IU students get a front-row seat for the European financial crisis
A two-week class on public policy in Berlin turned out to be much more than an academic exercise for 20 students from Indiana University. They arrived last month just as Germany was debating its government's participation in a $1 trillion rescue plan for economically troubled European states.
"The students got a sense of policy in action. It was the difference between theory and being out there on the front line," said David Audretsch, Distinguished Professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and the organizer of the course.
Students listened to serious disagreements about the bailout and heard from government officials who were almost anguished in their explanations of Germany's response to the European financial crisis.
"It was almost therapeutic for them to talk about this to American students," Audretsch said. "They responded positively to the idea that Americans would be interested."
The graduate-level public affairs course, called "Globalization and Public Policy: The European Context," featured guest lectures by officials with the European Commission and the Federation of German Industries and meetings with officials at the German Federal Chancellery and the Berlin office of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The class was a partnership between SPEA and Berlin's Hertie School of Governance, with Audretsch of SPEA and Mark Hallerberg of the Hertie School sharing instructor duties. Students also took in the history and culture of Berlin, with activities that included a four-hour boat tour and a visit to nearby Potsdam, site of the famed Sanssouci palace and the location of the conference at which the United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union arranged the occupation of Germany after World War II.
While a lot of work went into planning the May 17-28 course, Audretsch said, the timing of the European fiscal crisis was pure serendipity. "If we had had the class two months earlier, there would have been no discussion of this at all," he said.
The crisis began when the Greek government doubled the estimate of its budget deficit. In early May, Germany agreed to provide $30 billion to prop up Greece's staggering economy. While the students were in Berlin, the German parliament signed off on loan guarantees to stave off default for Europe's weaker economies. Germany contributed nearly $200 billion to the guarantees.
Ruth Pollak, a SPEA Master of Public Affairs student and a Fulbright Scholar from Vienna, Austria, served as Audretsch's student assistant for the course. She said the combination of academic lectures and talks by public officials made for an invaluable learning experience.
"It was really great for the students to get a variety of perspectives, to not just learn in an academic setting but to see what policy makers think about the issues," she said. Pollak said it was doubly interesting for her, as an Austrian, to see how European financial issues are affecting the global economy and how they are understood by Americans.
While Pollak had been to Berlin often, it was the first trip there for David Huang, a widely traveled IU student from Singapore who is finishing his undergraduate degree in public policy this summer. "Berlin is one of the most exciting cities in Europe," he said. "The people, the food, the culture -- it's a really happening city."
Huang said the remarkable access to high-level officials and agencies involved with economic globalization made the class "a wonderful opportunity." And the timing of the European economic crisis was fortuitous in more ways than one. "First of all, the exchange rate was great," he said.
SPEA has taken students to Germany for summer policy studies since 1984, with Charles Bonser, the school's founding dean, leading previous courses. This was the first year for the partnership with the Hertie School of Governance, which was founded in 2003 and is one of the first professional schools for public policy in Germany.
Audretsch, who is also the Ameritech Chair of Economic Development at SPEA and director of the Institute for Development Strategies, said a key lesson of the course is that Europe is constantly changing, with new challenges to the European Union arising each year.
"My feeling is that there are no experts on Europe," he said. "Rather, the class is about forming a relationship, becoming part of a dialogue, with a focus on this place that is evolving all the time."
And who knows what issue will be at the forefront when IU students head to Berlin in 2011?
"We'll do this again next year," Audretsch said, "and I bet the focus will be totally different."