By: Mette Louise Berg, Departmental Lecturer, Anthropology of Migration
In the past academic year, I have been course director of Oxford’s 9-month interdisciplinary MSc degree in Migration Studies, offered jointly by COMPAS, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, and the International Migration Institute (IMI), part of the Oxford Department of International Development (ODID).
Who are the students?
Our students are a cosmopolitan group, not only in terms of their diverse origins – 12 different nationalities were represented among the 23 students this year – but also in terms of where they have lived, studied and worked before coming to Oxford. Many have migrant backgrounds themselves; their interest in migration issues is therefore not only an academic interest, but something that resonates with their personal experiences and history. The same diversity is reflected among the staff who teach them; I was born and grew up in Denmark, but have for the past 12 years lived and worked in the UK, including periods of fieldwork in Spain and Cuba. Many of my colleagues have likewise migrated to work in the UK.
What are their interests?
Given the diversity of students’ backgrounds, it is unsurprising that they bring different interests and approaches with them: from an interest in the fate of migrant brides in South Korea, to military migration between West Africa and Europe, and from the cultural construction and transnational implications of Danish marriage migration policy, to displacement and migration following natural disaster. Some focus on identity issues, e.g. for New York City’s Indo-Trinidadian migrants, others critically discuss legal issues, for example by questioning the legitimacy of US employer sanction laws, to mention a few of this year’s dissertation titles.
Some of our students choose dissertation topics based on recent events, for instance the Arab Spring and how it affected the European Union’s external migration policies. Others draw on their own previous work experiences, e.g. when exploring the role of frontline Filipino welfare bureaucrats and informal migration governance in Qatar.
Notwithstanding the already existing and rather impressive diversity of our students, we would like to attract more students from the global South in particular. We have a dedicated scholarship for students from developing countries, but our main challenge is to encourage more applications. We hope to be able to offer more targeted scholarships in the future to give more bright and talented young people who apply an opportunity to study in Oxford and to benefit from the resources available to our students here.
Beyond the benefits of an Oxford degree to individual students, and to their countries when they go back to work there, it would also be desirable if the student body reflected the different societies that are touched in different ways by international migration. In that spirit, we cover different perspectives on international migration in our teaching, including migrants’ own perspectives, the experiences and perspectives of those who stay behind when others leave, as well as the meso- and macro-perspectives of sending and receiving communities, societies and states.
An interdisciplinary approach
Most of the staff involved in teaching were trained in traditional disciplines, in my case social and cultural anthropology, for my colleagues sociology, politics, law, economics, international development, and geography. The degree is interdisciplinary and introduces students to migration from many different angles, so the students end up with insights and understanding that are the product of the combined knowledge those of us who teach the degree. Consequently, the questions our students ask and the approach they take to migration often challenge our ways of thinking in stimulating and productive ways. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy teaching on the degree so much: we, the staff, learn from our students even as we teach them. I think I can speak for the teaching team as a whole in saying that we have all been enriched in the process of planning and designing the degree, and the process continues in lectures, seminars, tutorials and supervision meetings.
What happens next?
Where do our students go after graduating? The degree is only about to enter its third year so it is difficult to say anything about long- or even medium-term career prospects, but so far our graduates have gone on to internships with IOM, UNHCR and other international organizations, NGO work e.g. for the International Red Cross, research assistant positions in Oxford and elsewhere, work for think tanks and governments, and of course doctoral studies.
An audio podcast is now available on the MSc Migration Studies ItunesU feed, featuring graduates from the 2011-12 cohort talking about their experiences on the degree. .