Celebrating an ambitious intellectual venture

Signature of the partnership. Francis Vella, Yvon Englert and Bruno van Pottelsberghe. 16 January 2017.

In January this year, a new and innovative programme was launched cementing links between Georgetown University and the SBS-EM. Dean Bruno van Pottelsberghe looks back on the 600 days that have proved critical in the forging of a new partnership with an outstanding American university.

  • How was the partnership initiated?
Signature of the partnership. Francis Vella, Yvon Englert and Bruno van Pottelsberghe. 16 January 2017.

It all started on 29 May 2015, after a conference call with Laurent Bouton, former PhD scholar at the SBS-EM (at ECARES, the European Center for Advanced Research in Economics and Statistics). He was a Professor in the Department of Economics at Georgetown University (GU) and contacted me because his Department Chair, Professor Francis Vella, was thinking of creating an international partnership for a joint master’s in the field of political economy. I then had a conference call with Francis and we decided to delve deeper into this creative idea. 600 days later – including a visit to Washington DC, 600 email exchanges and intensive internal discussions – we are celebrating the launch of this exciting venture with the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding by the Rector of the ULB, Yvon Englert, the Chairman of the GU Department of Economics, Francis Vella and the Dean of the Solvay Brussels School, myself.


The first in-depth US partnership

  • Nearly 2 years of negotiations, was it complicated?

Well, actually, it wasn’t really that long as this type of partnership involves complex issues that need to be solved, with two different regulatory environments that shape the delivery of university certificates and diplomas and two different organizational structures. For GU it is the first joint degree they have signed with a foreign university. For us it might not be the first double or joint degree (we have five active double degrees with foreign universities), but it is definitely the first in-depth partnership with a US-based university! There was also a lot of interaction between Francis Vella, Laurent Bouton and Micael Castanheira regarding the design of the programme and the selection of faculty members. On our side, Professor Micael Castanheira, who has been a visiting researcher at New York University (NYU) for more than two years, will take on the academic directorship.

  • Why did they choose the SBS-EM?

I would say for three main reasons. Laurent Bouton was the initial link in the chain, as a professor at GU who is now back in Brussels with a full-time position at the ULB, SBS-EM. Then comes the fact that both institutions are research-based universities with excellent research output. This helps in building a relationship based on mutual respect. The third reason is geographical: we are both based in capital cities, with important policy-making institutions at local and international levels. Besides US government agencies, Washington DC is home to the United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank. Brussels has local institutions as well and hosts a large number of European institutions. In addition, the OECD (Paris), the ECB (Frankfurt) and the BEI (Luxembourg) are all less than two hours from Brussels and students will have the opportunity to fine-tune their skills while visiting these international agencies.

Awarded by both institutions

  • What exactlly is the nature of the joint degree?

Georgetown University will deliver a Master’s Degree in Political Economy, jointly with an Advanced Master’s certificate delivered by the SBS-EM. The joint degree in Political Economy will start in late August 2017. Participants will take classes for eight months in Brussels in the fall and spring terms and then four months in Washington DC in the summer term. Half the faculty members will come from GU and the other half from the SBS-EM. They will include field experts and policy makers from local and international policy institutions, research centres and think tanks. The degree will be jointly awarded by both institutions. I am happy for the ULB and our School, as the creation of such an alliance testifies to the quality of our economics degrees and research and will further enhance our reputation.


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