November 14, 2006

Presentation at a Higher Education Academy (HEA) Event on October 25th, 2006

We were lucky enough to be able to present the main aspects of our project at an HEA Event held in the Panorama Round entitled: “Research-Based Learning in Higher Education: the Warwick Experience”. Our presentation was part of a larger presentation of the work of the Reinvention Centre at Warwick.

Part of our script for the presentation is reproduced below:

”... Our project was not only our very own intiative from the start, but was at all times a student-led experience. Although we did have a couple of members of staff in the Politics & Economics Departments helped us tweak our research question and proposal, we decided on the rest. Udayan was going to focus on the economic issues underpinning the EU´s trading patterns, through statistical and economic modelling while I focused on the qualitative analysis of the political factors. And what better way of getting a sense of the actual politics involved by actually visiting Brussels and questioning senior civil servants?

The Reinvention Centre grant we received mainly paid for our two-week trip to Brussels in March of this year, which allowed us to interview those members of the Council and Commission staff that had agreed to meet us to discuss their role in EU trade policy-making, including Head of the Agriculture Unit in the Council, members from DG Trade and External Relations in the Commission and the spokesman for the Development & Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel. We grilled them, among other things, on the trade aspect of the CAP, on the Doha Round, on the much-criticized Economic Partnership Agreements… All in all, it gave us over 10 hours of interview material to sift through, which greatly enhanced our appreciation of the issues at stake and gave a potentially “dry” topic a distinctive “edge”.

What did we find through our project? Three things, essentially:

1. Trade agreements are increasingly a means of exerting political leverage through reinforced “political conditionality” clauses.

2. EU officials largely considered the pursuit of bilateral (preferential) trade agreements to be complementary to WTO (multilateral) trade negotiations, even though our research seemed to suggest the emergence of a “hub-and-spokes” system benefitting the EU.

3. The shifting foreign policy and economic priorities of its member states are strongly reflected in the evolving character of the EU’s bilateral trade agreements.

Personally [I Gabriel Siles], have always had the ambition to go into academia (first as an astrophysicist when I was quite young) and now in Political Science. The Reinvention Centre gave me the chance to take the initiative and see for myself what it is like to draft a research proposal, conduct primary research, and compile my findings, things all (good) academics must be quite competent at. Because I found the whole experience so thrilling, my ambition has really been galvanized. I now really want to undertake original research as soon as possible, hopefully through an ESRC 1+3 (or 2+2) studentship of a one (or two)-year research masters followed by 2 or 3 years of doctoral study, and that in the field I researched thanks to the Reinvention Centre: the political economy of international trade.

I’d say that the whole experience has really shown me what I want to do, and how I want to accomplish it, and that more so than any other aspect of my life at University.”

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