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2020 Leaders in Graduate Education

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Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels, Academic Director
University of Kent, Brussels School of International Studies


For her master’s thesis, Brianna Hertford argued that a strategy used to understand the dynamics of intimate partner violence can be applied to the refugee and asylum system. Hertford credits her thesis adviser at the University of Kent’s Brussels School of International Studies (BSIS) with helping her “shape the idea and hammer out the best route to take with the paper.”

The adviser, Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels, academic director of BSIS, belongs to a faculty representing 15 different nationalities that takes an interactive and interdisciplinary approach to teaching. Working closely with the university’s Law School and School of Politics and International Relations, BSIS offers master’s, LLM, and PhD courses in politics and law, providing in-depth analysis of contemporary issues including international conflict, security, development, migration, and political economy.

“Studying at BSIS—a small, personalized community with an interdisciplinary faculty of scholars in the vibrant city of Brussels—is a unique experience for students. It’s that combination of community and location that makes us special.” –Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels, Academic Director, Brussels School of International Studies, University of Kent

While it’s part of the UK-based university, BSIS is located in Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union (EU). The school enrolls about 250 students who represent 55 nationalities and six continents.

“Studying at BSIS—a small, personalized community with an interdisciplinary faculty of scholars in the vibrant city of Brussels—is a unique experience for students,” says Klekowski von Koppenfels, whose research focuses on the concept of diaspora and the transitional engagement of migrants—from refugees forced out of Syria to US citizens residing in Europe. “It’s that combination of community and location that makes us so special,” she says.

Given the school’s interest in international and humanitarian issues—and recognizing the difficulties that refugees may face in pursuing an advanced education—BSIS offers a full scholarship annually for students living in Belgium who hold refugee status or some other form of international protection.

BSIS students have opportunities for internships and research at the EU, NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), SB OverSeas, and other international and nongovernmental organizations based in Brussels. Working with key2advance, a career advice and coaching agency, students land jobs with organizations that include the European Parliament and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The school encourages students to pursue interdisciplinary studies, enabling them to select both a primary and a secondary area of specialization in any combination—for example, an MA in International Conflict and Security with Human Rights Law, or an MA in International Migration with International Development.

The school’s annual Guest Lecture Series brings together acclaimed international academics and practitioners in the fields of politics, diplomacy, international relations and security, cultural studies, and law. This year’s series featured speakers from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, among others.

BSIS students organize an annual international conference, “gaining significant skills” as they develop the workshops and recruit the speakers, says Klekowski von Koppenfels. The 2020 conference theme is climate change and human security, and some of the invited speakers are indigenous people who cannot afford travel to Brussels, so the students are contacting organizations that represent them for financial assistance.

Klekowski von Koppenfels notes that BSIS is unaffected by uncertainties about Brexit, the UK’s 2016 decision to leave the EU: “We have been in Brussels 21 years; our foresight in being the first British university to establish itself in Europe means we are firmly based in Brussels.”

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