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June 2010

Peace Centre goes from strength to strength

By Marie Sherry

The new National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago is receiving international attention after less than two years of operation.

Work on developing the centre began several years ago, with its official launch taking place in October 2007.

Director Professor Kevin Clements says the centre is progressing extremely well and receiving a lot of interest from students throughout New Zealand and the world.

"We’re constantly fielding inquiries from people all over the world," he says.

"People are interested in studying in New Zealand. They are interested in New Zealand and why it ranks as a peaceful country. I think there’s a natural interest in trying to understand if we’re really as peaceful as we say we are."

The centre is the first in New Zealand to combine global cross-disciplinary expertise on the issues of development, peace building and conflict transformation. It offers postgraduate programs at the masters and PhD level, conducts high-level research on the causes of violent conflict and conditions for sustainable peace, and provides training, evaluation expertise, and expert advice to government and non-governmental organisations engaged in peace building and humanitarian intervention. It is a theory, research and practice centre, located within the Division of Humanities.

Dr Heather Devere is due to take up a position as director of practice in July, while 28 research associates have been appointed to the Centre. These are scholars from all around the world who have agreed to help develop the centre.

Two post-doctoral fellows arrived at the Centre later in 2009: Dr Karen Brouneus’ research is focused on reconciliation and transitional justice processes after civil war, and the psychological aspects of these processes; while Dr Isak Svenson’s area of expertise ranges from religion in conflict resolution and unarmed insurrections, to international mediation

"Last year I got through approval for a post-graduate diploma and masters in peace and conflict studies," Kevin says. "We’re the first university in New Zealand to do that."

The centre has a foundation post-graduate class of 10 students, who come from a wide range of backgrounds.

"They are committed and engaged and come into the centre with a lot of experience, which is great."

There are also three Masters thesis students and three PhD students currently studying at the centre.

"We’re looking at building these numbers up. We can go up to about 20 in our masters programme and I don’t think we will have any trouble getting there. Our students are loving the course and it’s growing nicely," Kevin says.

Students and staff are developing strong contacts in Pacific nations.

"We’re really trying to make sense of our bi-cultural traditions and heritage here and what that can teach us about peace building. Students can go into a research stream or practice stream and are working in a range of programmes around the country. Our students are going to be exposed to a range of very different kinds of activities that are generating peace at different levels."

The Aotearoa New Zealand Peace and Conflict Studies Centre Trust has contributed scholarship support for three master’s students and two PhDs. The trust has also given money to support one Maori student who has completed an undergraduate degree with strong academic records and wishes to specialise in peace and conflict studies.

The centre plans to offer a summer school in Auckland, and possibly Wellington, which will be at 300 level and open to any interested students.