Germany's universities are striving to become more international. At the Summer Academy in Munich, students from all over the world come together to discuss a pressing issue: the future of Europe.
Twelve stern-faced students from Italy, France, Canada, and China are assembled around a conference table at the Center for Applied Policy Research, which is associated with Munich's renowned Ludwig- Maximilians-Universität (LMU). Little tags in front of them point to various NGOs and lobby organizations. The participants at the Summer Academy are simulating negotiations about whether or not lobbies should be obliged to register with the European Union, in order to make conflicts of interest more transparent.
In real life, similar negotiations actually did take place in the EU last year. Livia from Rome, 25, is leaning back in her chair, visibly relieved. The slim Italian had a hard time making her point while representing a lobby organization which advocates transparency. "That's a point of view that's particularly hard to get across," she says. The other participants favor registration only on a voluntary basis.
Bridging cultural differences
Ronny Patz from Munich's LMU is sitting at the head of the conference table, playing the role of an EU commissioner. He knows what he's talking about, because he took part in the real negotiations. Before he came to Munich, he worked with the NGO Transparency International for two years.
The summer course focuses on current affairs and aims to show how EU politics really work, Patz says. Topics such as the recent European parliamentary elections, the euro crisis and climate change policy are also high on the agenda during the course.
In its summer programs, the LMU cooperates with Czech and Austrian universities. That's why the students, before coming to the Bavarian capital, spent two weeks in Vienna, and one week in Prague, where they discussed topics such as security policy and European expansion. The fact that the participants come from all over the world makes for interesting discussions, says Patz.
"To Koreans, lobbying is a red rag. They were surprised that something like that could even be legal at all," he says. Patz is convinced that such debates can only come up in places where European and international students come together.
A different look at the EU
Adrian from France is one of the European students. In the fall, he will study European studies and management in Munich and Lyon. He only took part in the Summer Academy course in order to get better prepared for his future studies - and to get to know Munich.
Once an EU skeptic, his stay at the Summer Academy turned him into an EU fan, although the EU is losing support in France. "I believe that's due to our lack of knowledge about this incredible system. My stay here helped me to reverse my point of view."
Adrian has already been accepted by the LMU, and now a few other participants of the summer program are considering joining him there.
Livia from Rome says she'd like to do a doctorate. Obviously, the Summer Academy helps attract students from other countries to the LMU, notes Ronny Patz. "This puts the LMU into the international limelight."
Participation isn't cheap, however. Students pay 1,550 euros ($2,060) for a five-week course, plus 700 euros for accommodation in the three host cities. For some, that's out of reach. But there are scholarship programs available for students who can't afford it, says Patz.
Lo-Yü Chang, who just finished his studies in Beijing, wants to improve his knowledge of Europe by attending the Summer Academy. He points out that the program is quite expensive if compared to Chinese universities. "But if I compare the fees in Munich with those in the US or Britain, then Munich is probably a better choice."
Lo-Yü Chang needed to invest his savings into the program. But, he is quick to add that his experiences in Munich, Prague and Vienna were definitely worth it.