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Regular version of the site

Baltic Practice Turns to the East

The Baltic Practice International Summer School, held by the HSE Public Policy Department, has celebrated its 15th anniversary. Its organizers and participants recently spoke about what’s most important for people to know about the Baltic Practice, and about why, after 15 years, the school is changing direction.

Baltic Practice — HSE’s oldest summer school

‘We initiated the summer school format at HSE’, said Nina Belyaeva, Head of the HSE Department of Public Policy and director of the school. ‘For the first few years Baltic Practice was the only summer school held by our university. We thought up the brand and developed it, setting an example for others, and now HSE has more than 30 such summer schools’.

The Baltic Practice is also embedded in the educational process at HSE. Successful completion of the summer school allows students to earn three educational credits in their programme.

Why ‘practice’ and why ‘Baltic’?

In preparing to join the Schengen area in the early 2000s, the Baltic countries began to introduce a visa regime with Russia, which created serious problems for the Kaliningrad Region. It was not at all clear how the movement of people and goods between ‘mainland’ Russia and this exclave would work in practice. ‘It was absolutely a practical matter, and at the same time a political one, so it became an area of interest for the department of public policy’, explains Belyaeva. ‘Our first trip to the Curonian Spit was to see what was going on in this region and whether it could be “attached” to Russia rather than letting it break away from the rest of the country. The trip showed that local authorities also lacked this knowledge’.

The first schools actively cooperated with the municipalities of Svetlogorsk, Kaliningrad, and Zelenogradsk. At first, successful groups were structured according to specific aspects of the problem – political, economic, and administrative – but already during the third school the discussion format changed and became interdisciplinary.

The school provides a fantastic opportunity for professional growth and is a platform where students can test their strengths

After the Kaliningrad Region the Baltic Practice decided to travel around the entire Baltic region, and the school was held in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia again (at Peterhof and in Karelia), Finland, Germany, Sweden, Norway and in the very non-Baltic countries of Belgium and Italy.

Students as the school’s main organizers

The Baltic Practice is a place where students not only learn and do research, but one where they also gain organizational experience. In fact, the first summer schools were organized by the students themselves. For some, holding the school was the first experience in managerial work. ‘The school provides a fantastic opportunity for professional growth and is a platform where students can test their strengths’, says Belyaeva.

A simple example is Zinaida Pogosova, current deputy head of the department of public policy and member of the HSE Academic Council. She took part in the Baltic Practice as an undergraduate student. Maxim Markin, a teacher, went to the Baltic Practice five times until he began organizing another school on sociology.

How the school is organized

‘During my first trip to our summer school, I was not only a participant, but was also involved with its organization’, says Artem Uldanov, a postgraduate student at HSE. ‘For two months before it began, I was sending mailings to potential participants, handling paperwork for Russian visas for a number of foreign experts (the school was held in Russia), and working with the summer school’s website. I knew the programme somewhat in advance, and I had the opportunity to get information about it from people who had been involved in it for many years. So I expected the hard work, discussions and full involvement. My expectations were met completely! There were a few days when we finished our group work around 3-4 in the morning, since we were preparing a presentation on the work of the business ombudsman institution in Russia’.

Uldanov believes that there are additional advantages to holding the school in different locations. The school is structured in such a way that the subjects coincide with the challenges facing the region in which it is held. People who are familiar with the local context are invited as experts. In addition, when the school is held in a place that is interesting from a tourism standpoint, the organizers try to set aside a day for travel and sightseeing.

A school with a variety of researchers

For 15 years, the school’s participants have included students from nearly every HSE faculty, which is telling in terms of the interdisciplinary emphasis made by the school’s organizers. Moreover, the research topics are often proposed by students.

For example, today the topic of the Bologna Process and incorporating Russia it in seems to be quite normal, but 10-15 years ago, few people could speak about it competently. In 2004, a group of students from the Faculty of Law came to the Baltic Practice for this very issue. ‘All of this was very far from my area of expertise, but the students really interested me with the presentation they made’, says Belyaeva. ‘And next fall we prepared a report together on the Bologna Process and Russia's role in it; we won a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) competition and went there to give the presentation. So owing to the students I became an expert on the Bologna Process, got in touch with the University of Bologna, and for several years now we have had a double degree agreement in place’.

Many famous HSE economics have been among the participants of the Baltic Practice, including Rustem Nureev, Alexis Belianin, and Vladimir Kozlov. Since the Baltic Practice is often held in border areas, several years ago students took interest in the problem of cross-border cooperation and did some work on this topic under the direction of Professor Alexei Skopin. Skopin’s team was part of the analytical group at the Ministry of Economic Development that prepared the law on cross-border cooperation.

The school is not just beautiful places and a great team, but it is also an opportunity to launch serious research that ends with academic publications

Together with experts in Formal Concept Analysis (primarily Sergei Obiedkov, the current director of the Doctoral School of Computer Science), students came up with tools to find hidden meanings in different texts. For example, they analyzed international documents and the speeches of politicians reflecting the perceptions of Russia and its place in the global world.

Under the direction of Professor Yury Fogelson and with the support of the All-Russian Union of Insurers, school participants developed an insurance scheme that would provide recourse for Russian motorists in the EU. And under the leadership of HSE Professor Fuad Aleskerov, Baltic Practice participants carried out field research that formed the basis of several publications on the development of civil society. ‘We have taught students that the school is not just beautiful places and a great team, but it is also an opportunity to launch serious research that ends with academic publications’, emphasizes Belyaeva. For several years at the end of each school articles have been published in English, which have allowed student authors to receive increased scholarships.

How the Baltic Practice began to change

The 15th school was held quite far from the Baltic Sea - in Milan. It was a clear signal for change - not only geographically, but also in the format of the school. ‘We decided to combine the traditional educational format of the Baltic Practice with a large international academic conference’, says Belyaeva.

At that time (in July) the International Conference on Public Policy (ICPP) was being held in Milan, and Baltic Practice participants had the opportunity to present their research at conference sessions. Anastasia Lukyanova, a student of the Political Analysis and Public Policy programme, gave a speech in which she compared the system of the European Court of Human Rights, which acts at the level of the Council of Europe, and that of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The decisions of these two judicial systems often differ. In analyzing their practice, Lukyanova showed how it is possible to exist in a complex legal environment.

For Anastasia Galina, a student in the same programme, speaking in Milan was her first experience at an international conference. ‘We prepared research on the Ukrainian Protests (2013-2014) in the Context of Multiple Cleavages: Main Explanatory Factors and Foundations’, she said. ‘We studied the Euromaidan and analyzed the differences between its supporters and opponents’.

Ekaterina Uzoykina submitted an article called ‘“Je Suis Charlie”: The Formation of Global Public and its Discourse’, which was written in collaboration with Nina Belyaeva. ‘I studied the French case, which went from being a local one into a global one given the fact that the internet plays an increasingly important role today in creating communities that lobby online’, says Ekaterina. ‘Speaking to a large audience of foreign experts, one feels nervous, but giving this presentation was a great exercise for me’.

Turn to the East

‘We have travelled the entire Baltic region in 15 years, and we want to find a new dimension, including territorial’, says Belyaeva about the reasons for ‘reformatting’ the school.

There are two possible avenues to accomplish this. One is to go deep into Russia, starting, for example, from the Volga and Urals, because HSE’s Nizhny Novgorod and Perm campuses are there. The other is advancing far to the East. ‘Everywhere we have travelled, we have helped to solve issues in the territory where the school is carried out. We can do this on HSE campuses or abroad’, believes Belyaeva.

The Master’s programme in Political Analysis and Public Policy, which is taught in English and run by the Department of Public Policy, is the most internationalized programme at HSE. It has students from Asia who have invited the next Baltic Practice to their countries. Possibilities include Morocco, Thailand, and Singapore.

Incidentally, the ability to work well over a short period of time with representatives of different cultures and academic traditions is one of the skills acquired at the school. ‘The research work with foreign students at the summer school is interesting simply because of their different views on the issues being researched and the theoretical and methodological approaches’, says Uldanov. ‘I have not encountered a situation when foreign students have pressured their Russian-speaking colleagues; generally there is a healthy discussion and a synthesis of different proposals for follow-up’.

The final decision on the venue for the Practice 2016 (the word ‘practice’ will remain in the name of the school) will be decided by the Student Chamber following a discussion of proposals submitted by various groups.

‘It is important that the students themselves are interested in dealing with these things’, says Belyaeva. ‘In many ways, this is precisely what explains our success’. 

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