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Summer School

An important element in the training function of the Network is the summer school (the first edition was organized in 2006). Aimed at approximately 30 PhD students each time, this summer school brings together experts and students working on broad groups of themes. This means that the experts and students involved will come from different academic disciplines covered by the Network, i.e. economics, sociology, political science and social policy. A faction of the group of participating students will be recruited from institutes not participating in the network (within or outside the EU), thereby helping to diffuse high research standards more widely. Also the experts from non-participating institutes may be involved in the teaching, alongside ‘internal’ experts. In addition to a teaching function, the summer school also contributes to the fact that students become a serious part of the network, thereby strengthening the cohesion within the Network during and after the period of funding.

The summer schools are mainly focused on providing students with advanced skills to carry out cross-national comparative research. They will encourage students to integrate explanatory theory with rigorous methodology. It will benefit the students from all institutes to join the summer school, as it provides an excellent learning environment, which the separate institutes would not have the range of expertise to be able to develop on their own. As the supervision of Ph.D. projects within the Network is often in the hands of participating researchers, they will be encouraged to facilitate their students’ participation in the summer school. Furthermore, the excellence of the Network will also attract students from non-participating institutes, thereby spreading even further the benefits of the network’s activities. We would expect it to be relatively easy to get 30-40 students interested each round.

The theme for the summer schools is ‘Comparative Social Research’. The Training and Development Committee is responsible for the organization of the summer school. The summer school will most broadly deal with the pitfalls and possibilities of doing comparative research, and concentrate on the usefulness of comparative analysis for answering important research and policy questions. It is essential that students become aware of the empirical and theoretical problems that may arise in comparative research. The summer school teaching will for instance consider the different types of explanatory argument that could account for empirical variations in patterns between countries and the forms of methodological approach that would be most appropriate for assessing these. At a qualitative level, it will be important to introduce students to the analysis of institutional forms and the problems regarding the grouping of institutional settings through typologies. The summer school will be an important vehicle for introducing students to the opportunities and pitfalls relating to available EU wide data sources. It will play a key role in developing a generation of researchers with the ability to link macro- and micro- levels analysis, and who have the methodogical skills necessary to produce high quality research of the kind required to provide the evidence base for policy making.

The structure of the summer school that we consider most appropriate for our objectives combines information transmission in classes with discussions of research projects of the students. The total length of the summer school is one week each time. In the classes, teachers will prepare lectures on substantive issues from their own or others’ (comparative) work. These classes last for three days, given by two to four experts. The remaining two days are devoted to the discussion of the students research projects, where the teachers will search for linkages with existing research in the field, and with theoretical and empirical problems that have been encountered elsewhere.

The University of Trento has provided a permanent training site for the yearly activity, offering classrooms, computer and accommodation facilities for teachers and students, as can be read in the Letter of Intent written by the Rector of the University of Trento in Annex III to the proposal submitted in December 2003.