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‘It really helped to understand just how difficult consensus is in the EU’


Simulation of the EU’s handling of the refugee crisis by undergraduate students

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 students to take the learning into their own hands: ‘It helps you much more than sometimes the readings’, suggested one student. 

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: ‘Acting things out as close to the real life procedure as possible gave clarity and understanding into how laws are passed’, said another. Simulations 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 – indeed, on a scale from 1-5 (disagree-agree), students said that they enjoyed the simulation with an average rate of 4.77, not least because they enjoy to ‘creatively work with other students’.

In this Politics course led by Dr Sandra Kröger, the simulation aimed at helping students to actively experience the complexities of EU politics. The workings of the 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 much confirmed by the participating students. Many confirmed that ‘it really helped understand the process’, and that it allowed them to see ‘how difficult it is’, and that it can even ‘be a nightmare in the EU to pass laws’, not least because things are in permanent flux. The increased understanding of the complexities of EU decision-making was also confirmed in the post-simulation evaluation in which the proposition that the ‘simulation has increased my knowledge and understanding of decision-making processes in the EU’ received 4.63 on average by students.

The present simulation engaged with the on-going debate 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 (to seven different Member States, the European institutions as well as the press) and researched the actual position of the respective actors towards the refugee crisis. They thereby gained an in-depth insight into the position specific actors take on the refugee crisis.  Indeed, 4.68 on average agreed to the proposition that the simulation had sharpened their understanding of the refugee crisis, and one student specifically highlighted that ‘I now understand how hostile the UK is’. 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, with one student highlighting that the simulation ‘really helped to understand just how difficult consensus is in the EU’, not least because some Member States ‘proved stubborn’. As a result, the proposition that ‘the simulation has sharpened my understanding of the importance of compromise, in EU policy-making’ received 4.72. After initial substantial disagreements, between the different Member States, but also with the European institutions, over the legislative proposal by the European Commission, students were able to agree on all four proposed articles and therefore seem to be more ready to compromise than is currently the case between EU member states as regards the refugee crisis. All in all, 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: 10 February 2017

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