Brexit, the Eurozone and refugee crises, and increased criticism on globalisation have shed doubts about the future of European integration. This certainly isn’t the first time that the European Union (EU) is going through a crisis, nor is it the first time that European integration is questioned. But, this mood seems to be more acute than ever before. This also presents challenges for teaching European Studies.

By Patrick Bijsmans


The rationale for studying European Studies

The livelihood of any programme in higher education depends on its ability to attract new students. Yet, recently current and prospective students have been asking questions about the need to continue studying Europe. For instance, during Politico’s Harry Cooper’s recent Jean Monnet Lecture on 13 October 2016, an audience member asked whether he had made a good choice by opting for our BA in European Studies.

I don’t think that a total collapse of the EU is very likely. The EU – including all its pros and cons – has become an integral part of political and even public life in Europe. Criticism of the EU tends to be equated to being anti-EU, yet often doesn’t concern its existence as such, but rather what it does (and doesn’t!) do. Several post-Brexit polls have actually shown that support for the EU has increased since.

European Studies transcends disciplinary boundaries, helping us to better understand contemporary developments such as Brexit. It does so in an international context, with the majority of students and staff being non-Dutch, thus allowing for different national perspectives to be brought in. Perhaps even more importantly, students acquire knowledge and skills that allow them to continue studying in a variety of fields – in fact, many do and most of our alumni actually don’t end up working in Brussels.

Keeping European Studies up-to-date

The fact that there are more generic reasons why studying European Studies still makes sense, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t adapt our programmes to take into account the ever-changing context in which we teach. Having been programme director myself, I know that keeping programmes up-to-date is time consuming and challenging, having to take into account final qualifications, teaching and exam regulation, etc. But, there are other ways in which we can address the contemporary issues that students want to learn about and discuss.
First, Maastricht University prides itself on its use of Problem-Based Learning (PBL). In its purest sense, PBL assumes that we don’t provide students with reading lists, but that they search for literature themselves, based on gaps in their knowledge. Even when literature is given, PBL allows for critical discussions that extend beyond that literature. So, when applied properly, PBL offers many opportunities to bring in contemporary developments.

A second way in which we can address the need to adapt to contemporary developments, is by stressing extra-curricular events that can help to establish a link between what we teach and the everyday reality of Europe. Within Maastricht, this includes the events organised by CERiM, which have focussed on all kinds of contemporary issues, but also lectures and debates organised by Studium Generale or the city and province.

What’s next?

European Studies student Kerstin Spath recently wrote in the university newspaper Observant that “the EU offers us so much. So why can’t it just stay like that?” The EU will, of course, change post-Brexit (as international students in the UK are already experiencing), but it is also likely to stay. And if it doesn’t we could always consider changing to European Disintegration Studies, in which we will address the question “what on earth went wrong with the EU?”!


patrick-bijsmans-2Dr. Patrick Bijsmans is assistant professor at Maastricht University. He teaches European Studies at BA and MA level. He also heads the teaching trainer trajectory for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Patrick’s research interests include media and Euroscepticism and teaching & learning in European Studies. Website: http://patrickbijsmans.weebly.com | Twitter: @PatrickBijsmans

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