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The simulation helps students to actively experience the complexities of EU politics.

Simulation of the EU’s handling of the refugee crisis by undergraduate students in Politics and International Relations

Simulations are some of the most interesting and newer techniques used in university teaching. Generally speaking, they are a form of active learning which involves students through active participation, enabling them to take their learning into their own hands.

‘It helped me understand how complex these issues are to solve’ (Hannah Robinson)

‌The aim of simulations is to work with real-life situations and to provide an opportunity for students to engage with and directly apply the materials they have learnt: ‘I understood the theory in practice better, I could actually see what it looks like in real life’ (Anetta Nemethova).

They support students immersing in a topic rather than just memorizing facts, thereby moving from ‘surface learning’ to ‘deep learning’. In so doing, simulations greatly increase students’ ability to understand a topic and remember the subject in the future whilst at the same time being fun for students.

Led by Dr Sandra Kröger as part of the Democracy in the European Union module, the simulation helps students to actively experience the complexities of EU politics. The workings of the European Union (EU) have become increasingly complex, and a simulation can allow for the complexities and varying nuances of the EU decision-making to be better understood; an experience confirmed by the participating students: ‘I understand better how difficult it must be to actually pass legislation’ (Oliver Skinner). Overall, students agreed that they ‘now have a much better grasp of how the process works’ (Alex Rolfe). 

‌This years’ simulation engaged with the on-going negotiations around how to best address the current refugee crisis, one of the biggest challenges the EU has faced to date. Students were assigned to different delegations (made up of eight different Member States, the European institutions, as well as the press) and researched the actual position of the respective groups towards the refugee crisis. They thereby gained an in-depth insight into the position these groups take on the refugee crisis (‘I now have a much better knowledge of the refugee crisis when it comes to the EU’ – Mateo Cook; ‘The simulation helped me understand each Member State’s view’ – Maybelle Chan).

Over a two-week period, they engaged in negotiation processes between the involved actors and thereby experienced how much the EU political system is based on consensus-seeking and compromise: ‘I understand the decision-making process much better. I also realise how difficult it is to come to an agreement’ (Maria Petrescu). As Alexander Thompson highlighted: ‘reaching a compromise that works for everyone was a difficult aspect’, not least because certain Member States proved to be fairly ‘stubborn’ (Charles Evans).

After initial substantial disagreements between the different national delegations, but also with the European institutions, over the legislative proposal by the European Commission, the students were able to agree on five out of the six proposed articles. Evaluating the simulation, the students representing the UK pointed out how frustrating it was for them to be able to participate in the discussions (around a Schengen-related article), but to not be able to participate in the related vote, given UK’s opt-out in the policy. A condition that would become much more permanent were the UK to leave the EU. Indeed, in a context where the EU is sometimes seen as an unattractive and disenchanting topic, a simulation can show how the EU can be a fascinating topic of study, and can help changing how students perceive of and understand the EU.

Date: 17 February 2016

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