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Student consultancy programme PRINS of great value to employers

The university’s largest consultancy programme, International Studies’ PRINS, has been connecting international employers with humanities students for six years. Founder Sarita Koendjbiharie: ‘Students of International Studies offer the holistic view that complex social issues need.’

Bridging the gap between theory and practice

Every year, around 300 to 400 International Studies students advise large international companies and organisations during the Leiden University PRINS programme, an abbreviation that stands for ‘PRactising INternational Studies’. This extensive consultancy programme brings the humanities and business together and bridges the gap between theory and practice. Business expert and coordinator of PRINS, Sarita Koendjbiharie, researched the pattern of skills and knowledge used by the organisations during the consultancy project. The findings of her research have recently been published in the academic journal Industry & Higher Education.

'One of the problems we experience is that a logical solution from a business perspective is not always the best solution if you take into account important other factors, which can also have a huge impact on a project, such as cultural traditions and political sensitivities. This is why we opted for the PRINS programme as opposed to advice from business or management schools'. - Adviser of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - Testimonial 2018

Solutions to 'wicked problems'

Koendjbiharie: 'What my research shows is that the organisations and companies PRINS works with appreciate the holistic approach of International Studies students. PRINS approaches complex and difficult to solve problems, so-called 'wicked problems', from an economic, political, cultural and historical perspective. Think of problems such as climate change, food security and anti-corruption.

'These are all issues that cannot be solved unilaterally but need to be looked at from different angles in order to come to the most valuable approach. Students build theoretical frameworks from multiple disciplines and can therefore give very targeted, context-specific recommendations for regions and countries. And that is precisely the strength of International Studies students. In my experience, this holistic view distinguishes them from consultancy projects from monodisciplinary studies such as Business Studies.’

A unique approach

So far, 36 organisations have worked with PRINS, including the World Food Programme, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Google, Starbucks and UNESCO. Koendjbiharie attributes this success both to the added value that organisations have experienced thanks to the holistic approach, cultural-historical awareness and cultural competence of the students, and to the increase in globalization and more complex issues.

'International studies and humanities students look at things from a more holistic perspective. Given that we at Commonland look beyond the financial returns of landscape restoration to include the return of natural capital, social capital and inspiration, this is a unique and important perspective to take into account.' - Science & Education Officer at Commonland - Testimonial 2018

Research into regions

Koendjbiharie gives an example of a case: 'For Starbucks, we did a project on waste management. The company wanted to expand into the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and North Africa) and in order to ensure these countries would not be saddled with a waste problem by their arrival, they asked for advice on how best to set up coffee cup recycling using the local infrastructure, laws, regulations and social standards surrounding recycling.

Sarita Koendjbiharie

Students then did 3 to 4 months of in-depth research into the specific region, in which they could apply theories from their courses. They analysed the local context and could this way, for example, include the informal economy of waste pickers in the solution and also recommend Starbucks 'glocalisation' in their stores: so that Starbuck could include local traditions in their marketing, such as the traditional Jordanian coffee rituals that have their roots in Bedouin history.

This way, the students give policy advice that takes into account the connections between certain factors: how can a global problem be solved at a local level by being aware of context-specific circumstances and the effect on the local population and society? This is what’s unique about the profile of International Studies.’

About International Studies

International Studies is a three-year bachelor's programme at Leiden University. International Studies students specialise in one of eight world regions, studying its politics, economics, history, culture and a local language. In three years they develop the ability to look at regional problems from a global perspective, in order to play a role in an increasingly globalised and connected world.

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