Reflections on the Roma in European Societies (RES) Initiative

November 5, 2021

The Romani Studies Program (RSP) has successfully closed the initiative of Roma in European Societies (RES). This was a unique and collective initiative that created a pathway to higher education to support the emergence of Roma intelligentsia in various sectors from academia to policy making and business.

The RES donors, VELUX FoundationsOpen Society Foundations-Roma Initiative Office (OSF - RIO), and the Roma Educational Fund (REF) provided financial support for the past six years. RSP hosted the last RES Advisory Board meeting in October 2021, which marked the end of the RES project.  

RES was a one-of-a-kind initiative, and its comprehensiveness and novelty were one of the main aspects that caught donor-attention: “Five years ago, we decided to support the RES initiative for a couple of reasons: first of all, the idea of increasing the numbers of Roma intellectuals fitted well into our mission, and second, we went ahead with the work because we were curious about whether or not the program would succeed," said Jens-Jørgen Pedersen, Senior Advisor, Head of Programme, Velux Foundations, which provided the largest contribution, 2 million Euros.  

Over the past six years, in the framework of the RES Initiative, the project transformed into an academic program and contributed to the diversification, growth, and expansion of highly educated Romani leadership in European, national, and local organizations. The program helped to foster new Romani scholars, leaders, and professionals who are engaging with their communities in an innovative way while forging alliances with other social movements and other marginalized communities.   

As Angéla Kóczé, current chair of the Romani Studies Program shares: “RSP is not just a simple program. It is truly a social mission of CEU. With RES and RSP, we develop solutions to building a stronger Romani intelligentsia in Europe, which is still less than one percent. At RSP, we show an intellectual and professional pathway for young Roma people and create a roadmap for other universities to support marginalized and racialized populations such as Roma.”  

In the closing phase of the RES Initiative, it was evaluated by an external organization selected through public procurement, the Institute of Research on Adult Education and Management of Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE). The evaluation highlighted that the overall target of the 11 highly complex program activities were overachieved with an extended effort in the second phase despite the unexpected challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

The RES initiative sought to create an institutional path to improve the situation of Roma, particularly through graduate education, advanced research, teaching, leadership, professional development, and community outreach and, as pointed out by the external evaluation, met this objective.   

The first part of the RES was led by Iulius Rostas, former Chair of RSP, and the second part was implemented under the leadership of Angéla Kóczé, current Chair of RSP. In 2021, under the second Chair, the Advanced Certificate Program in Romani Studies was successfully registered with the New York State Education Department, USA. Hence from Fall 2021, CEU master’s and doctoral students can complete an advanced certificate program in Romani Studies offered by RSP.

With this new advanced certificate program, CEU aims to continue to provide intellectual leadership, academic knowledge, research, and professional opportunities to promote social justice for Roma. Along with this, CEU is committed to sustaining the Roma Graduate Preparation Program as an important educational pathway to other prestigious graduate programs.        

Through various research fellowships, RSP accelerated knowledge production processes by Roma and carved out new spaces for Roma scholars in the realm of academia. Ultimately, RES awarded 31 mid-term Research Fellowships, 70% of the recipients were Roma scholars. These fellowships resulted in book manuscripts, book chapters, journal articles, policy recommendations, and most importantly, new participatory knowledge about Roma realities and policy solutions. Part of this knowledge was integrated either in the Critical Romani Studies Journal or in the Critical Romani Studies Book Series launched by the RSP in collaboration with CEU Press.   

The experiences that Ismael Cortés (Spain, Visiting Ph.D. Researcher at RSP 2015; RSP Advanced Research Fellow 2018, Member of the Spanish Parliament) has shared is an indicative example of what the fellowship might mean to grantees both professionally and personally: “I research how international institutions such as UNESCO and The United Nations (UN) develop the concept of neo-humanism and multiculturalism. I apply this knowledge to the field of Romani Studies, making a paradigm-shift from social economic rights to cultural and political rights. CEU gave me that experience to engage with highly educated Roma and non-Roma intellectuals from across Europe living in a diverse and plural environment. This experience fits into my professional life and taught me creative methods, strategic thinking, and more engagement.” 

The initiative secured more than 90 internship placements that supported young graduates of the programs (RAP, RELP, RGPP). This allowed interns to access equitable professional development opportunities with grassroots level organizations and international institutions, including EU and Council of Europe institutions. Several internship placements resulted in long-term positions, thus providing stability and growth opportunities for young Roma people and their families.  

RES was also instrumental as the pandemic evolved. Amidst the unprecedented times that the pandemic has created, RES alumni had an opportunity to access remote internship support.

Equally important is that over the past six years, the number of RGPP graduates grew by almost 100, and these Roma students come from over 15 European countries. More than 80 of these students earned their master's degrees at CEU or elsewhere. RSP is confident that these young people greatly benefited from the program through academic mentorship, tutoring, and exposure to a diverse network of Romani intellectuals.

When explaining the ways in which RSP contributed to their successes and well-being, students such as Sevdjulje Ramadani (Serbia, RGPP Alumna 2021, Sociology MA Student, CEU, Internship Support: Bibija, a Women’s rights organization in Belgrade, Serbia) emphasize the life-changing nature of the program:

“RGPP for me is a unique experience. I had outstanding support from teachers, who helped me to discover some hidden potential inside me and rethink my identity. I also found some strong Roma female models in academia.”  

RES also laid the groundwork for partnerships with the European business community. One of the most remarkable results in this area is the collaboration with the CEU Executive MBA program and the admission/ enrollment of four Roma mid-career leaders in the program. RSP also worked together with local NGOs to mentor Romani students and connected them with local companies that supplied jobs and internship opportunities for Roma communities in Hungary. 

Community outreach was also an important piece of RES’ focus. For three years, the Dr. Ambedkar Schools received support that helped Roma high school students prepare for their high-school exit exams and connected the school’s students with RGPP students and CEU alumni. Other outreach included training opportunities and workshops for nonprofits and ERIAC’s Barvalipe Online Open University’s lecture-series.  

The last six years underscores the power of commitment to changing the educational and professional trajectories of Roma individuals and carving out space for Roma intellectual leadership where previously these opportunities were absent or very minimal.  

The real game-changing impact of the program was also echoed in Ciprian Necula’s, REF Switzerland Foundation Executive Chair and RSP Board Members’ final evaluative words: “I truly believe that this was a pioneering program. This experience could be an excellent learning opportunity for us and for our strategy and how to invest in Roma education in the future.”  

The RSP wishes to express their highest appreciation to donors, all supporters, and partners who in one way or another became part of the Program’s transformative vision. RSP is committed to ensuring that these partnerships are maintained and continues to place the focus on students to improve their chances of accessing high-quality higher education programs.