Delft, The Netherlands, 28 Dec 2016

50th Anniversary of Hydrology Education

On 21 December, UNESCO-IHE celebrated its 50th anniversary of hydrology education and research. To commemorate the day, students, alumni, staff, and partners gathered to reflect on the history of the programme, learn of its present status, and discuss the future. Current and retired staff who have devoted 25 years or more to the programme were also honoured with the Education in Hydrology Award.


The event was opened by Rector a.i. Fritz Holzwarth, who welcomed participants and stressed the foundational role played by hydrology in the science and practice of water resources management. He acknowledged and thanked all who have played important roles in the growth and success of the programme through the years.  

The history of the programme was reviewed by Prof. Huub Savenije, former UNESCO-IHE staff member, and Dr. Yangxiao Zhou, Associate Professor of Hydrogeology. The International Course for Hydrologists was established in 1966, at the beginning of UNESCO´s International Decade for Hydrology (1965-1974). In 1991 it became the MSc in Hydrology and branches were created in surface water hydrology, groundwater hydrology, and water resources management. In 1992 Mike Hall became the first full-time Professor of Hydrology, followed by Stefan Uhlenbrook in 2005. The current specialisation in Hydrology and Water Resources was established in 2003 when five of UNESCO-IHE’s MSc programmes became specialisations in the current Water Science and Engineering MSc.

Dr. Zhou joined UNESCO-IHE and the hydrology programme in 1991, so this year marks his 25th anniversary. In recognition of this milestone he shared a personal perspective on the programme and his own experiences. In addition to training many hundreds of participants and leading important research and development projects, Dr. Zhou is responsible for building strong partnerships between UNESCO-IHE and institutions in China. Personal reflections on the programme were also shared by Dr. Neno Kukuric and Dr. Andreja Jonoski, both of whom are alumni of the programme and accomplished hydrologists in the roles of Director of the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre and Associate Professor at UNESCO-IHE, respectively.

The future of hydrology education

Prof. Michael McClain, current Head of the Hydrology and Water Resources Chair Group, presented the programme in 2016. Today hydrology education at UNESCO-IHE consists of both an 18-month programme based in Delft and a 2-year Erasmus+ programme, Groundwater and Climate Change, offered jointly with TU Dresden and University of Lisbon. Nearly 50 participants are currently enrolled in these programmes from more than 20 different countries. The programme continues to teach conceptual foundations and applied skills in hydrological measurements, data analysis, and modelling. Significant attention is also given to the integration of hydrological science in water resources management and the pursuit of sustainable development goals. Partnerships remain an essential component of the programme, especially in the thesis research phase, which is often done in cooperation.

Discussion of future of hydrology education and research was based on the remarks of a panel composed of Prof. Bob Su of ITC/University of Twente, Prof. Marc Bierkens of the University of Utrecht, Prof. Huub Savenije of the Technical University of Delft, and Prof. Remko Uijlenhoet of Wageningen University. Panel and audience members noted the emergence of important new data collection and analysis technologies and innovative teaching methodologies that should be incorporated into the hydrology programme. The importance of engaging in international initiatives to advance hydrological knowledge and to apply it in development was also highlighted. In these ways hydrology education and research at UNESCO-IHE will remain up-to-date and relevant to the international community we serve for the next 50 years. 

The event ended with a ceremony honouring Dr. Pieter de Laat, Drs. Jan Nonner, and Dr. Yangxiao Zhou with the Hydrology Education Award. The award recognises staff members who have made a sustained and profound contribution to hydrology education at UNESCO-IHE and has been given only once before in 1991 during the 25th anniversary of the programme.