students to continue their studies by enrolling in MSc programs and then in PhD programs as they represent our future supply of researchers and instructors. Achieving the right kind of balance in this respect is of paramount importance,” said the head of the faculty.

During the course of the transformation of higher education in agricultural studies, the so-called undivided or five-year MSc programs offer exciting possibilities to DE MÉK.

“The five-year program in agricultural engineering could be one of our vantage points. In the two-tier programs, we follow the trends. The increase of MSc and post-graduate as well as specific short-term programs corresponds to contemporary demands to a greater extent. I am also thinking in terms of a system that is based on closer cooperation with academic fields because of the lower student numbers expected in the enrolment in MSc programs,” said László Stündl.

The number of students enrolling in agricultural studies programs does not reflect the shortage of labor that is characteristic of Hungarian agriculture in general.

“The task of maintaining and increasing enrolment is of primary importance. We must show the future agricultural students that programs in agriculture are a lot more complex and diversified than before. Precision technologies, driverless tractors and drone swarms for autonomous spraying as well as a range of biotechnological applications constitute the demands of the market to an ever-growing extent, and this is what can make the world of agriculture even more attractive for young people,” added the associate professor.

Among other things, the focus of the development strategy of MÉK comprises areas like crop yield estimation by aerial and satellite remote sensing, plant and crop protection forecasts, water and nutrient supply management based on continuously measured soil, crop and atmospheric data, and GIS-based big data processing and analyses.

“The University of Debrecen can safely access the possibilities of developing these areas. Joint research and scholarly-scientific work between the faculties of medicine, engineering, informatics and natural sciences ensure the interdisciplinary character of the system. Agriculture today is indeed a field that integrates all sorts of knowledge. By using the amount of knowledge and potential available at the University of Debrecen, we can make rather brave development plans for the future of our faculty,” concluded László Stündl, the new Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences and Environmental Management.

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