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Professor Martien Molenaar A Humble Academician

Prof. Martien molenaar


Prof. Martien molenaar
Prof. of Geoinformatics & Spatial Data Acquisition, Rector of the International Institute for Geo-Information Science & Earth Observation (ITC),the Netherlands
Email: [email protected]

Professor Molenaar is basically a man of knowledge endowed with academic brilliance. Dedicated to education and its promotion he is an academician by profession and a family man at heart.

Born in 1949 he was raised in a small town in the western part of the Netherlands. His father was a teacher and hence his inclination towards academics. He obtained his academic MSc degree in Geodesy from Delft Technical University in 1972, a doctorate in technical sciences with a thesis on geodesy at the same university in 1981. From 1973 to 1983 he was a senior lecturer in geodesy and photogrammetry at The ITC in Enschede, the Netherlands. From 1993 to 1996, he worked as professor of GIS and Remote Sensing at Wageningen Agricultural University. In 1996 he again joined ITC as professor of Geoinformatics and Spatial Data Acquisition. Since 2001, he is Rector of ITC. He has published over 130 papers especially in the fields of Geodesy, Photogrammetry, GIS and Remote Sensing.

In his academic life his sources of inspiration were Prof Baarda, his PhD supervisor, and Prof Ackermann, a well-known Photogrammetrist. They, among many others, guided him in his first steps into research and trained him to develop a clear problem-orientation capacity in research and look for areas where professional community and society at large needed scientific support for problem-solving; but at the same time they taught him to go in for in-depth study and look for fundamental solutions.

Prof Molenaar, loves traveling, mountain holidays and hiking, but he also enjoys traveling for his work, because that gives an opportunity to meet with colleagues from countries all over the world and to work with them and observe closely their daily life. He believes that the basic issues of mankind—its emotions, needs and affections—remain same irrespective of culture, language and religion.

An understanding of this fact is of fundamental importance for the mutual understanding of people around the world.

He is an ardent reader of works on philosophy, history and literature. He enjoys good food. He is very fond of classical music and considers music as a good alternative to intellectualism. He misses playing an instrument himself, like the piano. He is not a real sports enthusiast, but loves going on bicycle tours and hiking trips. But most of all, he and his wife are fond of spending time with their family, their children and their partners and of course their first grand daughter. But most of all he loves to be with his wife Julia, who is his best friend and in his own words “his alter ego”.

Please tell us something about ITC.

The ITC is an internationally recognised centre of excellence aiming at capacity building and institutional development specifically in developing countries. Established in 1950, it is an autonomous organisation operating under the aegis of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands. It endeavours to promote application of geo-information and earth observation technology through programmes of research, education and project services.

What is the approach of ITC?

The knowledge field of ITC is geo-information science and earth observation, which consists of a combination of tools and methods for the collection – through aerospace survey techniques – storage and processing of geo-spatial data – for the dissemination and use of these data and of services based on these data. Its educational system is based on knowledge exchange between scientific and professional organizations in less developed countries on the one hand and those in the Western world on the other. In this way, the ITC acts as a two-directional gateway for knowledge exchange. ITC’s approach is application-oriented, directed at finding solutions for and strengthening civil society in addressing issues of local, national and global dimensions such as the multifunctional use of scarce resources, including space, the effects of climate change and environmental security.

What is your target group?

Our target students are from developing countries. These are basically from Southern Africa, Latin America and Asia (South East). Our students are generally mid-career professionals who have completed 5-6 years of work. The aim is capacity building for organizations working in this field, that is for educational institutes like universities as well as for professional organizations involved in the production, dissemination and use of geo-information.

Why mid career professionals?

We take students from the government, educational institutions, NGOs and the private sector. We train and educate them through our degree programs and through short, and if required, tailor-made programmes. They can also participate in our research program as visiting scientists or as PhD students. Through these different programmes we help these students to get up front knowledge and expertise so that they can help their home organizations to improve their performance and adapt themselves to the tasks and roles to be performed by these organizations in order to answer the emerging need for geo-information in a modern society. In addition to staff training we also provide advisory services to their organizations for developing their new tasks and roles.

What are the criteria for selecting a candidate? Do they go back and serve their organization after completion of the course?

For our Degree programs we only accept post graduate candidates with proficiency in English and required professional background. Our experience is that 99% of the students go back to their country and generally to the same organization. We also see that for many of them their career after ITC takes them to high positions in their respective countries.

Is there any provision of extending financial support to the applicants?

The Netherlands Government supports students from developing countries through fellowship programs. Information can be found through the ITC website: https://www.itc.nl. Around 60 per cent of our students are supported through these programmes.

We see two major objectives for education; one is to bring students up front with their knowledge, and the second is to develop a critical investigative attitude so they don’t take things for granted, but investigate what has been told.

How do ITC students differ from those from other organizations?

Students from ITC are educated at the university level. That means that they have been educated to have a fundamental understanding their professional field and a scientific attitude to problem solving. But to develop this attitude with a clear problem-orientation ability so that their knowledge in not merely academic, they learn to use their knowledge to identify and solve real world problems. This is important because when they go back to their home organizations they are immediately able to translate their new knowledge into practice and help to improve their organizations. They also develop a critical approach towards their work, which is very important for managers. They understand how to use their knowledge in an institutional setting.

“In the 52 years of ITC’s existence we provided education through our degree programs to more than 15,000 professionals in about 165 countries. If we also add the short courses and training programs then we educated a multiple of this number. The effect is visible around the world. Whoever is involved in international projects and cooperation in the scientific fields covered by ITC will come across our alumni. We always get a very positive feedback about their performance.”

In many countries, students do not ask critical questions from their teachers or embark upon fundamental and critical debates with them; that is generally out of respect a student has for his teachers. At the ITC and more generally in the western academic institutions respecting your teachers doesn’t mean that you do not have debates with them or ask critical questions. We see two major objectives for education; one is to bring students up front with their knowledge, and the second objective is to develop a critical investigative attitude so they don’t take things for granted but discuss and investigate what has been told. Only in that way one develops an active attitude for obtaining new knowledge and understanding of problems. Our students are 30- 35 years old hence there is not much difference in age with their teachers. They complement each other by their expertise and experience. Moreover, in a class there are generally 20 students from 15 countries; that helps them to develop an international outlook and perception.


Training at ITC Lab, where knowledge is not merely academic but to identify and solve real world problems
Do organisations approach you or does ITC approach organisations?

ITC has a history spanning about half a century. We have had students from over 160 countries. They make people aware about ITC activities in their respective countries. ITC’s role is becoming even more important given the facts that many organizations are undergoing changes due to IT and geo-informatics. We are helping the organizations to cope with these changes. We interact with two kinds of organizations: professional organizations such as Survey of India and educational originations like Indian Institute of Remote Sensing.


The ITC building at Enschede, the Netherlands.
How is ITC funded?

Support to the ITC comes from the Ministry of Education in the Netherlands, that is about 60-70% of our budget. Additionally we get 30-40% of our budget through course fees and project services supported by international funding organizations like the EU, World Bank, ADB etc.

Is it possible for ITC to come to organisations rather than asking organisations to send candidates to ITC?

We are working in this direction with several institutes (about 15 presently) around the world; these are institutes like IIRS in India and institutions in China, the Phillipines and Iran, and also in Africa and Latin America. We are developing programs where part of the education is completed in the host country itself and part of it at ITC. For instance, we have a joint program with IIRS of 18 months where for 15 months students will study at IIRS and three months at ITC. That surely reduces the cost. There are other examples as well.

What is your impression about geo-informatics education in Asia?

Asia as a continent is certainly not homogeneous in this respect. Even within individual countries there are big differences where some organizations may have reached a very advanced level whereas others are still at the beginning of their development. Certainly in such mega countries like China and India there are big differences. Educational institutes in developing countries are picking up very fast. There are problems in investments though. Not all universities are successful in gaining access to funds.

Furthermore, there is a need of internalization of techniques in the institutional process. ITC can help institutions with their development program, but we also see that several countries do have institutes, which do have the technological know how to support their colleagues in other organizations with their development. In those cases ITC can support national programs for development and mobilize national capacity in this respect. Such action programs do not only develop within countries but also between countries within a region. You see then that the role of ITC is changing fast from “building capacity” to “building on capacity”.

How satisfied you are with the performance of ITC?

In the 52 years of our existence we provided education through our degree programs to more than 15,000 professionals in about 165 countries. If we also add the short courses and training programs then we educated a multiple of this number. The effect is visible around the world. Whoever is involved in international projects and cooperation in the scientific fields covered by ITC will come across our alumni. We always get a very positive feedback about their performance. Organisations around the world have profited from the contributions made by our alumni. Most of these organisations have successfully kept up with the rapid developments in this technological field. These organisations have been able to develop their mandates and tasks and have significantly contributed to the economic development of their countries. We are indeed very proud of our achievements worldwide. ITC is also changing continuously to keep up with the new developments in technology and with the ever increasing demands of our clients. New partnerships that we are establishing with institutes around the world is a new step, and we hope that with these partnerships we will be able to cope with the ever expanding demand for knowledge exchange and education. We are well prepared for the 21st century.

Interviewed by Bal Krishna