Interdisciplinary and multi-institutional higher learning: reflecting on a South African case study investigating complex and dynamic environmental challenges

26 July 2016

Complex social-ecological problems need sustained interdisciplinary engagements across multiple disciplines, yet academic offerings continue to reflect disciplinary silos. To address this, a five-year program, within a developing country context, was conceived to follow an interdisciplinary research mode using a team of students and supervisors from various institutions across the disciplines of ecology, hydrology and economics. By using a flexible student training model, regional/site specific knowledge was developed while simultaneously developing a shared vision and a model to combine information from each student project. Graduates felt enabled by the program that actively encouraged interdisciplinary interactions and engagements while simultaneously furthering disciplinary development. Cross disciplinary communication, was achieved through multiple engagement opportunities and common research outputs, all facilitated by an external boundary organization. While lengthy time frames are required for such collaborative interdisciplinary programs, researchers, higher learning institutions and funding agencies should not avoid this type of program and investment.