Finishing the research
The research is still in progress. So far, we wrote the first two chapters, but to complete them we are waiting for the rest of the interviews. While doing the interviews with Dutch universities, we encountered the problem of time management. It took too much time to organise and wait for the responses. Having said that, we decided to send a questionnaire to the foreign universities, and we are now receiving the first reactions. As soon as we have all reactions, we will be able to complete the first two subsections of the analysis and continue with the last one.
The 18th of May we have a mid-term examination of the work by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and we are very curious to see their opinion on our work. If everything goes as planned we are going to present the final research in the end of June.
So far the research has been a good experience, even though we had some difficulties at first with establishing the topic. Once the general idea was clear, everything fell into place. An interesting part of the research was of course the interviews we did. We encountered different opinions on the topic of student mobility that were very useful for us.
Working in a team is always challenging, but I am sure that the finalisation of the research is going to make us look back at the difficulties with a smile.
The Research is advancing
As my colleagues wrote in our previous blogs, we contacted multiple universities in the Netherlands to conduct interviews with representatives of International Offices, inter alia.
Currently we aim to contact stakeholders abroad in order to learn about the vision of the Canadian and Chinese universities vis-à-vis cooperation with Dutch institutions. We approach these universities through the attachés of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science at the Dutch consulate in Toronto and the Dutch embassy in Beijing respectively.
What follows in May is a short evaluation by the representatives of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Finally, we will present the paper in June at the Ministry in The Hague.
The Relevance of Doing Research
Over the years, research has become increasingly subject to public scrutiny. Used to be the sole domain of scientists, it has gained attention from a wide array of actors. Concerns over the amount of money that is involved and the actual relevance to the wider public have spurred discussions among citizens and politicians. One of the most recent initiatives to accommodate these concerns is the so-called National Science Agenda. In an attempt to close the gap between science and society, a Dutch website has been launched (wetenschapsagenda.nl) where citizens can pose their questions and concerns – resulting in a list of key priorities. Yet opinions vary and various scientists are suspicious of any citizen involvement. This leads one to wonder to what extent research should accommodate public concerns and how and when a scientist’s independence should prevail.
Within the setting of IRSP, doing research automatically implies researching something that is of relevance to the wider public. The organization, business, or government institution has a burning question that they would like to see answered. Hence the topic is not simply solely something that we, as researchers, are interested in, yet that results in a report that ends up unread at the very end of the bookshelves. Rather, it concerns a current issue that requires research in order to improve the status quo. With regard to the research for the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, we hope to provide insight into the impact of foreign missions on student mobility, as well as to grant institutions such as universities an opportunity to voice their concerns on the matter. Foreign missions are a hot topic at the moment, with an outgoing mission to China – including Prime Minister Rutte – last week, and both an incoming mission of Chinese delegates and an outgoing mission to Canada coming up. These missions aim at fostering concrete partnerships and are essential in light of so-called Holland Branding. Yet at the same time it is hard to measure their results – especially in terms of student mobility. Effects often only appear in the long run, as student mobility does not increase or decrease overnight. Nonetheless, by identifying inter alia key strengths and weaknesses, we hope to contribute to an improvement of these missions and their effects on student mobility.
In this context, we are currently conducting many interviews, and are experiencing more than ever before that Groningen is truly in the middle of nowhere. Travelling to The Hague for interviews with umbrella organizations of research universities (VSNU), universities of applied science (VH), and the organization for the internationalization of higher education (Nuffic), we almost spend more time in the train than outside. Nonetheless, the interviews are very rewarding and of great value to our research. Hence I am looking forward to the upcoming interviews with the top-7 largest universities in the Netherlands, which are located in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Leiden, Delft, Rotterdam and Groningen.
On a final note, the question of public relevance remains controversial. At the start of any research it is difficult to predict its outcome – no matter how much money is involved. As Neil Armstrong once said: ‘Research is creating new knowledge.’ Yet whether this knowledge is actually relevant can only be determined once it is generated – if it can be at all. In this regard, it only rests me to say that we, as researcher, hope to provide innovate insights that contribute to our understanding of the matter concerned. That being said, we will only now in two months from now whether we managed to succeed.
Start up the Ministry Research
As we were pleasantly on the comfortable NS train going to the Hague for our first visit to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, we were still a bit unsure of the specific direction of the research. There were heaps of questions in the air, that we were eager to ask the contact persons of the Ministry. Also, we were two researchers on the train; Elisa (that's me) and Pavela; and the supervisor of the research, Linda. Two of us, Alex and Lise, were going to take the train from other cities in the country, and there were some surprising disturbance on the tracks. That added some excitement to our journey to the Hague, but we all ended up getting on time to the Ministry.
I would now like to write a little overview of our group of four for the research, and the supervisors. Dr. ir. Menno R. Kamminga is our highest supervisor, a senior lecturer at the RUG (Uni Groningen), and he is especially interested in ethics and theory of International Relations (IR). Linda Klunder is a student supervisor, a second year Bachelor student of IR, and is working for International Research for Students Programme, IRSP. Alex Onaca, a third year Honours Bachelor student, has a Dutch-Romanian cultural and linguistic background and studied in the USA and completed an internship at the Dutch embassy in Vienna (OSCE Rep.). Me, Elisa Ahovuori, I am a MA IR student, originally from Finland, and have been educated in three different countries: Finland, France and the Netherlands. Lise Weerden, a MA IR student, is a Dutch national who has a Bachelor and Honours degree in IR, and has lived in Sydney and Hong Kong. Pavela Mitova, also a MA IR student, is originally from Bulgaria, and has successfully finished her Bachelor’s degree in Italy, but has also worked in the USA. Thus, we are all internationally oriented, and have ambitions to work in the field of IR. We share the interest to work towards improved relations between the Netherlands and other countries.
Now let's get back to telling you about the meeting with our partner... The goal of our meeting with Mr. Brian Fischel, the International Policy Advisor of the Ministry, and Mr. Joost van der Veen, a Senior Policy Collaborator in the Department of Higher Education at the Ministry, was to specify what is meant by the research questions that they have provided, and to clarify the direction of the research. We gathered in a conference room in the Ministry, after exhanging our passports and ID cards with official visitor badges (there is no easy access to the interior of the Ministry).
At the start of our gathering, we introduced ourselves and our backgrounds to Mr. Fischel and Mr. Van der Veen and vice versa, around a conference table reserved for the meeting. We got to ask the most burning questions from them, but were left to formulate a research plan with quite open hands. The Ministry has an inherent interest to improve the bilateral cooperation with other countries, in the field of education, innovation and research. To formulate a working policy proposal to target these ambitions, is our main goal.
After the official part of the meeting in the conference room, we gathered to have some drinks in the Ministry with Mr. Fischel and Mr, van der Veen, in a more informal setting. To our delight, also Karin Dekker, the Head of International Affairs, Department of International Policies, joined us to find out who we are and what our ambitions are. We got to discuss some interesting issues in international affairs with the three representatives.
All in all it was a fruitful meeting with the contact persons of the Ministry. We were very well received in the Ministry, and we were positively delighted about their interest in us as researchers. We are at the phase of planning a field trip to Canada and China, but are still unsure if we will be granted one. We currently have an ambitious research plan, that needs to be approved by the Ministry. I am personally looking forward to continuing the research and am certain that it will be a great journey, were it in the Netherlands, or also partially in Canada and China.
MA student of IR
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Once every three weeks, one of the researchers of the Ministry Research will publish a Blog Post.