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Working Towards a Mutually Beneficial Botanic Garden / University Relationship

Contributed by Liz de Keyser and Andrew Jamieson, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, UK

Workshop Aim

To identify practical means of achieving a mutually beneficial relationship between undergraduate university groups and botanic gardens.

Workshop Findings

- Rationale for Establishing a Botanic Garden/Undergraduate Relationship

There are many incentives for establishing a botanic garden/university relationship and many ways in which a coordinated undergraduate programme can be mutually beneficial:

  • From the university’s point of view undergraduate groups can benefit from first hand experience of living plants gained in a botanic garden. Concepts taught in the lecture room can become a reality providing an enriched learning experience. A botanic garden can provide field experience for students and access to a valuable resource and expertise.
  • As botanic garden educators, visiting undergraduate groups provide us with an opportunity to promote the botanic garden’s mission to future scientists, botanic garden staff and decision makers. An undergraduate programme can enable greater use of a botanic garden’s resources and is further justification of the garden’s existence in a broad sense. It can also increase potential numbers of visitors to the gardens, both directly and indirectly.
  • A botanic garden’s responsibilities under the Convention on Biological Diversity includes the transfer of information (Articles 12 and 13) to as wide an audience as possible.
  • Establishing a botanic garden/university relationship can be the start of bringing a greater research element into the garden’s work. It can also provide some botanic garden staff with a new dimension to their work and therefore contribute to staff development.
  • A developed relationship between university undergraduate groups and botanic gardens can bring kudos to both partners.
  • There may be good practical reasons for a university to visit a botanic garden such as proximity and value for money!

- What Academic Subject Areas Can Botanic Gardens Contribute at Undergraduate Level?

As well as the many branches of the biological sciences and horticulture botanic gardens can provide an environment for the teaching of other subjects such as biodiversity conservation, geography, forestry agriculture, and landscaping. Also related technologies such as furniture making, food technologies, medicine as well as maths and other sciences such as chemistry and physics can all find relevance in a botanic garden.

Other less obvious subject areas include: architecture, art, design, history, anthropology, sociology, town and country planning, engineering, social work/community studies, marketing, business management and music.

- Setting up an Undergraduate Programme

Establishing the undergraduate audience
In setting up a programme for undergraduates it is important for a botanic garden to define needs and undertake some form of market research to assess potential services that can be offered to universities. This type of market research will enable appropriate activities to be identified and a ‘strategic fit’ to be arrived at. From this an outline programme can be devised. Market research could include:

  • devising a brochure of garden programme/events to show their possibilities to universities;
  • developing task forces with invited representatives of potentially interested universities to meet with botanic garden staff and discuss requirements;
  • hosting general open days for university academic staff;
  • marketing the programme to potential sponsors and emphasising that programme participants are the next generation of decision makers and scientists; and
  • publicising through existing professional organisations and networks to save time and resources.

Delivering an Undergraduate Programme
Steps include:

  • conducting outreach – academic liaison (curriculum) and lectures and talks by botanic garden staff at the university to help establish the links;
  • piloting the programme followed by monitoring and evaluation before devising the final programme;
  • undertaking joint initiatives e.g. an internet site, community project research;
  • providing academic credits or placements;
  • conducting initial training days for university staff in how the botanic garden could be used (this is an ideal way of reaching the undergraduate audience without putting additional long-term demand on botanic garden staff e.g. the time and effort involved in putting on one session for 10 tutors could mean the possibility of 10 university groups coming for years to come);
  • conducting activities in garden e.g. lectures, guided tours, study materials, practical activities and demonstrations;
  • using other media e.g. interpretation boards/labels, museum type exhibits, information leaflets, signs, written programmes, CD Rom, leaflets, pamphlets, videos and sheets/handbook (photocopiable resources plus others that require adaptation by lecturers themselves);
  • developing and conducting short term specialised training for students according to their requirements;
  • developing and conducting refresher courses once the programme has been established.

Organisational issues to consider
There are several organisational issues to consider:

  • the impact on botanic garden staff;
  • timing is critical: what is the availability of tutors to attend in term time? outside term time?;
  • consider running courses in the long vacation (India: April – May);
  • networking with other botanic gardens using existing regional networks and BGCI and other organisations (e.g. museums) to pool resources and integrate programmes;
  • finance issues need to consider: whether to charge the universities or not; when universities in the region set their budgets; if finances permit, consider sub-contracting guide-lecturing to outside lecturing staff (who are perhaps retired and/or freelance); investigate sponsorship possibilities.

Evaluation

As with all education programmes, evaluation is an essential part of effective delivery. Some possibilities include:

  • recording how many students/groups are coming;
  • implementing an evaluation questionnaire;
  • monitoring follow-up queries and repeat visits;
  • setting up a data base of annual figures and reviewing it annually i.e. number of visits, tutors trained, etc; and
  • monitoring the number of visits to the web site.

Conclusion

There is much scope for maximising undergraduate use of botanic gardens (of all sizes) to benefit both the garden and university. This need not overburden existing botanic garden staff. Although there may be a fair amount of work in setting up a programme, once a system has been established there can be significant mutual benefit with an end result of ‘more for less’.