The European Union is strong despite Brexit, professor at NCH at Northeastern in London tells students in Boston

Northeastern Professor Mai’a Cross offers a fresh take on Brexit during a daylong event at the New College of the Humanities at Northeastern in London March 17, 2019. Cross’s lecture was streamed live to a group of students in Boston participating in an agile “pop-up” course. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett for Northeastern University.

It was a new take on the college course, and it offered a different take on Brexit.

In a lecture streamed live from NCH at Northeastern in London and viewed by participants in an agile “pop-up” course on the Boston campus, Northeastern political science professor Mai’a Cross offered a view on Brexit that’s not often present in media coverage of the issue.  

Brexit, the result of a June 2016 referendum in which citizens of the U.K. narrowly voted to withdraw from the European Union, was framed by its supporters as a necessity for a nation that was being held back by the E.U. But Cross, who is the Edward W. Brooke Professor of Political Science at Northeastern, and whose research focuses on European foreign and security policy, presented the case that it’s been quite the opposite.

“The E.U.’s approach to the U.K. has been remarkably accommodating,” Cross said Sunday, during a lecture that was part of a day-long conference called “Technology and Human Values: Understanding Brexit” at NCH at Northeastern in London.

Northeastern in February finalized a partnership with New College of the Humanities, a private college in central London, formalizing an agreement that expands the university’s global network of campuses.

New College of the Humanities, which opened in 2011 and has about 200 students and 30 faculty, is known for its personalized approach to education. This makes it fertile ground for opportunities for flexible, student-centered learning.

One such opportunity is the “pop-up” course in which Cross gave her lecture, called “Brexit and Europe: Scenarios for 2030,” that was viewed by students both in London and in a classroom more than 3,000 miles away.

The one-credit course, consisting of two intensive workshops at Northeastern’s Boston campus and two real-time lectures delivered at NCH in London, is part of a university initiative to offer students opportunities to learn in new ways.

The first of the two workshops was held on Saturday, Feb. 23. The second will be held in April.

In the first, Cross delivered a “briefing-style lecture on the history and development of the E.U.,” including the British role in that development. She also got students up to speed on the latest developments in the relationship between the U.K. and the E.U., including the major sticking points, Cross said. During the second half of the day, Cross gave them the tools to try to predict what the European Union will look like 10 years from now.

Cross’s students met again on Sunday to watch her lecture live from London.

In it, she offered the European perspective on Brexit, which has encountered one stumbling block after another. Most recently, members of the British Parliament rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for leaving and voted that she ask E.U. leaders for more time to come up with a plan before the March 29 deadline—the point at which the U.K. will leave the E.U., plan or no plan.

During her lecture, Cross presented numerous instances throughout the last 50 years when E.U. leaders offered concessions to the U.K. in order to make it appealing for the country to stay in the European Union.

When the U.K. voted to leave anyway, some experts predicted the move would throw Europe into chaos.

Far from it, Cross said.

“The E.U. has been able to speak with one voice… to say, ‘This is a British crisis and a British problem and a British decision and not something that necessarily has to affect the E.U.’” she said.

Courses such as Cross’s, designed to go deep on a single subject, “allow students to experience major events as they’re happening with the help of a professor who’s also entrenched in that event,” Cross said in an interview with News@Northeastern prior to her lecture Sunday.

Because they’re shorter and more easily adaptable to change than a traditional semester-long course, these sorts of “pop-up” courses are perfect for learning about events such as Brexit, which are still developing, Cross said.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty around Brexit right now, so students have to be on their toes,” Cross said. Of the “pop-up” courses in general, she added, “I think it’s a great idea; it allows us to be really current.”

Academic programs that will similarly take advantage of Northeastern’s trans-Atlantic partnership are also underway.

A group of Northeastern undergraduate students are currently studying at NCH in a semester-long program called “Data, Ethics, and Culture.” Taught by Northeastern and NCH faculty, the program is focused on humanics, a curricular approach to learning that integrates data, technology, and human literacies.  

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