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GSD students visit Brussels for an enriching academic field trip


On 19th - 23rd June, as part of a strategic module development project funded by the Warwick Innovation Fund and the Warwick International Partnership Fund, GSD organised an academic field trip for students to Brussels. The trip focused on past, present and future global sustainable development challenges within the city.

About the new WIISP module

This project helped set the foundations for a new two-week Warwick International Intensive Study Programme (WIISP) residential module in Brussels. Hosted by GSD, this module aims to expand and diversify our offer of field-based teaching and learning.

This WIISP module, which will be launched in 2024, will be available to both Warwick students and students from Warwick’s international partners. The module can also be taken in combination with the Liberal Arts module IP315: A Sustainable Serenissima - which focuses on sustainable development in Venice.

Our students' role in developing the new GSD module

As part of the establishment of this new and experimental module, it was important that our students played a significant role in its creation, hence why during the field trip they tested a variety of educational activities and site visits.

Nine undergraduates were selected to participate in the trip (they received a bursary for attending); five of whom were from our GSD degrees and four from our partner degree Global Studies at UPF, Barcelona. The students were accompanied by Dr Marta Guerriero (project lead) and Prof Stephanie Panichelli-Batalla - our Head of School for Cross-faculty Studies. The final design of the module will be completed in the coming weeks following student-staff consultations.

Why is Brussels a good case study for global sustainable development?

Cities play a critical role when studying modern global sustainable development. Brussels in particular represents a complex sustainable development case study for students to analyse due to its rich diversity and multilingualism, multi-level and supranational governance, highly debated colonial legacies, as well as its unique environmental, social and economic challenges.


During the trip, students explored political, cultural, economic, social and environmental questions relevant to the city of Brussels. This was done through activities and workshops held at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)’s main campus, visits to institutions and museums, guest talks and student-led discussions.

Students were also able to meet with a number of local groups and high-profile academics and experts, including Virginijus Sinkevičius (European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries) and Gilles Vanden Burre (member of the Federal Parliament and ‘chef de groupe’ of the Ecolo/Groen Party). Among others, they also visited the Belgian Federal Parliament, the European Parliament, the House of European History and the Africa Museum.

How did students receive the trip?

The field trip received outstanding feedback from our students, with some of the comments concluding that it was “a wonderful experience”, “a pleasure and an honour”, and “an experience which helped me to shape my interests and vision”, and it provided proof of concept for the WIISP module and for its specific field-based model of teaching and learning, where students are directly confronted with problems and questions.

This field trip has also allowed the GSD department to establish a network of high-calibre colleagues in Brussels (from activists and practitioners to politicians and academics) who were happy to collaborate with us this year and are eager to be involved again in the future. Both field-based learning and the opportunity to learn from experts/practitioners (and their perspectives) fit incredibly well with the problem-based, student-led and transdisciplinary approach of our School.

The Department hopes to launch the Warwick International Intensive Study Programme (WIISP) module next year, so stay tuned for more information in the coming months!

A summary in photos (with many thanks to all our experts and speakers):

Gilles Vanden Burre (member of the Belgian Federal Parliament) invited us to the Federal Parliament and shared insights on his experience and work, highlighting the complexities of Brussels' (and Belgium's) governance.


Arnaud Pinxteren (Alderman of the Young Child, Citizen Participation and Urban Renewal, City of Brussels) took us for a tour of the neighbourhood of Les Marolles, explaining the city's integrated vision of sustainable development.

Virginijus Sinkevičius (European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries) offered an account of the European Commission's work and priorities in environment and biodiversity, as well as some reflections on achievements and challenges in his role. c2
We hosted a panel discussion on Europe and climate change, with Federico Barbuto (Policy Officer at the European Commission, Directorate-General for Budget), Francis Panichelli (Deputy President of Grands-Parents pour le Climat Belgium) and Sandrine Mairesse (member of Youth for Climate Belgium). The speakers offered an insightful and engaging discussion, and some thoughtful reflections on policymaking and activism. d3
Dr Igor Merheim-Eyre (Head of Office and Advisor to Miriam Lexmann MEP at the European Parliament) gave our students an opportunity to hear first-hand about the functioning of the European Parliament, as well as how current issues and debates are discussed at European level. e2
Francois Makanga (and the CIVA Foundation) took the students on a walking tour on the traces of colonisation in public spaces, centred on Matonge, where we learnt about the history of the place and the traces of colonisation (and resistance) in the neighbourhood. f1
We concluded our field trip with a guided visit of the Africa Museum, with Kristin De Paep, shedding light on Belgium's colonial history and its impacts, and the work that the museum is doing around this issue. g1
Although it was a field trip packed with visits and activities, there were also many opportunities for rest, fun and food! This is a shot from our dinner in Tervuren. dinner

Learn more about Warwick International Intensive Study Programme (WIISP) here.

Learn more about Warwick Innovation Fund (also students can apply!) here.