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Seminar on Demographic Training in the Third Millennium

Rabat, May 15-18 2001
Organised by the IUSSP Working Group on Teaching



Over the last century, the world has been faced with ageing, globalisation, international migration, urbanisation, low fertility and late transition to adulthood. These phenomena as well as new interest in reproductive health, environmental issues and gender have encouraged the demographic community to question the future of teaching and training. The IUSSP seminar on "Demographic training in the Third World", held in Rabat, Morocco, on the 15th-18th of May 2001 reviewed current knowledge and developments in the field. Participants of the workshop not only presented their work on training strategies, but they also discussed the nature of demography itself in the face of rapid change.

The workshop initially examined the state of demographic training in different areas of the world, then participants examined new needs and demands for demographers in the future and finally discussed new strategies, topics and tools for training in demography.

This report will follow the order of the sessions of the meeting, introducing the topics presented and the elements of discussion that rose from the papers.


An Overview of Demographic Training and Research in Africa
Alex Ezeh and Ann Blanc (Population Council, USA, Kenya) India's Expanding Horizon of Demographic Training, Teaching and Research - Evolution of Population Sciences
Ashish Bose (India) Mexico in the context of demographic training in Latin America
Manuel Ordorica (Mexico) Demographic Training in Egypt and the Middle East
Hesham Makhlouf (Egypt) Is there a framework for teaching Demography?
Simone Wajnman(Brazil)

In the late 60s and early 70s governments and international organisations funded training programmes in Africa, and supported African population professionals but most of the training took place outside Africa (despite the establishment of the Cairo Demographic Centre in 1963). In the early 80s after the first wave of fertility surveys (WFS), other demographic training centres mainly funded by the uNFPA were established around the continent (Ghana, Kenya, Zaire, Togo, Ivory Coast, Mali) in order to supply reliable estimates of fertility and mortality levels. The late 80s and 90s have witnessed an increase in the importance of issues like women's reproductive health and AIDS as well as the availability of sources of micro data (new WFS, DHS, PAPCHILD). The 1994 Conference in Cairo highlighted interest in new themes such as AIDS, poverty among women, reproductive and sexual health in Africa. However, the curricula of the 11 training institutions in Africa have not been adequate in guiding these new directions in research. At a methodological level there has been a shift in analytical methods from indirect methods to and multilevel models and spatial analysis. As for other less developed countries, the decreasing role played by uNFPA in funding several training centres is severely threatening their survival. At the same time, the availability on the Internet of data and software has made it possible for poor institutions to participate in training and research activities.

The first demographic training institution in India was funded in 1956 and since then other institutions have been created to meet the growing demand for trained demographers and health and family planning administrators in India and other Asian countries. There has been a growing demand from planners and policymakers for analysis of demographic data collected through Census, National Sample Surveys and other surveys conducted by the expanding family planning program. There has also been growing interest in population issues by donor agencies and NGOs.

Latin America
The historical process of demographic training in Latin America has been different from that in other less developed areas, but several of the problems of demographic training are similar. The first courses in demography started in several institutions in the 50s, even if these programmes had to cope with initial problems of lack of qualified trainers and little interest in the study of the demographic processes. The largest contribution to training in the region was provided with the creation of CELADE in 1957. CEDEPLAR, the Brazilian centre founded in 1967 was principally aimed at fostering technical cooperation among developing countries through the expansion of educational links with agencies/universities, especially in Latin America and African Portuguese speaking countries. Several other programmes were established in academic centres in the 60s and 70s, but during the 80s, alongside the exhaustion of the demographic debate, graduate training programmes entered a critical phase. The 90s have witnessed a reflection on the possible development of demographic training in Latin America, with the identification of problems and the search for future solutions.

Arab Countries
up to the late 1970s Arab countries had shown the lowest level of institutional development in population research in comparison with some of the other developing countries. Despite a common cultural context, the demographic and socio-economic background of Arab countries is extremely differentiated, as is the interest in demographic issues shown by governments and institutions in each area. Egypt has had the largest number of population professionals since the creation of the Cairo Demographic Centre in 1963. After the 1994 ICPD there have been moves towards the activation of population policies and strategies in the Arab countries: undergraduate training is being provided by programmes in statistics, sociology, economics, anthropology and geography in Egypt, Sudan, Morocco and Jordan while graduate programmes have been activated in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Sudan. Other levels of training for government officials are offered in several countries with the assistance of the uNFPA.

The papers and the subsequent discussions recognized several problems faced by less developed countries:

    1) The detachment of demography from new issues that are emerging in the developing countries like the influence of certain diseases (like tuberculoses or malaria) on the population. There is a need to redefine the demographic training curricula once fertility has declined.
    2) The role of donors: once the "population bomb" ceased to exert a dramatic pressure, the main institutional donors (like UNFPA) significantly reduced their investment in demographic training in Latin America. Consequently, new donors (mainly US foundations) emerged to support demographic training and research. These new donors are less interested in formal training. Also the fact that specialists in less developed countries are involved in projects funded by western or international organisation implies that they have to limit their own research to specific targeted areas. One of the risks is that new donors can force new directions for training and can choose which countries to invest in. Furthermore, new donors are more interested in developing short-term projects in training instead of funding long-term ones like PhD programmes, consequently reducing the potential for training trainers.
    3) The role played by international institutions. For example the impact of the UN conferences on the training curricula has been insignificant in Western countries, whereas it has been quite strong in the less developed countries. This is probably a sign of weakness and dependence on united Nations priorities. After the 1994 ICPD, a strong interest (and funding) has been concentrated to reproductive health and environmental issues, while other topics of demographic analysis have been left behind.
    4) Training programmes are often set in a Western standard.
    5) Who trains the trainers? There is an ageing process among demographers due to a lack of renewal and often they do not keep their teaching techniques up-to-date.
    6) It is very important to know how many of the trainees are actually working in the demographic field. The experience of Mexican survey of graduate students has shown that most of them were not working in the field anymore, even if they were using demographic skills in their current jobs.
    7) In the less developed countries the dilemma is whether training should focus on creating "superdemographers" or more problem-oriented scientists. In India it may be more worthwhile to produce specialist demographers to strengthen the university system (creation of multidisciplinary Population Research Centres) instead of specialised institutes of demography.
    8) Demography has placed too much emphasis on measurement and on data quality to the detriment of the development of new theories. Demography lacks its own identity as a science. Demographers in some less developed countries are becoming more involved in producing statistics for the government than in developing theories. It is central to find the right balance between quantitative methods and social theories.
    9) In some less developed countries public universities are losing pace to private universities, where the relation between training and future job career is more direct.
    10) Fewer trained demographers are being absorbed into permanent positions while the majority is employed in project-related positions on a temporary basis.

Several suggestions were made towards preserving the few institutions that are providing demographic training in the less developed areas.

    1) Demography should create its own demand, convincing governments and institutions about the importance of population issues, supplying demographic outputs
    2) More contact should be made with communications media about demographic issues
    3) New topics should be introduced in the curricula (reproductive health, gender, poverty, environment)
    4) Demography should focus more on smaller areas instead of large national studies and use a multidisciplinary approach (biology, gerontology, genetics). Development of methods and software able to handle with geographic and population characteristics of small areas (e.g. population projections at the micro regional level) should be encouraged.
    5) Business demography, electoral demography, state planning, opinion polls are new sectors which should create demand for demographers
    6) The use of modern data processing; more sophisticated software and extensive use of the Internet should also be encouraged

Confining demography to tools and techniques will limit its development in the Third Millennium. Participants explored the possibility for donor institutions to go back to standard disciplines (Sociology, Economics, Statistics, etc…) and inject into them a strong demographic input rather than develop demography as an independent discipline.



Training demographers. A European Perspective : Frans Willekens (Netherlands) Specialist and Generalist Goals: Changing Emphasis in Demographic Training: Donald Rowland (Australia)

The history of demographic training has been different among European countries, but tends to converge. The European higher education system has recently been formalised with the Bologna Declaration (1999). Some features of demographic training in Europe include:

Heterogeneity: demography is usually not located in a separate department. Courses may be found in almost any of the traditional departments, such as statistics, economics, geography, sociology, history, and public health Different demographic issues have interested researchers around the continent with the consequent creation of national schools of thought (interest in population as a whole, especially in relation to low fertility in France, socio-economic differentiation of fertility in the united Kingdom, population forecasting in relation to scarcity of territory in the Netherlands)

The emergence of a European labour market is expected to shape graduate training There is a strong and growing government push towards shorter studies normally dispensed in a two-tier degree structure (Bachelor and Master) The divide between university and non-university sectors of higher education or between academic and vocational training institutions is becoming increasingly blurred The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) is gaining ground in many institutions There is a marked trend towards more autonomy of universities A whole new private sector of higher education is emerging alongside traditional national and state-regulated systems. Education is sometimes provided by foreign institutions through branch campuses, franchising, or by electronic means (distance education, virtual universities) public funding for universities is declining and together with the lower number of young people, universities will increasingly need to compete for students A world market for higher education is developing: strategic alliances with universities in other parts of the world and globalisation in higher education are beginning to emerge

The end of the European population growth has coincided with demography's loss of its core to neighbouring disciplines such as statistics (survival analysis, event history models), sociology (quantitative study of the family), economics (insurance, actuarial sciences), and public health (health of the elderly, reproductive health).

Nevertheless, there are new opportunities for demographic training in Europe:

    1. Creating undergraduate degrees in demography or offering demography as a minor in another degree.
    2. Restructuring Master's programmes and establishing new programmes.
    3. Fostering the international mobility of Master's and PhD students in demography more effectively than in the past.
    4. Ensuring compatibility between university-based demography and institution-based demography through quality assurance and accreditation.

The author saw demographic training as producing "specialist demographers", and undergraduate courses as producing "generalist demographers" in North America and Australasia. A generalist demographic training aims at making people better informed about population trends and their interactions with social change and assisting them to become autonomous learners. Specialists advance research and training in population. Because of the predominance of undergraduate students in higher education, the generalist training is more likely to expand in the future so that it is necessary to identify its priorities and needs.

Several factors influence change in academic training:
Expansion of statistical collection and information, even for people without statistical training, especially in the electronic form (desktop demography). Flexible learning (distance education, web-based delivery). Economic changes like a decline in public funding has led to an increase in the search for funding grants, fee-paying students, the employment of staff on contract positions fostering continual turnover among trainers. On the other hand, the growing interest in life-long learning is increasing the demand of adult students. Changes in several aspects of demographic research have given rise to new issues, a change in the nature of data, from aggregate to individual-level analysis. The major developments in curriculum are all evidence of the diversification of demographic training through time, but demography's position as a teaching discipline in universities has by no means become consolidated. Rather, its interdisciplinary status has been confirmed and reinforced. Short courses are beneficial for retraining, skill enhancement and promotion of life-long learning.

The problems raised by training in Australasia have been identified as:
Limited linkage between methods and substantive units Insufficient attention to concepts and theory in generalist demography thereby diminishing demography's status as a social science. Dualism between formal demography and population studies appears to be a disadvantage instead of being the plausible union between techniques and substance

The opportunities for demographic training in Australasia are based on:
The availability of information on population The abundance of applied and practical subject areas requiring expertise in using demographic information: planning for housing, schools and urban services; public policy formulation in education, employment and health; and decision making in marketing and other private enterprise activities The absence of a uniform curriculum which implies that the teaching of demography is best conducted in an interdisciplinary setting - at both undergraduate and graduate levels. A generalist education that includes demography should seek to accomplish more than is possible in a single introductory 'population problems' unit. Ideally, a range of interrelated units, including demographic methods and theory is necessary


The "Uganda approach" Made Easy: A universal Guide to Assessing Current Population and Development Training Needs"
Stephen C. Baldwin (USA) Industrialised world
Jane Menken (USA) Global perspective
James Vaupel and Carlson Elwood (USA)

It is extremely difficult to make predictions about the future needs of training in demography, due to rapid changes in curriculum needs. Rapid change calls for a regular review and adaptation of the curriculum for demographic training. The papers presented in this session offer an original perspective on the topic, taking examples from both less developed and developed countries.

The so called "uganda approach" is a methodology for reviewing the demand for population specialists in a less developed country: it consists of a systematic review of the ugandan offerings in this area and culminates in comprehensive and detailed recommendations for effecting necessary changes in training programmes. This represents a shift from a donor-driven to a demand-driven model of training. One solution for the long-term survival of several institutions in less developed countries is trying to focus on new topics (like business demography) in their training programs. This implies that training should be less "academic" and more problem-oriented, since it is necessary for the survival of training institutions to create demand for them. Another possibility for institutions in the less developed countries is collaboration with NGOs that periodically need demographers.

The "global perspective on training" develops a "demographic" theory about the way in which the profession has changed in the past, and how it might change in the future ("demography of demography"). Starting from the definition that demographers operate within a network (an interacting community of people), we can observe the relations among the different training institutions. In the united States, the situation is described as consisting of an intellectual 'core' of top universities (the so-called "charmed circle") that exchange scholars, and an intellectual 'periphery' to which there is some 'export' of scholars from the core. The less prestigious periphery universities send relatively few scholars to the main institutions The charmed circle tends also to control the majority of resources devoted to demographic training and research, strengthening their position inside the core and making it harder for institutions of the periphery to have access to these funds.

In Europe, the paper identifies a contrasting structure with lower exchange of scholars between centres, and a greater tendency for centres to employ their own graduates.


Elements of Demographic Teaching Strategy in the Field of Family, Fertility and Nuptiality: Japan and Asia
Shigemi Kono and Noriko Tsuya (Japan) Teaching the Fundamentals of Demography
A Models-based Approach to Family and Fertility: Thomas Burch (Canada) Family/fertility/nuptiality. Africa
Thérèse Locoh (France) Incorporating Health into Demographic Training
Noreen Goldman (USA) What should we teach? Elements of a training programme on Globalisation and International Migration
Alan Simmons & Victor Piché (Canada) Teaching Demography of Ageing
Antonio Golini (Italy) Mainstreaming Gender in Demographic Training: Benefits and Constraints
Harriet Presser & Maitreyi Das (USA) Population and development
Mohammed Mazouz (Algeria)

The sessions on training strategies explored the balance between the need to teach basic principles of demography and the need to adapt the content of courses to different academic or non-academic contexts. This problem had already been analysed in the previous sessions, especially in the context of developing countries, with completely different audiences, levels and goals compared to developed countries. Furthermore the excessive attention to quality of data and measures, in the face of poor development of theories, defies the definition of demography as a "science" and consequentially renders the creation of a common platform for training near impossible.

Proposals for demographic training include the following:

    1. Advertising and teaching demography in such a way as to attract undergraduate students from other disciplines. The experience of Japan shows many undergraduate courses in demography, given by a relative small faculty of demographers.
    2. The concentration of higher education in private universities and the reduction in the number of students due to low fertility will provoke shrinkage of the number of potential students, leading to strong competition among institutions and disciplines, as is already the case in Europe.
    3. The need to define a core syllabus for training courses in demography. What is the minimum requirement for an undergraduate course in demography? What is a core syllabus in order to call a course "demography".
    4. It is possible that certain core principles of demography can be too Western-oriented to fit in with the cultural environment of some developing countries (for example the availability of reliable data sources is still a problem, definitions of marriage, family status, etc… are completely different). While providing solid grounding in universal principles, training in demography should be culturally sensitive.
    5. A more pro-active approach of students to learning should be encouraged, with the emphasis on student application of concepts and techniques, creative problem solving and increasing use of visual devices to communicate demographic ideas.


New fields like health, migration and globalisation, ageing and gender represent areas in which demographers should be involved in training efforts. These subject areas are inherently interdisciplinary and they raise several issues in training. How should institutions incorporate these fields given limited staffing? Should some institutions become specialists in some areas? Which of these subjects should be required and which should be elective? Should the material be incorporated into courses in conventional ways, or should we use new media such as the internet for conveying the material, should students be expected to learn much of this on their own? How do we retrain the trainers? Training in these areas should include the teaching of three kinds of related knowledge: (a) factual knowledge; (b) analytical or theoretical knowledge; and (c) applied or policy-relevant knowledge.

In spite of the integral role of mortality studies, the study of illness (or health more generally) has assumed until now a relatively minor place in demographic studies. This division between the study of mortality by demographers and illness by epidemiologists has long been acknowledged. Several reasons have been evoked to explain the lack of attention of demographers to health topics namely, the lack of familiarity with data sources, reliability of vital statistics against the uncertainty of health measures. Demography is developing a growing interest in health for several reasons:

    1. Dramatic improvements in life expectancy and the shift in causes of death from infectious diseases to chronic, degenerative diseases: this shift has generated concerns about life-styles, health-related behaviours, and preventative health care.
    2. Demographers appear to be gradually expanding their interests in social determinants of longevity in the industrialised world to include a broader range of social variables and health outcomes than reflected in earlier demographic research.
    3. Knowledge about AIDS is increasing especially its interrelationship with migration, sexual networks, family transformation as well as its dramatic consequences on life expectancy especially in the less developed countries
    4. Population policy is undergoing a shift in paradigm from interest in female fertility and its impact on population growth to reproductive health.
    5. There is a rapid development of biodemography which links biology to fertility but recently also to longevity, senescence and health

International migration and globalisation
Migration has conventionally been a part of demography, but it has often been neglected compared to fertility and mortality. Moreover, many aspects of international migration represent new phenomena, particularly with regard to globalisation. There is a need to reconsider the syllabus from the point of view of the "sending country" (often a developing country), not only the "receiving country."

The need to refocus on migration and globalisation is due to several recent developments:

    1. Significant growth in number of international migrants has encouraged the spread of media and travel, and the emergence of transnational identities and multicultural nations. A framework is needed for interpreting the motives of international migrants, the information flows and travel opportunities that facilitate international migration, and the receiving-country state policies that accept or reject international migrants
    2. There have been major and often heated debates in wealthier countries about migrant admission and settlement policies. The extent to which international migration can address specific short and medium-term labour force shortages especially for low fertility countries is attracting the attention of policy makers.
    3. Increasing attention is also being paid to the importance of cash remittances from migrants for local and national development of migrant sending countries.
    4. Recent dimensions of migration: human agency (voluntary versus forced), legality (legal versus undocumented), time (permanent versus temporary), and motive (economic and social, versus political) are also coming to the forefront. Topics like citizenship, human rights, ethnic minorities should be included in the study of migration.

Whereas demographers have long considered sex as a variable to denote biological differences between men and women, the concept of gender as a social construction is relatively new. Since gender processes are present in all human behaviour, understanding them is important for all social science disciplines, even if the inclusion in demographic training has been delayed and uneven. Theories of demographic transition still suffer from insufficient attention to gender relations. Including gender in the demographic mainstream improves the understanding of macro and micro demographic processes.

Ageing is not an emerging issue in demographic training at least in its "structural" meaning, but several aspects of the process (intrinsically interdisciplinary) have recently been introduced to the curriculum of many academic courses. They include:

    1. Health conditions, disability, health services use and formal vs family care
    2. Longevity at very old ages
    3. Poverty in old age
    4. Gender relations among old people
    5. Intergenerational relations and transfers
    6. Territorial differences in the distribution and migration of aged people
    7. Impact of international migration on aged populations
    8. Rise of public policy matters in terms of retirement strategies, provision of health care, electoral pressure, etc…

The UNFPA Global Programme
The session focussed on the uNFPA Global Programme of Training in Population and Sustainable Development experiences. Established in 1986, after the recommendations of the 1984 International Conference on Population, the Global Programme initially trained staff members of national planning commissions, ministries of health, population programme officers, from both developed and developing countries. Subsequently in the early 90s the training components were transferred to academic and training institutions in the less developed areas. The nature of the training offered by the Global Programme was different from the one provided by academic institutions (training vs teaching): it was directed mainly at people who already were part of the national work force. The issues discussed regarding the 15 year experience of the Global Programme were training needs assessment, strategies, priority area (especially the ones proposed in the International Population Conference), audiences, contents, format and modalities (sectoral vs inter-sectoral, micro vs macro, long-term and short term perspectives, global or national), institutional arrangements, funding and self-sustainability. The author stressed that uNFPA has rarely played a driving role in influencing the training programmes of the Global Programme and has even strongly encouraged income generating activities. The participants at the seminar stressed the need for the Global Programme to now target the poorest areas of the planet in order to help them generate and deliver research.


The general theme that occurred from this seminar was the necessity to better define the nature of the discipline in order to identify a core syllabus for adequate training courses. Tt is important to define the kind of training to offer professional demographers to equip them with skills to tackle the challenges of private and public sector activities. Demography should strengthen links with other disciplines by including new topics and adapting old ones. Less developed countries need to secure financial viability of training institutions, especially since public and private agencies interested in solving emerging problems in the field of population are the main providers of funds. This issue highlights a strategic dilemma: to what extent should a training institution provide basic demographic analysis and at the same time maintain an issue-oriented program in order to get more funds in the short run?

A further issue raised during the seminar was the need to capitalize on the enormous opportunities that the Internet provides to improve the quantity and the quality of websites in demography, to create collaborative networks especially among institutions in the developing countries in order to make available interactive databases of papers, data and software, establish discussion groups, mailing lists.

Finally, participants were concerned about the survival of several training institutions in the less developed countries facing deep financial crises: their training programs are probably going to stop if immediate action is not taken.

Cecilia Tomassini

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