Interview with Tomáš Nigrin, the director of IIS

The New Offer of Study Programmes Will Provide Our Students with Outreach to More Study Areas, says Tomáš Nigrin

With the director of the Institute of International Studies, Tomáš Nigrin, about his current research projects, a new offer of study programmes, and events at the institute.

Tomáš Nigrin

The Institute of International Studies is your alma mater. What was your journey like up to the position of its director?

I studied at the Institute of International Studies - let’s say - from the very beginning until the very end, i.e. from the bachelor’s degree until habilitation procedure. My field of study is German and Austrian studies. My professional focus is the historian of modern history of Germany. Gradually, I addressed the expulsion and displacement of Germans from the new Polish territories after World War II, the supply of the civilian population of Düsseldorf after World War II, and finally the development of West Berlin after the construction of the Berlin Wall.

During the preparation for this interview I was intrigued, among other things, by your interest in the history of railways. What brought you to this topic?

The history of railways has been my hobby for ages. I managed to combine it with academic interest in my habilitation dissertation. Its topic was the functioning of Czechoslovak Railways in the economic system of the 1970s and 1980s. While drafting it, I often had access to some archive collections as the first researcher ever. Therefore, many of the findings are quite unique; for example, I was surprised that the central authorities at first overwhelmed the railway with tasks that made it operate at the capacity limit and then, because it was overburdened, they quite consciously gave up on the maintenance of the most important sections, which in turn worsened the condition of the railway. Currently, the book on this subject is being printed out.

What research projects do you participate in?

I am currently working on one TA ČR (the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic) project with applied outputs for the Ministry of Transport of the Czech Republic related to the current trends in rail transport. I also lead a team on behalf of Charles University in the project New Mobility (OP VVV), which is a huge project mapping the challenges and impacts of the planned high-speed lines on the Czech Republic.

Earlier this year, you replaced associate professor Vykoukal as the director of IMS. What is your future vision of the institute?

First of all, I want IMS to remain the leading workplace it is today. Therefore, I would like to pursue the direction of development set by associate professor Vykoukal, whom I highly respect. We are also planning to strengthen English-language study programmes, we have completed accreditation of the follow-up master’s study programme of Media and Area Studies, which we will implement together with IKSŽ, and the bachelor’s History and Area Studies, with co-participation of the Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies of Charles University. In addition, I would like to make full use of the potential of the presence of my colleagues from the institute in the media. My goal is that, over the four years of my leadership, our institute will be a strong, confident partner at the faculty, fully comparable to international standards, with well-paid teachers for whom IMS will be the main priority.

Will your students feel these planned changes in any way?

Of course, if students don’t notice anything – that will be a good result (laughs). However, we want to strengthen the leadership of the institute so that our students have more leadership members or, let’s say, partners, who they can address with their questions and requests. Unrelated to me coming to this position, we have recently launched a new website of the institute, which offers more user-friendly structured information for both applicants for study and students. We have also launched the entire website in English to be more readable as an institution abroad.

A new system of accreditation of study programmes at universities has been introduced in the Czech Republic. All universities will have to gradually and newly accredit all their study offers. How did your institute deal with this change?

For us, new accreditations of study programmes have been a challenge and their final form is the result of a four-year internal discussion. Our aim was to provide a compact offer of both standard full-time and newly distant study programmes, which we have achieved. As of next year, we will offer an English-language study programme at the bachelor’s and doctoral level. In the follow-up study we will open a distance study programme for Czech students.

What factors and motives played a role when discussing the final form of the new study offer?

The aim was to link - by specializations - the contents of the master's degree programmes of individual departments or, if you wish, the territories, in order to take use of the synergies between them. We wanted to make it easier for students to transfer to other specializations and to have an overview of them because the original fields of study were relatively separate. For example, I studied German and Austrian studies and I missed, as we used to say at the time, the outreach beyond the Rhine and the Oder. The system of specializations eliminates this.

How do students respond to the new structure of study offer?

There are students who praise it, but also those who raise objections about it. It is a newly running model, so this is quite natural and it will take some time for it to settle in. But I think that in the end everyone will benefit from this innovation.

What specific study programmes does the Institute of International Studies currently offer?

Newly we offer a study programme of Territorial Studies at the bachelor's degree level, both in full-time and distance form with several specializations. We also have a double degree study programme in Czech-German Studies with the University of Regensburg, which is the largest and one of the oldest bachelor’s degree programmes at Charles University. In the master’s study cycle we again have a follow-up master’s degree programme in International Territorial Studies, which offers more specializations than there were fields of study in the past. This allows students to focus on what they are really interested in and what they are good at. Jointly with the University of Krakow we offer a master’s field of study in German and Central European Studies with two specializations. Last but not least, we offer two doctoral programmes - Modern History and International Territorial Studies.

How did re-accreditation affect study programmes in English?

The structure of English master’s degree programmes has also undergone a change. We’re going to open History and Area Studies at the bachelor’s degree level. We have Master in Area Studies and Balkan, Eurasian and Central European Studies at the master’s degree level. We offer both of these programmes with specializations. The former one has disciplinary specializations and the latter a territorial specialization. Among the English programmes, we also offer the programme of European Politics and Society (EPS) - a study programme of Václav Havel. It is a double degree English-language study programme implemented jointly with universities in Leuven, Barcelona and Krakow. The programme has been supported for the second time by the Erasmus Mundus project and we are the only (!) workplace in Central-Eastern Europe that runs a similar project. In addition, at the master’s degree level, we’ve been long cooperating with the London School of Economics on the study programme of International Master in European Society.

What are your plans at the institute in the nearest future?

I would like to further develop the cooperation of IMS with secondary schools, which has been running here for some time. Our teachers will hold short seminars at selected schools and present our institute. Our goal is to increase the number of study applicants for whom IMS will be their first choice. In addition, we are launching preparatory courses for both of our bachelor’s degree programmes. We are also planning to change the visual presentation of IMS.

And the final question. Besides high-quality education, what did studying and working at IMS give you?

Besides all the knowledge, professional skills, a wide network of contacts and experience from international studies and research stays, IMS has given me the opportunity to do what I enjoy and what makes sense. I appreciate the extraordinarily interesting and inspiring team at IMS. It includes remarkable personalities who still inspire me and I enjoy working with them. Last but not least, the institute has also given me a real family, as I also met my wife at IMS.

Thank you kindly for the interview.

The interview was led by Jakub Říman, spokesperson of FSV UK