Rutger Claassen is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy and PPE Programme Director
"The way I see it, PPE is a fascinating combination of different scientific approaches. While our lecturers come from a variety of backgrounds, all of us believe that complex societal issues deserve a well-advised solution. Also, we feel that the best solutions can only be achieved by approaching the underlying problem through various lenses. In our programme, we focus on political and economic issues. And when trying to tackle these issues, we combine all the knowledge we have about philosophy, politics, economics and history.
Take the 2008 financial crisis. If you want to understand this problem and shape a solution, you first need to know how the economy actually works. Second, economic issues often have a strong political background, as political actors aim to make decisions that are economically feasible. Third, you need to research how economic crises develop – what can we learn from previous causes? History will help you find answers to this. Finally, philosophy, my own field of study, teaches us all about the values and principles we use to judge economic developments and issues, which makes you aware of the way you approach this issue. So you see how these four disciplines all have their own functions, and how they also reinforce each other when trying to solve this specific issue. There are still plenty of societal puzzles waiting to be pieced together by critical, highly analytical thinkers!"
The PPE programme wants to educate students who are vastly engaged with society. We expect our students to delve into the real-life challenges facing the globe, such as climate change and crises in democracy, and to do so independently. Teaching students how to tackle such complex issues requires me to get out of my comfort zone and to design a learning environment in which teachers and students inspire each other. I expect this will create a research community that provides all participants — including me — with an exciting variety of perspectives!
Ekaterina R. Rashkova is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and a PPE Programme Board Member
"In my view, to study political and economic institutions from a PPE perspective is fascinating, as it makes you deal with real world problems, from gender inequality and democratization to security, terrorist attacks, and the environment from many different, yet interconnected ways. In trying to understand pressing issues, political scientists aim to come up with an understanding of the real world, which would provide a fitting, short and long-term policy. Take for example the French elections. Both the presidential and the parliamentary races were won by the newly established political party En Marche. This and the election of Donald Trump and the UK’s decision to exit Europe illustrate that voters around the globe are demanding change. What this change entails and how it will develop are questions that political science tries to find answers to. It does that by investigating issues at a detailed level (for example, in a specific country) and by comparing them to similar or contrasting cases (for example, other countries). In this way, political scientists strive to predict which solutions will (and will not) be most suitable and effective under a certain set of circumstances in order to help governments to come up with solid policies.
As assistant professor in the PPE programme, I look forward to passing on my knowledge and inspiring students. You could say that my teaching is quite interactive: I like to ask my students many questions, start discussions about current world issues and create a setting for debate. One of the most important questions I always tell my students to focus on is why? I want to teach my students that it is not enough to have a strong opinion about how something works; you also have to be able to explain, or try to find out, why it is so. In my classes, I often organise role plays or simulation games (‘imagine you are the prime minister…’) and create scenarios based on real world cases to get my students to think about creative ways to respond to developments in today’s world.
By bringing together four fields of studies that contribute towards understanding the role of political and economic institutions, our PPE programme offers a true toolset for future policymakers – for people who want to make a difference in this world. That’s why we look for inspiring young people who are passionate about change. And they all have their own unique story, helping us to build a diverse community in which you not only expand your own horizons, but also broaden others’ horizons as well."
Gerarda Westerhuis is an Assistant Professor of Economic History and a PPE Programme Board Member
"In the PPE programme at Utrecht University, we address challenging global issues. We focus on economic and political institutions in the form of legislation, values and traditions. In my field of study – economic and political history – we study the past of these institutions. This is necessary to really understand current problems, as economic and political institutions are always historically embedded. Also, to develop successful policy, it’s crucial to understand what kinds of institutions are actually changeable and which ones are highly embedded and therefore more difficult to change. By researching how they have developed, we can then better assess if and how they can be part of the policy that is needed to address a given issue. For example, in attempting to come up with a meaningful solution to Europe’s current immigrant crisis, we need to know how the problem of migration has developed in the first place, how Europe has dealt with similar crises in the past, and which economic and political institutions were involved at that time.
As a PPE lecturer, I am very much looking forward to working with students who have a broad interest in societal challenges. In our programme we approach these challenges from multiple perspectives, which I think is vital to understanding the crux of an issue. Also, looking at a current problem through several different lenses makes researching it a real project, rather than just a topic we talk about in class. In my view, students can contribute to our interdisciplinary approach by sharing what they have experienced in their own environments. A variety of backgrounds often leads to different ideas, insights and solutions, so I think it is important to create a diverse community.
I like it when students participate during lectures and seminars but also try to get the most out of the programme outside the classroom. For these students, Utrecht’s PPE programme offers the perfect environment. During classes you actively delve into challenging questions with fellow students and we also offer extracurricular activities to deepen your knowledge and bridge theory and practice even more. Also, because we believe strongly in personal attention and guidance, we also assign students their own tutor. In short, studying PPE at Utrecht University means developing yourself in a myriad of ways!"
Julia Swart is an Assistant Professor of Economics and a PPE Programme Board Member
"How can we make optimum choices, given the constraints that we face? This issue is the key question of the Economics programme. I’m studying this question especially from an environmental perspective. For example, consider the excessive emission of greenhouse gases, which are known for their harmful effect on this planet. How can we continue to produce and consume while limiting this harmful effect? As an economist, I try to find an answer to this question by investigating several aspects of the problem. What, for example, are the economic variables (industrial output, agricultural output, international trade…) which affect the level of greenhouse gases emitted? After analysing the theories behind the economic variables linked to emissions, I use data analysis to measure the magnitude of their effects. Knowing all determinants of greenhouse gas emissions and their relative importance helps us to make a well-founded decision on the best way to reduce these emissions.
As a lecturer, I’m surrounded by talented students that have a very broad economic interest. They really want to broaden their horizon and connect their knowledge of economics with insights from other fields of studies. For this type of student, our PPE programme is perfect. You will not only learn about the four study tracks that we offer, but we will also teach you how to connect these strands.
I’m really looking forward to meeting students with wide interests; students that are conscious of today’s world and eager to engage with its most pressing problems. Together with these students, I aim to come up with workable solutions to global issues in order to improve the quality of life around the world.
Although I will definitely be there to help my students immerse themselves in complex cases, I will also encourage them to figure things out on their own. So, I will provide input and raise questions, but I will also be quiet sometimes and give them space to develop their own arguments. I have no doubt that they will surprise me. In fact, I think that teaching the minds of the future will always inspire me."