One of the most pressing and cross-cutting issues on the international agenda today is global migration – an issue only made more challenging by climate change and armed conflict. Against this backdrop, UNU-MERIT joined a global event designed to train future policymakers how best to tackle the challenge of refugee crises in support of SDG16 — for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
UNU-MERIT continued its partnership with the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), serving for the third time as the European site for the NASPAA-Batten Student Competition. This year, we co-hosted the event with the School of Public Policy at Central European University. This global event was hosted by 11 universities (six in the USA, and one in each of Mexico, South Korea, Bangladesh, Egypt and the Netherlands) which dealt with the same challenge and came up with concrete and actionable policy proposals.
Our students used advanced software developed by the Center for Leadership, Simulation & Gaming at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. They created a fictitious region comprised of five countries, each with different capacities and resources. One of the countries suffered internal turmoil that led to a very large number of its citizens to flee. The students represented the governments of the other four countries and tried to deal with the crises as best they could. The simulation therefore provided quite a realistic snapshot of the day-to-day work of policymakers.
Each site had two or more ‘worlds’ evaluated by judges with broad academic and policy experience. At the end of the day, each of the 11 sites picked out a country as the winner based on their performance throughout the day and two deliverables: a memorandum with their proposed policies alongside a presentation given at a plenary. At the end, the site winners were further reviewed by a panel of ‘global judges’ who then selected a global winner. A team comprising of students from Delft University of Technology was selected as the site winner at UNU-MERIT.
We had the honour to welcome back as our site judges Dr Valerie Graw from the University of Bonn in Germany and Dr Lutz F. Krebs from UNU-MERIT. We also welcomed for the first time Prof Martin Kahanec from Central European University. Additionally, on the eve of the simulation, students received a briefing on migration and refugee issues by Dr Michaella Vanore, researcher at UNU-MERIT.
We welcomed 42 students from universities across Europe, including our sister institute, UNU-EHS. The students were divided into two ‘worlds’ and had to develop a comprehensive policy proposal on behalf of their country, which then had to be discussed at a regional organisation.
Overall the competition gave students an opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge to a practical problem and improve their memo-writing, negotiation and presentation skills. Finally, the simulation was a great opportunity for students to interact with peers from across the continent and gain valuable insights into the challenges of policymaking.
Below is a selection of impressions from students on our Master of Science in Public Policy and Human Development (MPP) programme.
As government ministers from five fictitious countries, we were confronted with an influx of migrants and refugees from a country in crisis and had to decide which policies to implement in order to optimise our country’s economy and stability, while also thinking about our international reputation and having to comply with international legal requirements decided at a regional organisation.
In comparison to other diplomatic simulations, this one required the formulation and entering of policy decisions in simulation software which calculated, using real-world data, how the policies would affect citizens, the economy and the migrants themselves. What I found really challenging was to balance the budget with our established policy goals, wishing to guarantee both our citizens and the newcomers’ high standards of living. Representing an authoritarian country, led by an anti-immigrant party, I also found it very challenging to make decisions that negatively affected not only the migrants and refugees, our neighbouring countries, but ultimately, also our country.
Overall, I really enjoyed the simulation competition, as it gave me the possibility to test the skills acquired during my MPP on real-world data, while also practising presentations and memo-writing skills on this topic. I furthermore enjoyed the networking event the day before the competition and the excellent introduction to the competition given by Dr. Michaella Vanore, as well as cooperating with my teammates from Bristol and Bucharest, with whom I spent a challenging but very enriching day.
Participating in the simulation was a truly enriching experience. Meeting a diverse group of like-minded individuals was inspiring and will motivate me to continually improve myself academically.
The day was fast-paced and full of intensive on-the-go learning. I was placed in a team with two other UNU-MERIT MPP colleagues as well as three students from Georgia. The dynamics of the competition pushed this team of strangers to become a team of friends in a very short space of time. The simulation itself was an opportunity for me to put into practice what I have learnt in theory. I was able to understand that every decision you make as a team can result in having intended or unintended repercussions. This made the simulation very exciting and interesting as we were able to experiment and attempt to understand the best solution for the crises at hand. But this is also linked to one of the main challenges in the simulation — i.e. trying to find which variables to change in order to achieve our target outcome.
On the whole, the simulation taught me that to deal with migration on a regional and global scale a holistic approach must be adopted. This means that all aspects of a migrant’s life must be considered, from what skills they will acquire through to how much they can travel. I also learnt that international cooperation was necessary in order to deal with migration crises. If a joint approach was adopted during the crisis all nations involved would benefit.
The simulation started with high energy and a group of enthusiastic students ready to solve the refugee crisis in the fictional country Kyapera. We first had a practice round which allowed us to get used to working with the software and also our roles. In addition, each country had a delegate to a regional organisation, which met at the same time as the cabinets of all four countries. Playing the delegate role was fascinating because we had to reach a consensus before making decisions (especially because some countries had taken an anti-immigration stance which its delegates had to represent).
As the day progressed, we changed roles and in the second game I played the role of Prime Minister. The dynamic environment really encouraged a sense of collaboration. From the first game to the second, we were better able to create more positive results; by the end of the day our team had achieved great results which were then showed to us through the software that measured our progress.
However fun it was to participate in this simulation, it did show us that sometimes unrealistic solutions do arise, and we were able to see real-life situations that come up when discussing a refugee crisis. More economically developed countries in the simulation were not hosting as many refugees as they could. It goes to show how, in the real world, the majority of refugees are hosted in developing countries, and this was reflected in the simulation.
JESSICA VAN WIJGERDEN
Participating in the simulation was an experience that pushed me outside of my comfort zone and made me think outside the box. This was the first time for me to be involved in such an event within this particular field. Also, being part of a team with unknown members of different nationalities and academic backgrounds seemed daunting at first. We had no idea of each other’s strengths or weaknesses — but we soon found out.
As the day went on, it was exciting to see my team blossom in their different roles. Although we may have different specialities that were not directly linked to migration, close collaboration between teammates was essential in reaching a decision by consensus.
The need for collaboration extended beyond my team and it was clear after the first rounds of the game that, to be truly effective in our policymaking, we needed to work together with the other teams as well. Much like real-life situations, our personal contact with the other delegates impacted our own decision-making and the well-being of our ‘simulated’ population.
Overall, the simulation was like a soundbite of how decision-making processes can look like for a policymaker. It convinced me to take a holistic approach to complex situations such as migration. At the end of the day it was loud and clear that, as (future) policymakers, we need to work together to make sure we provide the best possible outcome for all our peoples, no matter the nationality.
The opinions expressed here are the authors’ own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / S.Brodin; UN Photo / M.Garten