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TAPRI community has a 10-year history of training experts of peaceful change

Published on 17.1.2023
Tampere University
Six persons talking in a group.
TAPRI’s alumni met in the 10th anniversary of the master’s programme. Armenak Tokmajyan (middle) began studies in the first year and was the first to graduate with a master’s degree in 2014. (Photo: Anush Petrosyan)
The international Master’s Degree Programme in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research (PEACE) celebrated its 10th anniversary in November. The time begins from when the first students started studies in the programme, which is the responsibility of Tampere University’s peace research institute TAPRI. The alumni are working as peace experts in various organisations around the world. You can meet them in unexpected contexts and professional fields.

Marko Lehti, one of the founders of the Master’s Programme in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research (PEACE), is currently the Research Director of TAPRI. Planning the programme started when TAPRI became a part of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and it was felt important that the research centre also contributed to teaching.

“It is not just peace mediation or peacebuilding. The programme gives you critical thinking skills. Peace-related matters provide qualifications for a wide range of fields in society,” Lehti says.

Setting up the programme was inspired by the labour markets of specialists when peace support and mediation were gaining ground. Lehti describes the growth in the early 2000s as an explosion, with the arrival of non-governmental organisations on the scene. Peace grew into a professional field of its own. Finland’s role in mediation has been known worldwide, particularly through CMI, an organisation founded by President Martti Ahtisaari.

The whole name of the PEACE programme indicates that the studies focus on peace, mediation, and research. More broadly, it is, as the slogan suggests, “Thinking about peaceful change”. Interdisciplinary university studies help to understand conflict, coexistence, and dialogue between communities.

The master’s programme combines academic research with the practical skills needed for working for peace. In terms of content, the 120-credit degree programme is built on a broad course catalogue.

“TAPRI brings in scientifically excellent and a new way of doing peace research. ‘Mediation’ in the name indicates the practical side. It means all kinds of dialogue, mediation, and interaction between and within communities,” Lehti mentions.

In ten years, Lehti has noticed how important it is for master’s students to have a clear connection to working life, which has always been part of the programme. If the previous studies are theory-based, PEACE allows students to develop their practical skills. The latest call for applications for the international degree programme offered study 20 places. In the call that ended in January 2023, the programme received 268 applications, 178 of which were primary applications.

Peace and security are not mutually exclusive

Lehti remembers the optimism of early 2010s even though there were signs that the world was taking a turning for the worse.

“At that time, peace was still a trendy concept. The idea was that peacebuilding and peace mediation would have a direct impact on the world. During the Cold War years in Finland and Europe, peace had political connotations and was strongly associated with the left. The new generation saw peace differently; it can become trendy. It reflected a desire to make the world a better place and to be part of its development,” Lehti explains.

Currently, according to Lehti, in the fashionable use of terms, security is overtaking peace in the world situation. However, in his view, there is no need for the two concepts to be confrontational.

“The security debate also includes questions of sustainable security practices. This includes a holistic perspective, the intersection of global and local levels, the adaptability of communities and human security. When security is understood in this way, the similarities with the peace research represented by TAPRI begin to emerge,” Lehti says.

The space for peacebuilding has narrowed from the optimism of the 2000s, but the world still needs people who understand the international and multilateral world. Their mediation skills are needed to mitigate the effects of conflict.

Students and researchers make TAPRI a community

The master’s programme strengthens the discipline of peace and conflict studies, and research is closely integrated into the curriculum. As a degree-level institute in Finland, only TAPRI, as an institute for peace studies, teaches a discipline that has taken on a life of its own. Since joining the faculty, TAPRI has also launched a doctoral programme.

“Tuomo Melasuo, a former director of TAPRI, was quick to point out that we need the right to grant postgraduate degrees. Master’s and postgraduate education strengthen the peace studies community in Tampere,” Lehti emphasises.

The programmes connected TAPRI’s researchers to teaching and supervision, which Lehti finds important for the dynamism of the community.

“Teaching supports research. If you cannot teach and share knowledge, academic work is deficient. Peace research at Tampere is kept vital by students who make us a larger community that is continuously renewing itself and presenting new ideas. It gives much energy for research,” Lehti explains.

The themes of the master’s programme come from the research carried out at TAPRI. A critical, decolonising look is cast at global power structures and peacebuilding practices. Students get familiar with global transnational mobility, especially questions related to refugees. The students learn about the grass root, everyday perspective into peace and the studies emphasise conflict transformation instead resolution. The studies also include an introduction to feminist peace research.

Learning methods are developed to reflect the real world

Lehti teaches the peace mediation course where simulations are used. For the second time, the programme is implementing a scenario that last for several days with the National Defence University.

“Simulation is learning by practice. The mentors include people who work in mediation organisations. They bring practical knowledge to the mediation simulation and share their experiences in lectures,” says Lehti.

The Human Mobility course, taught by Senior Research Fellow Anitta Kynsilehto, focuses on refugees and asylum seekers. The course looks at integration, problems, backgrounds, and establishes contacts with actors in the Tampere region. Students will also meet immigrants who make their voices heard in the course.

Ilaria Tucci, whose doctoral dissertation deals with community theatre as a mediation method in Lampedusa, teaches the method in the popular course.

Peace research not only analyses but effects change

To celebrate the tenth anniversary, the people at TAPRI drew up a world map of the employment of some of their alumni. The map shows the positions of peace professionals in Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America.

“Peace studies does not just analyse the world; we are part of the world, contributing to its peaceful transformation. When we educate people who will make a difference, they work in different institutions, places, and levels,” Lehti points out.

Lehti has found that there is a broader demand for drivers of peaceful change.

“Peace-related skills are also needed in engineering projects. It may not be the first thing that comes to mind that peace researchers end up at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, but two of our graduates are working there. For example, large EU projects need critical peace expertise that considers ethical issues and inclusiveness,” Lehti says.

Master’s Programme in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research

Read more about TAPRI's 10th anniversary seminar

Photograph: Anush Petrosyan