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From cyber to Syria: the many aspects of security

During the final session of the PRE-University Class Security Challenges in the 21st Century, students showcased their thorough analysis of contemporary safety and security challenges. The results were impressive, according to both the teachers and the assessors: ‘You almost forget that they’re high school students.’

As students trickle into the Wijnhaven campus on a sunny spring day, one immediately notices something is different. They are not arriving alone but are accompanied by proud parents and grandparents. The students’ relatives are here for the final presentations of the PRE-Class ‘Security Challenges in the 21st Century’ and have come to see what the students have been working on.  

Sneak preview

Over the past two months, students have been equipped with the necessary tools to analyse today's myriad of security challenges. Course coordinator Maaike Beemsterboer says that the class was meant as crash course on the many aspects of Security Studies. The class also aimed to familiarize students with the broader experience of university life. 

‘The idea was really to give them a sneak preview for everything that we do here. We drew inspiration from the many different courses that our Security Studies Bachelor offers. That way, the students had different lecturers with different areas of expertise, highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of this class and the programme.’

But Beemsterboer emphasizes that the class extends beyond an introduction to the bachelor's programme. ‘We also want to give these young students, who follow the news and receive all this information about the world, the tools to properly analyse this information. That way, they will be able to do more than just read headlines. They will be able to properly process information streams and think about them in a structured way.’ 

University life

For the group of students, a diverse set of people with Dutch and other nationalities, it is not just a first encounter with Security Studies, but also with the university in general. Valtr Troy Mandemaker, next year’s course coordinator, says this is an important consideration when designing the course. ‘We give the students weekly readings to prepare for classes, just like in university. The students get a taste of what it takes to come to class prepared to engage in discussions. 

For the final assignment, students are granted considerable autonomy, mirroring a typical university-level challenge. They formulate policy advice for a chosen contemporary security challenge, using the analytical tools that they were taught during class. They can choose from a wide range of topics, ranging from the reconstruction of post-war Ukraine to the managing of public fear surrounding the 2023 release of wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and are encouraged to explore interdisciplinary thinking to address their chosen policy problem.  

Mandemaker enjoys the fact that different students pick different topics: ‘It’s fun to see that they actually use this liberty. This shows that everyone takes away different aspects from the class.'

The adults in the room

The students are enthusiastic about their introduction to university-life. One student says: ‘The course really flew by, but it was a lovely experience.’ Others testify that they liked the small-scale education and the introduction to an ‘academic’ experience. Lastly, students agree that they have learned about more than just Security Studies. ‘The structural way of thinking and processing information is useful in any field and can be applied to life outside the classroom just as easily.’ 

Their final presentations are lauded by the assessors as well. ‘It is amazing how they have become so capable in such a short time. They approach exercises in similar ways as our Bachelor’s students, after just a few weeks.’ Assessor Daan Weggemans says: ‘The students come across as very mature. So mature even, that when you want to do an extra-curricular activity and talk to them, you need to remind yourself that they are not even adults, which is really fascinating' 

Text: Stan De Feyter
Photography: Buro JP

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