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Winter School ‘The European Convention on Human Rights: The Principle of Non-discrimination’

On January 13-17, 2014, the International Winter School will take place at the School of Political Science - Forlí, University of Bologna. It is a unique opportunity to go to UniBo's Political Science School and get 3 ECTS credits added to your degrees. The school will focus on how the mechanism of the European Convention on Human Rights functions, and on the protection of minorities by analysing the prohibition of discrimination. Nina Belyaeva, Head of the Public Policy Department, school lector and co-organiser, agreed to give an interview to the HSE News Service to tell us more about the upcoming event.

− Can you tell us more about the school? Who is it for and how did you begin this joint venture with Bologna University?

− This project is just one part of a long term undertaking. The school is organised by the HSE, the University of Bologna (we’ve been working with them since 2009), and the International Institute of Human Rights at Strasbourg. The first school took place three years ago in Forlí. The HSE wasn’t formally a part of it then but the Deputy Head of the Department for Education Dmitri Zaitsev and I were there on a working visit. We signed a cooperation agreement, gave lectures and discussed setting up a student exchange. The specialisations at our Department of Public Policy are ‘political analysis and public policy’ and ‘human rights and democratic government’, so the school was exactly the kind of thing we are interested in. We were very pleased to discover that this was a new open project and the head of the school, Marco Balboni put us into the programme there and then. The following year we held the school in Russia. It was open to anyone who was interested in the issue of human rights be they students, activists, journalists, academics from other universities, government officials or researchers. I want to point out that it is an academic school which helps to understand how human rights are regulated and organised, which institutions are involved in the process and as a rule, each of these schools is dedicated to one or other article of the convention. The first school focussed on the rights of migrants, the second on the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. This year, we will be looking at the rights of minorities. Participants will be required to submit work for which they can receive three academic credits. They will attend lectures, take part in seminars, sit a final exam and get a certificate from the University of Bologna and the HSE. This year the school will be in Forlí and we have had 80 applications from people wanting to participate.  

− How do you select participants?

− That’s a good question. The first time the criteria were lenient. We found out that there was a great deal of interest. There were some doubts initially about whether people were prepared to pay for education but it turned out they were. We got the impression that this is an area of knowledge in high demand. We had 50 applicants. We picked those who knew something about the subject and who sounded most motivated in their letters. The second school was more expensive and we had about 40 applicants, mainly from Europe which we were very pleased about. This year the selection criteria are tougher. People have to show which courses they have already taken so we don’t have to start from the beginning.

− Why have you chosen the rights of minorities as the focus for this year?

− It’s hard to give you a simple answer. Each year we try to choose a topical theme, something that people are really drawn to. Of course the new law banning homosexual propaganda and the scandal about the Sochi Olympics have influenced our choice. Propaganda of LGBT has been a long running issue. In Italy it isn’t so acute as in Russia, but it is still important because the attitude of the Catholic church is highly contentious. Besides sexual minorities, we will discuss national and religious minorities. In general, Italian society is tolerant towards various minorities. Italy has a lot of migrants and the Italians have learnt to be much more tolerant towards them than we are towards ours. So we can learn from the Italians.

− What opportunities does the school lead to for participants? Besides the chance to talk to leading experts in the field, acquiring new knowledge and excellent law practice, they get a certificate on successfully finishing the school. What does that give them?

− When we first agreed to have these certificates, very few people wanted them. On the one hand, certificates are the main article of value along with the academic credits that participants can gain which can go to their final result. But giving credits is strictly regulated, they are not handed out left and right. They are awarded for knowledge and not just for attendance. When students pass the exam, they go and celebrate and forget to ask for the certificate. Another thing, the Russian students often tell us that the educational section won’t draw up the certificates for them when they come back to the HSE because there isn’t a mechanism for it, even though the students have the right to do it. We hope that there will be a demand for the certificates because they show that the student has earned three credits which can go towards their degree. This year we are finalising the preparations for our joint double diploma programme with Bologna University. We are supporting a long and profound integration. It’s only on the basis of such in-depth understanding of what we and our partners do that we can do something meaningful.

− Who is taking part in the school this time?

− We had more than 80 applicants this year so we had to make the standards higher. We chose 4 students from the Department of Public Policy who came through the selection process with very high ratings. There were applications from students who wanted to take the course but weren’t sure their foreign language skills were good enough to pass the exam. They landed on the waiting list. I think that as well as students specialising in law there will be journalists, and students from the Management Faculty. The winter school is a great way to prove yourself and get experience of study abroad, to acquire some knowledge in a unique way. Even if you don’t pass the exam, you’re not losing anything. We want students with different areas of specialisation to bring a  variety of approaches to the problems we are investigating. The human rights situation in Russia is not very good which is the very reason why people want to learn more about these problems and find ways to resolve them. We need new kinds of dialogue. Our education should help people to think and not to be formulaic. We need to understand that other value systems and other points of reference exist and we need to understand and relate to them. That’s what our school is all about.   

Ekaterina Solovova, specially for the HSE news service

School Programme

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