Saturday, July 11, 2015

Overall -Economics of Public Policy and Management

With my well known good organizational skills and in the best of Italian traditions, I end up writing the blog that I was postponing for months on the plane which brings me back to Rome, after one year in the Netherlands. But this context, with the landscapes passing below the plane which brings me home, may suit particularly well to an overall reflection on the master that just concluded.

Overall, I really think that Utrecht and Utrecht University gave me  lot, and I should thank both for that. For sure –and to be a less more poetic and a bit more practical-, USE gave me far more than what I paid as a tuition fee. 1.900 euros for all I have received during this year, all the attention, the small courses, the events, initiatives, opportunities, infrastructures, contacts and services was indeed a very small price. Just to give a comparison: the Italian partner of USE in Italy is LUISS University in Rome, whose masters cost around 15.000 euros per year, if I remember well. Utrecht University has the same level of service, but a price more than 7 times lower. I took advantages of these services and of this price, so thank you to Utrecht University and thank you to the Dutch state for that.

But even if we study economics, we can talk about different things than money.
One of this is people. The people I met during my courses, the friends I spent my evenings with, the faltmates, the colleagues and friends from the internship, the professors, the friends from the library, the friends from parties, the old friends who came to visit me, the PhD students who inspires you and the supervisors who support you, and Laura who involved me in writing these blogs, which will be a nice souvenir of my year. All a crowd of people, professionals and friends, who  populated these months in the country of low landsacpes, making my master a rich, intense, multifaced and collective human experience. So I thank them all, thank you my new friends that I hope to maintain across the years, thank you professors who guided my first steps in the magic realm of public economics.

Besides people, there are objects. Like the bikes: one of the absolute protagonists of the life in the Netherlands, loyal support of students in work and fun. And I would say that this year has litterally passed at the joyfull rythm of cycling, which brings you from Utrecht Overvecht, to Neude, to the Campus, and back. And one of my best souvenirs of the year are indeed the evening in which with our group of friends, in a storm of bicycles, joyfull after a few beers (but remember that it is forbidden to bike then), we moved in the Dutch nights from someone’s place to a bar, or to another bar, sometimes even singing. Another object is my student number and password, that I typed again and again every day, up to the point that I think it will graved in my memory untill the end, so that when I will look my grand children paying I will istinctively murmour among myself “4249968…”. And the light Dutch beers at 2,5 euros per small glass. And Albert  Hein with their blu signs and terrifying absolute-monopole prices. The library in Drift, and Jankerskof, and the brootje Carlo. And the laptop, which accompanies you during all the long nights working on papers. And the rain, that swift constant companion of us all in the Netherlands, always present with its wet caresses remembering you that the you are still doing your master and that Rome is far.

Was it usefull this master as to my formation in Public Economics?
Indeed. I can’t know if it missed teaching me something that I should know, but I know that almost all I know is what it did taught. My only suggestion, as to my specific master programme, is to  add maybe a course in finance, since I think that economists working for the government should have a sufficient knowledge of the finance sector, if anything to be able to regulate it.

Would I suggest my master programme to a student fresh from his/her bachelor and maybe coming from abroad? If you don’t desperately need the sun as a source of joy and life, and if you feel ready to live among people whose average height is not far from 190 cm, yes. And of course, if you are interested in Empirical Economics, since it remains one of the main focus of USE as to my impression, and I think this is reasonable and fair.  Overall, I think you should really give Utrecht a try. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

A fluid opalescent mosaic –The studying life of an international master student

I see, the intervals between my blogs exponentially increase, like the vertical distance between the points of a heteroskedastic distribution as x grows. Maybe each time I need more effort to summarize experiences from a longer period! But let’s focus on the topic of today. The second period is already over, and we are already deep into the third block, composed by the two optional courses. Therefore I now have an image quite clear of how weeks tend to look like for a master student of the Utrecht School of Economics, since my impressions begin to be statistically significant.

First, let’s talk about the attendance required from a master student at USE. Both for the master in “Economics of Public Policy and Management” and the four tracks for “International Economics and Business”, students have typically two courses per block; each course requires two meeting of two/three hours per week, usually organized as one lecture and one tutorial. The attendance required is therefore not much: students officially have to stay at USE only 8/10 hours per week, and they will have to go to the campus for a maximum of four days per week, which can be even three or two if they are lucky on how the courses are organized. Nevertheless, attendance is only a small part of the effort required: apart from studying, each course typically requires a group paper, and usually there are also weekly assignments to prepare, while more than one course needs tutorials to be prepared by groups of students. As a consequence, in the end the week of a master student becomes a composition of floating meetings and appointments that tend to concentrate and to amass around the four blocks of required presence at USE. I will speak mostly about international students, because Dutch students have already lives and works started in Utrecht and tend to follow different dynamics (just to give an idea: in our master we are about 5 international students over around 20 students –numbers change at each course- the same proportion holding more or less also for the tracks of International Business).

Typically, courses start at 11 am, apart from Econometrics in the first block that begins at 9 to fully exploit the morning. 11 is a time which divides the morning, and it is even too easy to simply use it to sleep longer so that the morning is basically lost. But don’t worry, each lecture or tutorials usually requires some readings (manual chapters, or additional articles), so very rarely everything is done with such advance that we don’t need that couple of hours before the course to finish reading or preparing some material. After the course, you’ll have lunch with your master’s friends in the Adam Smith Hall (this big hall in the main USE’s building, where it is possible to eat, talk and work, and where such a big part of our days is spent), by buying something in the (not so expensive) cantine or bringing something (pasta!) from home. Since we are already there, we then stay in Adam Smith to meet with the project group in order to organize or do the work. After a couple of hours, the groups typically dismiss, but several of us usually remain to work or study in Adam Smith Hall. These are nice hours, because you can remain working with your friends, talking and having breaks together, while all the life of USE goes on around you, because the Hall is the very core of Adam Smith building, and while you work master students of all tracks, professors, staff members, hosts, phd and young researchers are passing by. Every body is more or less busy, more or less accompanied, and groups compose and decompose while you cross all the time people you know and talk with or just say hello.

The afternoon is often interrupted by feed-back meetings with your professors or with the phd students who supervise your group work, or by the events organized by USE –for instance every second Thursday the USE academy organizes interesting two-hours conferences with guests involved in different fields, to which all master students are invited. Once in a while also some special events or career-days take place, while some courses organize field trips or special conferences. 

Before and after these meetings, studying in the Adam Smith Hall remains the base activity for more or less each day. And it is a nice component of our life at USE. Also because around 6-7 in the evening, the hall starts to get empty: the members of the staff has left, Dutch students are gone back to their friends and families, and while only a few professors still pass by, you typically find yourself with other 10-12 international students –probably always the same- who keep working together ad laughing more and more as the fatigue is going on. These last hours at Adam Smith are typically the best, because in the silence of the building you feel free with your friends, and the fatigue intertwines laughs and jokes about the passed day. Sometimes, if you have to stay longer because the exams or some dead-lines are close, you see lights shutting down around you. It means it’s 10 pm and you’re better to hurry up not to be closed into the building. I think that all master students have experienced it at least once.

The following day you probably have another course, and the same is going to happen –only the group project you work with is maybe different. And if we don’t have courses, we typically go in groups of 4-5 people to study to the city centre library (a very big and impressive library indeed, but not always evident to find free seats), where we can again have lunch and breaks together. Again, we tend to stay there until around 8, after what we sometimes have a beer or dinner together, or you can simply stops on the way home to say “hi” or scrounge a dinner to someone of your friends who live on the way home. The library is often the destination of both Saturday and Sunday, even if typically nobody starts before 10, except in the exam periods… when of course everything is more compressed and the nights as well can become interesting adventures!
What we also hope is that with the spring it will be possible to organize some studying groups to the park.

But do we always work that much? How much work is actually required by a master student?
It depends. The work load is relevant, but in general allows a high degree of flexibility. For instance, the greatest part of Dutch students perform paid work besides the studies, or volunteers in several political groups or student associations.  Also if several international students do work or volunteering, typically who comes from abroad to follow a master program tends to be more focused on the master program. This is true also because who has always lived in a place tends to have more commitments and connections: several Dutch students are part of sportive groups, or play in music bands, or have other weekly appointments. We, the “internationals”, tend to study more also because we basically don’t have much else to do: it is dark soon, it is very cold and often rains, and if I think to the winter months which just passed, I remember that being all together working and talking in Adam Smith was often much more attractive, warm and fun than wondering around. Once here, it is simply natural to remain working together until the very end of the day, and the personal relationships which build around that are maybe the best aspect of my year so far. But also several of us perform different activities besides the master: I know that someone found small jobs, some other signed up to the gym or to other sporting groups, some are in the board of student associations. I personally attended a Dutch course organized at an exceptional price by ING (International Neighbourhood Group) -from which I was not in the end learning much because (my fault!) I was not doing enough homework; and I was also bringing some work of translation and research from Italy, that I try to fit whenever I can.
In conclusion, the master requires a considerable effort, which if afforded exclusively allows having on average higher results, but it can also be placed side by side with other activities, by being fairly tranquil about not failing the exams.

This is more or less the kind of life I am conducting here with my friends and “colleagues”, as to the studying. On the whole, I would describe it as dynamic and varied, but especially collective: for one reason or another, we tend to stay more or less all together, and to share a lot. This is maybe the best part of studying here, besides the organization and the contents of courses, and it’s true even without considering the social life and the “night life” in particular, which would deserve a blog on its own, and maybe a more resilient night-liver than me.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

First period -overview

After 48 days, I have maybe recovered enough to reflect about the first period, which finished on the 2nd of November. I think it can be useful to know how first courses looked like.

The first period was composed by two courses, Public Economics and Empirical Economics. As my predecessor blogger Martijn said, these courses are meant as the basis on which the following courses are going to construct. They were indeed very important courses, and very different.

Public Economics was deepening in detail the most important cases of market failures (public goods, externalities, asymmetric information, etc.), considering the effects of possible policies. We had two meetings per week: a lecture and a tutorial. They were both held only for the around 20 students of our master. During the lecture, professor Groot was explaining the main arguments of the course, connecting them with contemporaneous debates. Every week we were furnished several articles meant to problematize and expand the subjects from the book, while the professor was always pointing out the concrete aspects of the theory, putting the theoretical arguments in touch with actual problems of the international scene. Especially interesting was the lecture on inequality, where through the web site of the “Global rich list” we where shown in which highest percentage of the world income distribution we were most likely going to be. With a net income of 25.000 euros per year, you would result in the top 1.5 % of world incomes.

A part from the connection with the real world, I find interesting the theory of Public economics in itself. I was always impressed by how economic science allows to deal with sociological and psychological aspects of people’s behaviours in a mathematical and analytical manner. You deal with graphs and formulas, which apparently look arid, but what actually shape them are potential desires, fears, opinions, fatigues and pleasures of people. All the “life lymph” which makes people work, choose whether to affront risk, save or spend, privilege the rich or the poor, keeps dancing in front of you in a ballet of lines and axes, while even the most chaotic aspects of life can show in these limpid formulas where by listening carefully you can still hear pulsing passions and fears. This is the most fun I personally find in Public Economics.

In the tutorial we were instead preparing the exercises for the exam. Tutorials were prepared by students, and every week three or four of us were explaining the exercises related to the book chapters. This made the course quite participated.

On the other hand, Empirical Economics was essentially a course of Econometrics, which was teaching us a medium level knowledge of the econometric theory and of regressions techniques. The course was really important, since it furnishes the main empirical instruments to actually work with economics; and it is the main “technique”, the most important “know how” furnished by the master. This is personally the course on which I was pointing the most in order to find a place in the labour market afterwards.

Nevertheless, it was indeed a very difficult course. Again it was structured in two meeting per week (lecture and tutorial) but for this course students of all masters in economics were together. So in lectures we were around 100 students, in a big hall (the auditorium), while for tutorials we were splitting in smaller groups of around 25 students.

 After the first two lectures which were resuming the basic knowledge of statistics and econometrics (the content of the summer-course), we started with time series, panel data and instrumental variables. At the same time, for each tutorial we had to prepare several exercises, mainly through the use of the software STATA (to learn its use was one of the most important acquirements from the course).

Relating to the course of Empirical Economics, I would like two add two things. On one hand, as I said, it was extremely important. On the other, it was difficult: and it was difficult because the subject itself is complicated, but also because the course was not leading us by hand. The pre-required level of knowledge of the subject was important, and while Dutch students were in general taking the basis course at the bachelors, most part of international students had troubles. So I would say: don’t take this as an argument against choosing the master: the course will in the end make you know econometrics, which is really important. But it won’t be easy. So prepare to acquire most part of the knowledge by self-study: the chapters of the book will help you to understand (the book is indeed very clear and provides several examples), the slides will tell you what’s the essential material you need to know, and once you have read book and slides you can follow the lectures which will make you practice with the subject. So through this triad (book slides lectures) you can expect to pass the exam (and I had indeed a final good grade). But don’t try to change the order of the three, i.e. don’t expect to understand the lectures without reading book and slides, or to understand the slides without reading the book.

In the end, to be true, I found very interesting and fascinating also the course of Empirical Economics. I personally like this abstract thinking, and enjoy how in your imagination all these theoretical forces and cross effects combine giving shape to an intellectual space. If I can give you one hint which cost me several weeks of study and reflection, just remember this: the problem you will face in empirical economics, is basically almost always the same: you have to avoid that the error term is connected at the same time with the dependent variable and with some explanatory variables, because it will give a biased estimator. This can take several names: omitted variables, unit root, autocorrelation… but the phenomenon which causes problem is at the end always this. You maybe now don’t understand my words, but trust me, young Skywalker, they may turn to be useful.

Up to now, I would say that I am really satisfied with the master. It is interesting,  rich in insights, and in general we are followed quite well and almost with a one-to-one attention. Only for one course over four it wasn’t so (Empirical Economics -about the two courses of present period I will write later).  Professors know us very well and it’s perfectly normal to call us by name, in a familiar atmosphere work built on daily basis in a group of less than 20 students. This is totally different from what I was experiencing in Italy. At the same time, the work required is affordable but important, which in the end will make the master useful. And I would like to remind that I am not writing in the interest of USE, I simply express my true impressions as a master student.

With this, I wish you all a nice holiday and Christmas and friends! No matter if you may read in June or August -you always have a Christmas in front of you…

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Mission Impossible: Room in Utrecht

Next week is the week of the exams, and I would like to write my last blog before diving in the study.  Since last time I was writing about a subject relating to our studying here, today I would like to discuss about a feature of our life in Utrecht. Something basic: the HOUSING.

Maybe while you are planning to study for your master in Utrecht you imagine yourself sleeping somewhere, and you think of your future room as to one of the details that you’ll set up while organizing your trip in the few weeks before your departure or even once you are arrived. You should not. Finding a room in Utrecht is not a normal housing procedure: it’s a savage hunting in which only the most determined and resilient finally succeed. I will try to illustrate the question according to my personal experience and the ones of my friends in a few (I hope) useful points.

1) The price.
Utrecht is a city of 330.000 inhabitants with more than 60.000 students, and you need not to be an economist in order to understand that prices are going to float high. The lowest prices I’ve had news from real people, talking to me not being ghosts nor fairy dreams, are around 300 euros per month, and they are really few exceptions. The utmost limit is more hardly identifiable, but I know numerous students that pay around 600 per month and even more. I personally pay 430, and I would say that I am not far from the mean. So, to be true, these are probably the prices that you should expect. I know that Dutch students often pay less, but they have the advantage of living on place, and they can subscribe to some mysterious students’ associations with an year of advance, paying very low rents and living with only other Dutch students. But even if you have the chance to be in these waiting lists and to live in such apartments, if you are an international student I would not suggest you to do so (see point 10).

2) When to start looking for a room.
It is a hard question: if you start looking in March probably the room are not available yet, in July and August everybody is on holiday and they won’t answer to your e-mails, while in September it is too late and games are done. I would suggest to start looking as soon as possible, but not because any period is better than others: simply because by looking for a longer period you maximize your chances, and luck is indeed the most important element in your quest. I personally started looking for a room in May, and was not able to find one before the end of August. I would suggest in any case to arrive in Utrecht at least one week before the start of your courses, if you still have not a room (I kept looking for a room during the summer-school).

3) Short Stay Housing: SSH
The Short Stay is at first sight the easiest chance to get a room, since Utrecht University recommends it to you. Moving on time, it is actually easy to find a room with SSH, if you are ready to pay those prices. And while you pay 600 euros for your apartment, you should also remember that the Dutch student besides you, who booked one year in advance, is paying 200 euros less every month for the same house, because he/she received his/her apartment “unfurnished”. But of course, you literally live on campus, so if you can pay for it that can worth the price.

4) Kamernet.
The first option that internet suggests you in order to look for rooms is Kamernet. Whether Kamernet is a valuable instrument to look for rooms, it is hard to say. Personally, I had an account for two weeks, and I was sending around 30 e-mails without receiving one answer. But I heard from some people that they were sending 180 e-mails and received around 15 answers, so it must be a matter of proportions. But you should not rely too much on this website: you see a lot of attractive announcements but the problem is that people don’t remove their announcements even if they found someone, so the site is full of ghost announcements that continuously renovate themselves. Furthermore, the quest is so savage that landlords (I was talking with some of them) receive hundreds of messages and they only reply to people they like (see point 9). No matter if you decide whether to open or not an account on Kamernet, the only thing I want you to be aware is that after two weeks the account will renovate automatically, and you will be charged the fee without being asked: to avoid it you have to de-select the option somewhere in the settings of your account (I was advised like I’m now advising you).

5) So, where should I look?
I would say that the best resources are the free open groups: on facebook you can find a lot of them. In the summer 2014 I subscribed to the following groups: “I know a place…Utrecht”, “Find a room(mate) or house in Utrecht”, “Rooms/kamer/zimm in Utrecht”, “Housing Utrecht”, “Utrecht free adds”, “Utrecht international students”. Maybe when you will look for a room they won’t exist anymore, but for sure some others will be there. Just type “room” and “Utrecht” on facebook and you will find something. The self-organisation of students is always the best resource –and it was on one of these groups that I found a room for the period of the Summer-school. The problem of these groups is that you find a lot of announcements of people looking for rooms, and a few rooms offered –assaulted by crowds of comments and likes. But you should not be discouraged, and by following point 9 you can maximize your chances. There is also a very useful free group on google ( and it is actually there that I found the room where I am in this very moment.

6) How far should I look?
If you watch on googlemaps distances look quite bigger than they are, also because you have to assume that you will move by bike (and on the other hand times that googlemaps gives for bikes are quite trustable). I live in Tuindorp - Oost, in a street that looks quite far from the center and from the campus by the map, but indeed it takes me from 8 to 12 minutes to get to both, depending on my delay. You should imagine yourself biking in the morning under the rain to get to classes: I would say that 12 minutes is still an acceptable time –less would be better, I would maybe not recommend much more. If you live in Lombok, for instance, it can take from 15 to 20 minutes to get to the campus; but on the other hand you live closer to the center. It is a matter of choice. All I suggest is: don’t get scared by the map of the city when you look for a room –only check the distances in biking time on google.

7) To Zeist or not to Zeist.
If you choose to live in Zeist (a small city not far from Utrecht and not very very far from the Uithof) you can maybe find prices slightly lower than in Utrecht. Still, I strongly suggest you not to live there. It will take you at least 30 minutes by bike every morning to get to the campus, and 30 going back (the center is further). And most of the time it will be raining. You can take a bus, but busses are expensive –so your small advantage of price fades away. Furthermore you would maybe like to go out in the evening once in a while: you will have to bike in the dark, or to keep a constant look at the last bus in order to go back. And all your friends will propose you every times to sleep to their places, but you will never accept because the following morning you have to study. This is what happens with my friends who live in Zeist.

8) The market of personalities.
In Utrecht, competition for rooms is so high that landlords (or more often actual tenants) can afford themselves the luxury to select prospective tenants according to their personalities and their characters. So if you ask for a room, you will probably be invited for an individual meeting or for a “borrel” (a collective social meeting) where the actual tenants of the house choose from the aspiring flat-mates the ones they prefer to live with. This is something not even possible to imagine in other cities, for instance Rome, where there is a more balanced equilibrium between demand and supply and landlords are already happy enough if they can find a tenant that takes their rooms at the market price. But in Utrecht the situation is different, so you should prepare your smile and your better jokes and try to be the lucky one among the other room-hunters. But this is also an occasion to check if you actually like the room, and it is indeed always better to verify in person the apartment before paying the deposit and signing the contract. I was going to take a room in Lombok which seemed very nice from pictures, but once I saw the place I really could not fall in love with the house, even with all my experience of tent-sleeping and back-pack voyaging. On the other hand, when I was invited to meet my actual flatmates in an individual meeting, I really liked the house (which had the same price) and I really liked them (so these meeting are a good occasion for you as well to choose your future friends). They were meeting 13 students to find a flatmate, and apparently this was the first exam that I passed in Utrecht (and I hope not the last one). But I confess that I played dirty: by pushing on the Italian stereotype I claimed that I know how to make pizza and so defeated all the other competitors. And my claim is actually true, but I have had no occasion to demonstrate it so far. When it will happen, I’ll let you know.

9) Introduce yourself.
The problem is that if you are looking for rooms when you are in your home country you cannot even participate in such interviews or “borrels”. So what you should at least do is to write a very detailed and convincing presentation of yourself, to add in the mails you send on your posts on facebook, together with some nice pictures of yourself. This is always because of the fierce competition around the few available rooms, so you have to convince your future landlords or flat-mates. You don’t need to do anything more than being honest: describe yourself, your philosophy and interests, what you would like from a room or from your flat-mates. It is really worth spending some time on it, I was sending tonnes of standard and neutral e-mails asking for rooms (used as I was to roman standards), and I only started to receive answers when I added pictures and detailed “nice” presentations.

10) The company.
You will probably experience a long and severe winter during your master in Utrecht, so your flat-mates are presumably the people you are going to meet the most, together with your master fellows –you will probably spend time with them all the evenings that you don’t feel like struggling with the wind and the rain in order to meet someone else. So I would say that they are one of the main variables in your quest. I actually chose my present room mainly for my flat-mates (I send them a hug if they are reading! –Chay should still clean the kitchen) and I’m really happy on that side. We are three, around the same age, one English guy, one Dutch, and a spaghetti-eater (me). One thing I would suggest: Dutch students are generally really foreign friendly, but still I would not live in a flat where you are the only foreigner with other 9 Dutch students, especially if they are particularly young. I experienced that during the summer-course, and it was not easy at all to integrate. Furthermore, I had stories from two different people who were asked to leave the dining rooms because some exclusive parties were held at which they were not invited (Dutch students can have mysterious fraternities that tend to have these kinds of approaches –something incomprehensible to my mentality).

I hope that these points will be somehow useful to you and I now definitely need to go studying!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Group Project

We are in the middle of the first period (two courses for each period, every period of around two months, for the Master in Economics of Public Policy and management and the tracks of International Economics and Business) and I would like to describe some of our work as master students. In particular, let's give a snapshot on our group project.

This is a project correlated -at least for EPPM students- with both courses of period 1 (Empirical Economics and Public Economics) and will end up in a paper to be evaluated, under different perspectives, in each of the two courses.

The interest of the project paper relies to the fact that it's a first occasion to experiment directly what it means to conduct a research in the field of Economics. On this regard, we were left as students with a high level of autonomy: once assigned the groups, any of them received only a general indication about its topic; the regard on which this was to be investigated and the direction we were to give to our research, was up to us.

In particular, my group (and I would like to mention the other three glorious components: Charlotte, Agniezska and Thomas), was assigned to update the work conducted by Goodin in 1999 and published in the book “The real worlds of welfare capitalism”. There Goodin was comparing, under numerous regards, the welfare states's performances of US, Netherlands and Germany from 1984 till 1994. Our initial task was to calculate the same indexes for the German welfare state during the following 15 years, to find out how the performances of its welfare system had been changing over time.

This would have been indeed an original and interesting result in itself. Problem was that, unfortunately, the aim of the research appeared to be too vast, while the data sets for the work (whose finding is in itself a considerable part of the research) revealed to be huge and not easy to find.

As a group, we then decided to focus on a particular aspect of the comparison conducted by Goodin: the category of autonomy, which relies on the extent welfare states are able to allow their citizens a freedom of choice in allocating time between work and leisure. It appeared that Goodin himself, in further works, was developing this category in the notion of post-productivism, an ideal conception of  the welfare state on which our professor of Public Economics, Groot Loek, has been working for a considerable time. Thanks to Loek we discovered that post-productivism is it-self related to the notion of decommodification, developed by Andersen.

By studying the scientific literature related to the two concepts (and the library of Utrecht University Library gives you access to a huge amount of online papers) we found out that it was all somehow relying over a non-seen, implicit, fundamental basic assumption. There we found our research question, and the sense of our work: we are going to verify this assumption, thanks to the empirical datas on OECD welfare states.

So, once done the theoretical definition of the research, we started with the empirical part: find out the datas, think of the variables we would need, look for as many as possible control variables traditionally associated with our questions... And then? We are still on that. But next step will be to actually run the regression, deal with eventual problems and finally discuss the results.

Anyway, the point in all this description is that from a given starting point, we had to look, think, analyze and reflect by ourselves. We were only given a general track, and deepening it we arrived somewhere else, and from there somewhere else, until we found a specific restrained field in which our work could have a little meaning in itself. And apparently, scientific research is told most of the time to be something like that. For us as students this is extremely useful, both to learn how to apply what we were learning during courses (and -especially for econometrics- it is indeed not easy to apply something already hard to understand), and to find out wether the work of research (in some of its various levels) should be fitting for us. To me, it looks really interesting, but I still don't know wether we will finally produce a good paper or not.

By the way we are not alone: our professor of Public Economics and our tutor of Empirical Economics are guiding and helping us, mainly giving returns and suggestions about the work or the hypothesis we are presenting them. We had our feedback meeting yesterday, and apparently, with some corrections, we can go on... so let's see if regressing the regressable will bring us something not to regret. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Explosion Utrecht

Hello everybody!

Apparently I have the chance to write here, which is really nice. Should I first introduce myself? Let's say that I am one of the master students of the UU School of Economics, and that I'm coming from abroad, let's say from the south... for instance Italy -and that would be enough about me for the moment.

The first thing I would like to write about, before the courses, before the projects, before the general life at the UU, it's the literal EXPLOSION that was starting the academic year in Utrecht. I think it's something that prospective students may be interested about, and on which my fellow students can probably agree with me... let's tell it from my point of view. You maybe arrive in Utrecht in August to follow the Summercourse of Econometrics (if you, like me, are coming from a field different from Economics): then you find a nice city, not very crowded, and somehow a little asleep. You have difficult lectures in the morning, difficult tutorials in the afternoon, and some relaxed rhythms to start to know your course-mates which are also some of your future master-mates; you also can enjoy this quite city to arrange some practical matters, for instance finding a room (which would need an entire book, not a blog!!) or -most important!- buying a bicycle.

Then, something happens: September comes. And with it, arrives something which has a very menacing name: the “Introduction week”. You will discover that your life is going to change, especially if you are a foreign student. Seriously. And I'm not a first year experience student -let's say that I already have a master, already was studying abroad, and not to say that I'm “a lot” years old let's say that I have a loooong experience as a student. Still, I was struck! 

You start with the “International Meet&Greet” on Monday, organized to welcome the international students from all the UU bachelor and master programs, and you should imagine a scene like that: the hall of a university building with something like 200 students coming from all over the world all stuck together between the entrance and some tables with tea and coffee. And you can hardly move between the tall short (finally not tall!) blond brown (finally not blond!) crowd of young people, chatting with the most various accents, and you are probably stressed to take as many contacts and phone numbers as you can because you fear that you won't see those people again. But the following day you are already all together at the Introduction day, into the really wonderful Education Building: there you'll receive a lot of gadgets by your new university, and finally attend an interesting lecture about Dutch culture. 

Then, on Wednesday, you have the introduction for the master students of the School of Economics, at the Auditorium of the International Campus; and now the crowd which surrounds you is a little more quiet, because finally your are in touch with them: the Dutch students! In the afternoon you will probably talk better with some of them because you'll remain just with your master fellows. From that point I would say that your year is starting, and that an academic routine of lectures and tutorials is taking place (if you except the AMAZING Introduction day organized by ESN on Saturday, again with all the international students, and for those who took part in it the ESN Introduction week).

But when I'm talking about explosion I not only refer to the introduction week in itself... all the city is changed: now it is really FULL of students (maybe the average age of the city is 35?), and they are -we are- everywhere. And there are maybe ten or more facebook groups where people are continuously organizing activities of any kind where participants only want to know each other. And how not mention the students organizations: so the tuesday evening at the Club Poema organized by ESN, the wednesday evening at the “Social get together” by the ING board, just to prepare for the weekend... and the Dutch course organized by ING as well! In short, one would think that it's possible to spend the whole year just in these interesting social activities, where people are there only to make new friends and have a nice time. But apparently, we are here mainly to study, so I now definitively need to say you bye! (I hope only for the moment).

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Januari is over

January is a depressing month. The month that shows you that all your New Year's resolutions are intentions rather than actual plans. It is also the month of exams for Block 2. Although I planned to start working on papers and exams early, I found myself finishing them at 6 AM. Both EPPM-courses in Block 2 were graded by the combination of an exam and a paper. My background in political science has taught me a lot about writing papers, so these were more satisfying for me. My exams went alright, but they only test the general knowledge I got out of the book, while I prefer to research a specific topic in-depth. That was possible in the papers. We were lucky that the word limits turned out to be more suggestions than actual limits, since political scientists tend to use a lot of words to explain their arguments.

The second block builds on the first. After we learned the basics in block one, both on Public Economcics as on Statistics, the courses in Block 2 (Public Risk Management and Policy Competition in an International World) use these basics to discuss current issues on social security. How do pension or health care systems work? Does migration lead to a race to the bottom in social security spending? The debates we discussed are very relevant today and the topics of our papers were actually in the news last month.

At first we wrote a paper on possibilities to include the self-employed in the social security system, especially via the Dutch Broodfonds-iniative. The highest official of the ministry of Economic Affairs raised the same issue in that week. The other paper proposed plans to include EU-migrants into social security systems and this time the WRR – the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy proposed the same plans only 10 hours after we handed in our paper.

In the past two decades we have seen that we cannot longer just let the economy rule our society, we have to make political decisions on where we want our economy and our social security to go. At EPPM we cover the same issues that are covered in the news or amongst politicians right now. One point of critique though; seeing these debates are fought right now, it was slightly disappointing that both courses used textbooks that were already more than 10 years old. But a wide variety of recent articles did partly make up for that. I passed both courses, so we're done with that now. Next week I'll tell something about my new course: Energy and Environmental Policies. February has started at last.