A jam-packed study tour to Brussels & students asking challenging questions to policy-makers

Helene Dyrhauge |

The MSc International Public Administration & Politics programme (IPAP) at Roskilde University offers the students to come on a study tour to Brussels to visit the EU institutions and other organisations. This year the study tour took place 28-30 November, where 19 students and two lecturers – Sevasti Chatzopoulou and Helene Dyrhauge – visited NATO, EFTA, the European Parliament and the European Commission. During the three days the students met policy-makers, diplomats and politicians (MEPs), and they discussed a broad range of policy topics ranging from migration, BREXIT to railway and food safety.

The aim of the study tour was to give the students an opportunity to actively apply the knowledge they have gained from the courses and to give them an opportunity to talk to policy experts about topics we had covered in class, also to give the students ideas for future career directions.

The students had all taken three courses this autumn; Institutions & Actors, Civil Servants and International Public Economics. The courses are theoretical driven. The institutions and actors course discusses the role of actors and ideas within institutional structure where it focuses on different governance levels. The civil servant course focuses on the different roles civil servants have, especially in areas where policy problems often cross territorial, administrative and sectoral boundaries.  The International Public Economics courses explores the causes and consequences of differences governments’ alternative approaches to fundamental public policy issues. All the courses discuss the impact of the EU and globalization on national government policies. Some of the topics covered in the courses range from food safety, labour markets and climate change.

The students had to prepare for the study tour. The students had been given a reading list for each policy topic, which contained a journal article and a policy document. Two students were assigned one policy topic and had to prepare questions for the specific presentation. This aim was to ensure that at least two students asked questions to each presenter. In the end there were generally two to five students asking questions to each presenter. Overall, the students not only listened to the policy experts’ presentations they actively engaged in dialogues with the policy experts, thereby using their knowledge from their courses. Indeed one EU administrator left the meeting saying; “this is the most difficult group, I’ve met”. As two of the core lecturers on the IPAP programme both Sevasti and I were proud of our students for asking challenging questions to the policy experts.

During the three days, I had several conversations with the students about the policy presentations, especially about how the students could see the link between the courses  and the actual policies, but also how the students could use their knowledge after graduations in their future careers. Indeed one student got lots of new ideas for her MSc dissertation and another decided to change his flight so he could stay for the final presentation on ‘circular economy’ and a third student is thinking about doing an internship in one of the EU institutions.

Organising the tour was hard and took lots of time, but the reward of seeing how the students used their knowledge from the courses, how they actively engaged in discussions with policy experts and discovered the practical relevance of the MSc IPAP programme was a delight. The students have already asked when we are organising a new study tour … but I think I need a break and eat some of the lovely Belgian chocolate the students gave me before going on another study tour. However, we are visiting the European Environmental Agency tomorrow, Tuesday, which luckily only is a short train ride away from Roskilde University, and I look forward to the students once again asking challenging questions to two policy experts talking about climate change.

6group photo from the CommissionIPAP group photo from the visit to the European Commission