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Lifelong Learning

Venetia van Kuffeler meets with Director of the London Academy of Diplomacy Joseph Mifsud – the professor who encourages his students not to be too diplomatic – to ask what makes a good diplomatfeb march

London’s diplomatic community may have noticed the London Academy of Diplomacy (LAD) taking the city by storm.  LAD’s higher profile has been much to do with the appointment of Professor Joseph Mifsud as Director in September 2013. Based in the heart of London, LAD has developed a number of postgraduate qualifications responding to the professional learning needs of governments, organisations and multinational corporations, who need better trained officials to help them achieve their objectives in promoting business and trade. Teaching economic diplomacy, management, inter-cultural bilingual communication, protocol and etiquette, as well as ethics, is essential to the training of diplomats and managers in the corporate sector. “I am a great promoter of academic diplomacy because I believe that diplomats and academics have a lot to share. There is no diplomacy without education and there is no education without diplomacy,” he explains. A world-class institution with a unique blend of academic studies and professional training, LAD courses are validated and awarded by the University of Stirling.

 Brought up in Malta, Professor Mifsud travelled extensively from a young age. “In fact, today it’s pretty difficult to find a country that I have not been to!” he remarks. Making new friends around the globe led him to wonder how differently people think in the different corners of the world. He refers to the UN phrase ‘the alliance of civilisations,’ a concept introduced by his friend, the former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio.

Starting out as a teacher, Professor Mifsud soon became involved with international projects, working with UNESCO and the Council of Europe. “I always felt that looking at different educational models and seeing how they could work internationally could be extremely important.” Malta joined the EU on 1 May 2004 and Professor Mifsud was a prominent figure in the accession process. “I believe that Malta’s place was always in the EU. However, I believed that we should negotiate Malta’s entry properly, because I felt that one-size-fits-all does not work for the EU, and I am still of that opinion.”

Four groups of students are studying at LAD: diplomats serving in London, diplomats who are sent to study here in London, international students who are aspiring diplomats for international non-governmental organisations, and groups of diplomats sent by their Ministry of Foreign Affairs to study here. “Ambassadors and High Commissioners are also our students – to improve their effective potential to move from being knowledgeable to becoming a leader. This is not an international relations course – but diplomacy. We like to call it lifelong learning!” he explains.  “An expert on Africa may be a good candidate as an Ambassador for one of the African countries. But does he or she necessarily have the skills to manage an embassy from day-to-day? Can a country provide appropriate training to all its diplomats going to different countries? That’s where LAD can play an important role.” LAD accordingly offers three masters programmes: in Diplomatic Studies, in Diplomacy and Security Studies and in Business, International Trade and Diplomatic Studies. Each course includes elements on: Diplomacy and Statecraft, International Law and Research Methods.

I note that ‘statecraft’ seems to be a relatively new buzz word in the diplomatic community. “Yes, because many governments are not exactly on the same timeline. Some countries are still building their state or modifying the way that their state operates. States are built in different ways. So we are trying to focus not just on diplomacy, but also on how a state is built and how a state is maintained.”

In the cultural melting pot of London, how does LAD manage to teach a room full of students from all over the world? Students are currently from 69 different countries – a number Professor Mifsud hopes to improve on, and one which also helps in the learning process. As he points out, people from different countries tend to have a very different way of absorbing and communicating their work. “If I sit down and speak to a diplomat from Asia, his or her way of thinking might not necessarily be like my own, and so I must establish how I am going to pass on my message and properly understand the messages back.” In the past, LAD has even taught international students or diplomats from countries who are not traditionally “friendly” countries. “I can give you a number of examples of people who have met colleagues here.  The fact that A and Z knew each other, studied together and were good friends was hugely beneficial to the outcome.  We also have a fantastic alumni network that we are currently expanding.  It’s like a mini-UN, offering huge opportunities for engagement.”

LAD’s staff is also hugely international. “We have concentrated on gathering lecturers who are ambassadors, and former foreign ministers, presidents and envoys in various fields from all over the world.” After our meeting, he’ll be conducting oral examinations for one of its courses, ‘Diplomacy and Statecraft.’ “As well as myself, an academic, a lawyer academic and an Ambassador will be involved, so students are exposed to the best minds.”

What else makes LAD stand out in the diplomatic training field?  “London, you might say, is where diplomacy actually takes place in a practical sense. London is also the globe’s financial hub.” Indeed, the ‘Business, International Trade and Diplomacy’ course is tied into the business and international trade environment of London. “The Bank of China, Bank of England and the London Stock Exchange are all close by. I believe that our students should not leave here without an understanding that London is also the world’s financial hub.” Furthermore, LAD is constantly developing courses relating to what’s going on in the world. In terms of international security, LAD is working with colleagues from the Marrakech Security Forum – specifically looking at European Jihadism.

At LAD, practical training is as important as academic skills, and LAD has been busy developing partnerships with various institutions to provide internships. Indeed, a couple of days after our meeting, LAD signed an agreement of further cooperation with the Organisation of American States and International Business and Developmental Exchange (IBDE).  “This is a very important event for us, because it builds us up with one of the top organisations in the world.”

LAD’s Tuesday Diplomatic Forum is also a great opportunity for students to engage and listen to the professionals. (London’s diplomatic community are all welcome). There’s an excellent line-up for these events in 2015, including Egypt’s Deputy Foreign Minister (and formerly Deputy Head of Mission in London) Dr Sameh Aboul Enein, who will speak on ‘A Nuclear Free Middle East’, and the Ambassador of Afghanistan on ‘The Challenge of Change for Afghanistan,’ to name a couple.

So what, in his opinion, makes a good diplomat? “Aside from the ability to network, a diplomat should NEVER burn any bridges. And the ability to think outside the box is always a help.” He continues, “It’s helpful to have an idea of what the other person is thinking. Thinking from one perspective only can hinder a diplomat. Finally, a diplomat must always be informed armed with the facts. A diplomat without a link to news is like a footballer without ball.” Overall, he explains, LAD tries to encourage students to establish their own way of thinking – even challenging their own country’s policies. “And yes, we encourage diplomats not to be too diplomatic and say what they really think.”

Professor Mifsud explains that LAD’s recent partnership with the University of Stirling has been greatly beneficial. “Stirling University has one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. We are in the process of creating this path and partnership which offers great opportunities.”

So how does the future look for LAD? “We wish to engage with as many different countries, governments, international organisations and diplomatic academies around the world as possible.” In partnership with Stirling University, LAD has developed a new doctoral programme in Diplomacy specifically for professionals, which takes place in London, Stirling, Beijing, Washington and Moscow. “We are trying to take LAD global! We hope to have LAD operating in different regions, using London as a hub.” Under the stewardship of Professor Mifsud and his little black book, it will be interesting to see what LAD does next.


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