Erasmus Mundus History

Programme History

The origins of most things become, over time, mythology rather than actual history, and no doubt there are many different versions of the myth of precisely how the MA (Erasmus Mundus) Human Rights Policy and Practice first started.

What we do know is that the initiative came originally from some ambitious junior members of staff at the Universities of Tromso and Roehampton. Tormod Sund was an anthropologist working at (what is now) the Department of Archaeology and Social Anthropology, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, but he also, by chance, lived in London, not far from Roehampton. In 2005 he was doing some work with Professor John Eade of CRONEM, the Centre for Research on Nationalism,  Ethnicity and Migration, and he proposed the idea of putting in a joint bid for an MA programme under the European Union’s Erasmus Mundus scheme. The idea for a programme focusing on ethnicity and multiculturalism within the context of human rights came to the attention of Damien Short, recently appointed lecturer in human rights in what was then the School of Business and Social Sciences. Damien ran the idea past his line manager, Darren O’Byrne, who was head of subject for social sciences, and by the Dean of School, Professor Yvonne Guerrier, who welcomed it with enthusiasm. Also involved was David Woodman, Assistant Dean in the School and founding Director of CRUCiBLE, the newly founded government-funded centre for human rights education. David was given the task of working closely with Damien on the paperwork, as Roehampton was to be the lead partner in the bid. At Tromso, leadership of the project was passed to Professor Trond Thuen. A third partner was required and this was when the School of Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg became involved. Elisabeth Abiri was to be the national convener, ably supported by Peter Johansson.

The partnership was strong. All three institutions had proven track records in areas that complemented, rather than competed with, one another. The Centre for Global Studies at Gotherburg had considerable expertise in the international political and legal aspects of human rights. Tromso had a global reputation in the study of indigenous minority populations, particularly the Sami people. Roehampton had been teaching undergraduate classes in human rights within its Sociology programme for some time, had established the first undergraduate degree programme in Human Rights in the UK, and on receiving its funding for CRUCiBLE had become home to the country’s only Centre of Excellence in the field of human rights education. The partners agreed that the bid should be for a programme that combined a thorough academic understanding of human rights from a multi-disciplinary perspective, drawing not only on law and international relations but also on sociology and anthropology, and that it should have a strong focus on practice. The application for five-year funding for a programme in Human Rights Practice, as it was then called, was approved in 2006.

The programme began in 2007, when the first cohort arrived in Gothenburg. There were 23 students from fifteen different countries in that group, and over the years the programme has always had a decidedly international flavour. By the time the original HRP programme ended in 2013, it had taken in five cohorts and just short of 100 graduated students from 49 different countries.

When the original programme drew to an end the partners decided to submit a rebid to the EU for a new five-year period. Adjustments was made to focus more on both policy and practice in the new programme. The new application for a revised programme called Human Rights Policy and Practice was sent to the EU in 2012. The first cohort of students on HRPP started their adventures in the autumn semester of 2013. There were nineteen students from eighteen different countries. In 2015, sadly, the consortium had to bid a fond farewell to one of its founders UiT, which had to leave the programme. It was delighted, though, to find such an able and renowned replacement as the University of Deusto, Bilbao, Spain.

Students have come and gone (but rarely very far!), and there have been some significant staffing changes over the years as well. Leadership of the programme at Tromso had passed from Tormod Sund and the late, great Trond Thuen to Sidsel Saugestad and Jennifer Hays. At Gothenburg, while Peter Johansson has been ever-present as board member and at times acting convener, the consortium bid farewell to Elisabeth Abiri in 2013 but has welcomed the involvement of Lisbeth Segerlund, who, as national convener of the first of the three partners to welcome the students, has to manage all those initial difficulties and anxieties. During her leave of absence in 2014, the acting convener was Joakim Berndtsson.

At Roehampton, where Darren O’Byrne continues to teach his signature sociological module on the programme, the mantle of convener has passed from Damien Short to Gregory Kent to Steven Howlett, and most recently to Jennifer Melvin. From our newest partner Deusto, we are delighted to be working with Dolores Morondo Taramundi. Plus, of course, there have been the many administrators who have been involved in the programme over the years, from each of the partner universities. There are too many of them to name here, but all students and

academics on the course know that without them, we wouldn’t even have a programme that we can be proud of. They are the often unsung heroes who make it all possible.

Including the fourth cohort starting in the autumn semester of 2016, the programme has welcomed 150+ students from 66 countries. Many of these students have kept in touch with each other and with their tutors, and some are still living together years after completion! The programme certainly has helped to forge bonds across continents and create friendships for life. Many of our former and current students participate in the programme’s Facebook group, sharing updates on human rights concerns, passing on job opportunities, updating on major events in their lives, and of course making arrangements to get together. More so than with most courses, the students, tutors and administrators associated with this programme have become something of an extended family. As with all families, we eagerly await the arrival of the next generation.

© Erasmus Mundus 2016