The Summer University is organised by the Institute of Federalism and co-financed by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education and Research and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
In 1984 the Institute of Federalism (IFF) organised an international round table on “Federalism and Decentralisation” together with the International Association of Constitutional Law. The publication of the papers from this conference inspired a representative of the Swiss Office for Science and Education to mandate the Institute with the organisation of an international summer university on Federalism and Decentralisation. This is how an annual three week course was introduced in 1986 and since then has been regularly organised every year. The eighteenth session of the Summer University, with the theme of "Federalism, Constitutionalism and Democratic Governance in Multicultural Societies" took place from August 28th to September 15th, 2006.
II. Concept, thematic focus and method of work
Until 1994 the Summer University focussed on a comparative legal approach to major institutional issues of federalism and decentralisation. In order to include the then emerging agenda on multiculturalism in general, and ethnic conflicts and wars in the Balkans in particular, the concept was broadened both in terms of topic and of approach. The new concept was developed to embrace major challenges of diversity to contemporary democracy, rule of law and peace world wide.
Since 1995 the course has been organised around three major modules. The first week addresses in a theoretical approach the major challenges that federalism and centralisation face in multicultural societies. The second week addresses various institutional aspects of nation-state and supranational forms of federalism, including the European Union. The third week focuses on some of the major issues discussed in the first or second week. While in the first two weeks the work runs through interactive classes and workshops, in the third week the professors guide students’ work in groups on given cases and the results are discussed in plenum.
Our major objectives may be said to be twofold: learning and sharing. More specifically: a/ To bring the participants – through the classes, workshops, case studies and individual papers prepared in advance – major challenges the modern state and multicultural societies face when embracing federalism and decentralisation as the strategies of democratisation and conflict-management. b/ Given the interdisciplinary approach in teaching as well as the interdisciplinary academic background of the participants – to empower them with insights from different disciplines and thus generally enforce their understanding on the issues of federalism, decentralisation and diversity. c/ To sensibilize them, through the classes and workshops, as well as through debates they will have among themselves – to a major need to understand also the arguments of the “other side” and the critical importance of consensus in multicultural societies.
The Summer University is aimed at students (minimum in their fourth year of studies) in law, economics, political and social sciences, and journalism with 35 scholarships at disposal.
The members of the Summer University’s faculty are internationally known scholars of law, political science, sociology and economy with expertise in the issues of post-modern challenges to nation-state and democracy, federalism, decentralisation and multiculturalism.
VI. Results Achieved
The reputation of our Summer University is constantly increasing and gathers people, both students and teachers, from the five continents. Also, the level of the participants has continued to improve over the years. The goals of the programme are for participants to interact with each other, share experiences, learn from each other and gain a new perspective and develop tools to approach challenges in their own federal systems. These goals have been, according to the evaluation of the students in the last years, achieved to a greatest extent.
Learning: Our Programme of Studies
As already mentioned, the present teaching concept is structured so that one week focuses on theoretical aspects, another on institutions, and a third is devoted to several case studies. For example, in 2006 the programme included lectures and workshops on the themes of "Nation-State Federalism and European Integration", "Federalism in Multicultural and Multinational Polities", "Federalism and Secession", "The Role of Intergovernmental Fiscal Arrangements in Maintaining Cohesion and Effectiveness in a Multiethnic State", and "The Gap Between Democratic Institutions and Practice: The Case of Malawi".
The academic programme is intense, interactive and interdisciplinary. As one student said, “I gained many new personal insights and I returned with some answers and many new questions for my future studies”. Students learn the theoretical concepts related to federalism, mentioned a participant: “It is at the summer institute that I happened to understand the wealth of difference between multiethnic federations and nation-state federations". I learnt many things I did not know about the other participants' countries". Students also shared many ideas and reflections, as mentioned another: “I appreciated to share ideas regarding solutions for a multiethnic and multicultural society, and the applicability and functioning of the constitutions of my fellow-participants' countries".
Sharing: the Exchange of Knowledge and Experiences
The learning that takes place in the Summer University classes and workshops is complemented by a great amount of sharing of knowledge and experiences between the students. In the Summer University evaluations of the last few years, more than two thirds of students have indicated that both the academic and social aspects of the Summer University were valuable to them. Not only do the students interact and engage cross-cultural learning during the Summer University itself, but in doing so they create networks that will provide useful contacts and information to them in their future academic and professional endeavours. This sentiment was again echoed by several participants in 2006. As one of them put it "The most beneficial part was learning about possible steps for constitutional reform towards federalism". Another aspect often mentioned was "Contacts with international students brought new perspectives to me and gave me the possibility to learn from others' experiences". In 2006 there were 36 participants coming from 23 countries. The Summer University provides an interface at which multiple exchanges of knowledge and experiences can take place, leading the students to a greater understanding for the diversity of our world and to the building of trust and tolerance, and of friendships.
The other component of the exchange of knowledge and experiences that is important to mention is the exchange that takes place when the participants return home. Thus, through their interactions will peers and colleagues in their home countries, participants diffuse the knowledge that they have gained at the Summer University, both inside the classes and out. This is particularly important in cases where Summer University participants have a direct influence on policy making in their home country. The importance of the sharing of knowledge acquired at the Summer University is recognised by both government and NGO actors, a fact attested by the sponsoring of several participants in the last years by either the Swiss Embassy in Colombo, Khartoum or Ankara, the Forum of Federations, the Berghof Foundation, and NADEL (the Postgraduate Course on Developing Countries).