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On the road with an International Credit Mobility grant

Over the next three years, 92 students and researchers from Leiden University and its partner universities will be strengthening their research and teaching links: all 14 projects that Leiden University submitted to the EU’s International Credit Mobility programme have been awarded a grant. Three examples.

Within the International Credit Mobility programme, part of the EU’s Erasmus+ programme, universities within Europe collaborate with universities outside. The main aim of the programme is to develop knowledge and skills with a partner university, meeting in person to facilitate this. The programme is suitable for exploring options with new partner universities or for maintaining links with current ones

Partner universities from all around the world are involved in the projects that have now secured funding: from Kazakhstan to Kenya and from Cuba to China. Leiden University has been awarded a total of 414,000 euros in the form of individual grants for study and travel abroad.

Below are three examples of projects:

If you are interested in applying for an Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility project (2020 call), you must submit an Expression of Interest to Subsidies Advisor Dorien Jansen by 15 November. The Department of International Relations will help you submit your application.   

Find out more about the options.

Towards another perspective on the colonial past

Historian Peter Meel is going to hold two workshops and develop and deliver two master’s courses together with his colleague Karwan Fatah-Black and colleagues from the Anton de Kom University in Suriname. The topic is the shared Dutch-Surinamese colonial past.

The first workshop will focus on the study of historiographical and methodological issues and the second on curriculum development and designing the two master’s courses. The first course will cover political developments in Suriname from 1940 to today and the second, which is more socioeconomic in nature, will look at the transition from slavery to contract work.

According to Meel, the big challenge is to move away from the perspective of coloniser and colonised, and to seek new perspectives instead. This should be possible by looking at the wider embedding of slavery and independence. ‘It is known, for example, that in the period before independence, Surinamese nationalists focused on political and cultural developments in Africa. Nowadays, under the influence of processes of transnationalism and globalisation, there is more attention to what is going on in Asia. Historians in the Netherlands and Suriname have drawn attention to this, but very little has been done about it as yet.’ Students and staff from both universities will interview Surinamese politicians, beginning with older generations. Suriname became independent in 1975 and relatively many people who were involved are still alive.

But the ambitions are greater than this alone. Apart from new academic insights, Meel wants to gain knowledge that will have an impact on society: ‘In both the Netherlands and Suriname, more attention is now paid to the shared past than, say, 20 years ago. But what is important now is for this past to gain more recognition with the general public and to become an identifiable part of both societies.’

The workshops will be held in Leiden and the courses in Paramaribo and Leiden. Meel’s counterpart at Anton de Kom University is Maurits Hassankhan.

East African Community inspired by EU model

Europe is not the only region where countries feel the need for integration. The same is true for other parts of the world. The Horn of Africa, for instance, in the east of Africa. The six countries that form the East African Community (EAC) are seeking more unity: Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan and Burundi.

Armin Cuyvers, Associate Professor of European Law at the Europa Instituut at Leiden University, explains that the EAC is strongly based on the EU model. At the same time, however, the economy and culture there is so different that it’s not simply a matter of copy and paste. ‘You need to translate it to the region,’ says Cuyvers. ‘And the Europa Instituut thinks it can help.’

Cuyvers’s Credit Mobility project entails the further transmission and ‘translation’ of knowledge of EU law through student and researcher exchanges with the universities of Nairobi (Kenya), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Kigali (Rwanda): 17 legal scholars from Africa will spend six months in Leiden gaining or brushing up on their knowledge of European law, and legal scholars from Leiden will give lectures at the African universities. The African students and researchers will then be able to work on research and projects in the region. One of these projects relates to the constitution of East Africa that is currently being drawn up. The Europa Instituut is playing an advisory role here. Cuyvers: ‘We preferably want people who will go and work at a university or for the government, so that their knowledge and ideas can immediately find practical use.’ Incidentally, a project involving the EAC was awarded Erasmus+ Credit Mobility funding two years ago.

The image of Africa is not one of democracy and stability. ‘There is what we see as a strange paradox,’ says Cuyvers. ‘Not long ago, the President of Burundi refused to resign after two legal terms. Members of the supreme court who wanted to uphold the constitution had to flee even. At the same time, however, there is broad support in the region for regional integration. That is linked to the way in which frontiers were drawn during decolonisation: straight through ethnic groups. This means that there is also a significant sense of commonality and of national borders being less important. We hope that regional integration will give this a nudge in the right direction.’

Sharing functional analysis with China and South Africa

Mathematician Marcel de Jeu has received Credit Mobility funding for two projects. One concerns collaboration with Sichuan University in Chengdu in China and the other collaboration with the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Both projects relate to abstract mathematics, namely functional analysis. This form of analysis primarily has applications within mathematics itself as well as within physics.

De Jeu focuses on the area of Positivity. When asked about a possible societal application, he mentions the economy, before adding that this is not his specialism. In the Netherlands, Positivity is a research focus at Leiden University in particular. It is also a strength of the University of Pretoria. The close ties in the field of functional analysis between Leiden and universities in South Africa go way back – to the 1950s when Aad Zaanen (1913-2003) was professor of mathematical analysis in Leiden and a driving force behind functional analysis.

Marcel de Jeu describes himself as a functional analyst who works in the area of analysis that relates to the study of topological vector spaces and continuous operators between such spaces. ‘Within this, I focus mostly on the field of Positivity, the theory of ordered functional-analytic structures.’

The ties with Sichuan University, the best university in the province of Sichuan in south-west China, go back some time, although not as long as the ties with South Africa. China has a very selective education system, from infant school already. ‘A test determines which university you go to; the most talented students go to the best universities,’ says De Jeu. Sichuan University is one of the better universities that receive extra support from the Chinese government and can thus develop at a more rapid rate. Positivity is a topic of research there too.

For the project with South Africa, De Jeu will spend a month in Pretoria, and three South African members of staff will spend a month in Leiden. In addition, a PhD candidate from Pretoria will spend five months in Leiden, and a PhD candidate from Leiden will spend five months in Pretoria. By chance, De Jeu was made professor by special appointment at the University of Pretoria while the application for his project was being assessed. The professorship and project were not related, but they will prove beneficial to each other.

For the project with China, De Jeu will spend two periods of a month in China, and a Chinese colleague will spend a month in Leiden. A PhD candidate from Leiden will spend three months conducting research at Sichuan University, and a Chinese PhD candidate will spend five months in the Netherlands.

All of the researchers will devote one day a week to teaching while they are abroad, so that the students in the three countries also benefit from the exchange. Supervising PhD candidates also counts as teaching.

Both projects are about sharing and increasing knowledge, and will run for three years.

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