OUSL Activities in 2015

Tuesday 24th November - Climate Action Discussion dinner

A few days prior to the opening of the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, members and guests gathered to consider the issues raised by this important event and to discuss possible outcomes. Several members of the Society were attending the UNFCCC COP 21, and the aim of this event was to present an opportunity for them to share their insights with fellow members. The dinner took place in a private room in Ristorante Roma, and twenty members and guests attended.

We had three speakers during the course of the evening. We were delighted to have Mr Marc Bichler with us as a guest speaker. He is Luxembourg’s Ambassador for Climate Change, and Luxembourg’s presidency of the EU has put him at the heart of EU coordination for the event. Marc served until recently as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Capital Development Fund in New York; prior to this he worked as Director General for Development Assistance in Luxembourg. The other speakers were: OUSL member Mr Peter Carter, former Chief Environmentalist of the European Investment Bank and now working for the international Green Climate Fund; and OUSL member Dr Jane Feehan, who is a senior Natural Resources Specialist with the EIB. Attending her fifth COP, she follows forestry, agriculture and land use issues within the process.

After the speakers’ contributions and the ensuing discussion, the company parted on an understanding that the conversation should continue, and with this in mind we will organize a follow-up event for 2016!

You can download a full report of the meeting.
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Monday 19th October - Talk by Professor Werner G Jeanrond, Master of St Benet’s Hall: “The Vocation of Theology in Today’s University”

The OUSL was privileged to host the Master of St Benet’s Hall, a most distinguished Roman Catholic theologian with an outstanding international career, for a talk on Monday, 19th October 2015. Professor Jeanrond, who is the first layperson to be appointed as Head of House of St Benet’s Hall, gave a talk on the role of theology in the modern university to an interested audience of around 30 OUSL members and guests, including H.E. the Belgian Ambassador to Luxembourg and representatives of the local theological and church communities.
St Benet’s was established by the monks of Ampleforth to educate their young monks at the University, although it now it takes a much wider group of students including, from 2016 and under Prof. Jeanrond’s leadership, women.

Prof. Jeanrond began by explaining the long and intertwined history of theology and universities. Whereas Bologna, as the oldest European university, opted against doing so, nearly all of the traditional universities included a faculty of theology. He illustrated this with the example of the University of Oxford, whose motto “Dominus illuminatio mea” (God is my enlightenment) shows the vital importance of theology for our alma mater. An external sign of such a role is the fact that there are around 70 churches in Oxford, including various college chapels - one of which even has the status of a cathedral. Professor Jeanrond then explained the challenges for today’s universities — fragmentation, instrumentalisation, innovation, commercialization, conflicting pedagogical interests, research and teaching —and developed against this background the vocation of theology in the university:
  1. Theology as a science of interdependent and dynamic relationships;
  2. Theology as the intellectual conscience of the university.

The Master’s talk was followed by a long and lively discussion and a convivial dinner at Cercle Munster.
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Monday 27th October - Managing Europe’s Borders: A talk by David Reisenzein of FRONTEX

FRONTEX is an EU agency that, until recently, has rarely been in the headlines. With the migration crisis this has changed. FRONTEX is the agency that coordinates the management of the EU’s external borders. David Reisenzein is the FRONTEX representative in Brussels and OUSL is very grateful that he found the time to come and explain what FRONTEX does and where it fits. FRONTEX is part of a constellation of organisations involved in border management, including EUROPOL fighting cross-border crime, EASO supporting EU Member States on asylum and EU-LISA running the IT systems that support asylum, police border authorities. To see the big picture you can download David’s slides.

The meeting was held jointly with Luxembourg Red Cross, whose members are deeply involved in helping incoming migrants. David was able to show us slides with the very latest numbers for the migrant flows across the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas. Questions asked included the feasibility of closing borders and the securing of human rights. Given the numbers and the many reasons that migrants have to try to enter Europe, managed flows seem to be the only feasible option. Within FRONTEX there is a special structure to ensure the observance of fundamental rights, but ensuring those rights in real time at border crossing points (including the new “hotspots”) is a big challenge. FRONTEX is actively building working relationships with third countries that are the sources of migration or act as transit zones, but arrangements for the return of illegal migrants remain patchy. The budget for FRONTEX will be increased substantially in 2016 but the ability to spend this well depends on the willingness of the Member States to cooperate and to supply the manpower and technical resources needed.
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Thursday 10th September - Magna Carta Talk by Matthew Happold

Our “Rentrée” event this year was held in celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Professor Matthew Happold, a distinguished international lawyer and equally distinguished member of the OUSL, was kind enough to agree to give a talk on the subject.
The event was generously hosted by Elvinger, Hoss & Prussen, Luxembourg law firm. 60-70 OUSL members and lawyers were in attendance.
After an appetising introduction by Jean Hoss, founding partner at Elvinger, Hoss & Prussen, Matthew entertained us with a learned historical and legal narrative of the drafting of Magna Carta and its radiance in subsequent ages. He referred to Lord Sumption’s contrast between the “historian’s view” and the “lawyer’s view” of Magna Carta. Most interestingly, he pushed the analysis one step further by noting that both the stereotyped “historian” and the “lawyer” consider the Magna Carta as a distinctly English, or British, phenomenon. This national understanding of Magna Carta is the polar opposite of the universalist understanding which the French have of their Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. This, Matthew suggests, might help explain why the current British government sees no tension between its policy regarding the European Convention on Human Rights and its enthusiastic celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
After this stimulating talk, members of the audience had a chance of catching up over drinks and nibbles.
We thank Matthew and Elvinger, Hoss & Prussen for a most enjoyable evening.
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Saturday 4th July - first ever Varsity Cricket Match in Luxembourg

The first ever Luxembourg-based Oxford-Cambridge cricket match took place on July 4th, in the beautiful setting of the Schuman Farm at Evrange, just over the border in France.
A motley group of former and future Oxonians and Cantabrians battled it out in sweltering heat to a convincing win for the latter. Aged between ten and sixty, the eighteen cricketers were remarkable for their level of good-natured flexibility in extreme conditions. Some had never played before, some were former Blues, all enjoyed themselves on the field and at a wonderful barbecue after the game. There is talk now of a combined Oxbridge team taking on the Star cricket team in September.
Many thanks to Fiona and Adrian Wykes for the use of the Evrange ground and their beautiful gardens, to Andrew Hallan, Jos van Bommel and Lisa Francis-Jennings for the barbecue and other catering, and to Cassandra Jennings and Gérard Schockmel for keeping the Pimms flowing.
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Tuesday 5th May 2015 - Spring Social Dinner

This year's Spring Social Dinner, organized by our friends from the Cambridge Society, was held at "Le Fin Gourmand", a French restaurant in Luxembourg-City. For the first time in recent membory, we had the pleasure of being welcoming the LSE alumni society for this event. It was an evening of lively discussions and much laughter, accompanied by great food and wine. With around 60 participants, attendance reached record-breaking territory. We are very grateful to the Cambridge Society for having hosted this most enjoyable event. We can already look forward to next year’s Spring Social Dinner, which will be organized by our LSE friends.
See some pictures of this event.

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Friday 1st May - Annual Dinner of the OU Belgo-Luxembourg Society, Balliol College

Several OUSL members joined the student society for their annual dinner on 1st May, which was held in the pleasant surroundings of the Fellows’ Dining Room at Balliol. At the invitation of OUSL, we were joined by the Luxembourg ambassador to the UK, M. Engelberg, and by the UK ambassador to Luxembourg, the Hon. Alice Walpole. The Balliol catering was of a high standard and after successive toasts to the Queen, the King of the Belgians, the Grand Duke and the University, the ambassadors both expressed their appreciation of the work of the society in supporting Belgian and Luxembourg students in Oxford and of the importance of maintaining these links. Conversation was as lively and varied as you would expect at an Oxford gathering and some OUSL members were to be seen drinking with the students late into the evening.
See some pictures of this event.

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Wednesday 18th March and Thursday 19th March - Visits to Schools

Every year OUSL organises visits to a number of Luxembourg secondary schools by a visitor from Oxford, who is able to talk in detail with pupils and teachers about entry requirements for undergraduates. This year we brought Dr Daniel Butt, Tutor in Politics and Tutor for Admissions at Balliol, to visit three schools teaching for different school-leaving qualifications: the Lycée Classique de Diekirch, the Ecole Européenne II at Mamer and St George’s School at Hamm.
Dr Butt made it clear to pupils that they should think about Oxford or Cambridge entrance as part of a wider choice to study in the UK. The intensive teaching system at Oxbridge and the assessment by examination only, might not be suitable for all students. In terms of selection, the exclusive focus of Oxford and Cambridge on academic excellence was justified by the tutorial teaching system. Candidates should strive to develop above all a strong and interesting academic and intellectual profile if they wished to be selected.
At each school Dr Butt also had discussions with a group of teachers to explain in more detail the selection requirements and to clear up misunderstandings about the system. He in turn took back to Oxford some very pertinent questions about the level of understanding of the Luxembourg Diplôme de Fin d’Etudes and of the European Baccalaureate on the part of admissions tutors.

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Wednesday 18th March - Oxford and Cambridge Information Evening

For the fourth year running the Oxford and Cambridge Societies of Luxembourg organized an information evening for prospective undergraduates on 18th March at the Ecole de Commerce et Gestion, on the Geeseknäppchen Campus in Belair. The audience was the largest we have ever had, estimated to be around 100 school pupils, parents and teachers. It was gratifying to see a larger number of parents present than in previous years.
HM Ambassador, the Hon. Alice Walpole, opened the evening by encouraging pupils to look at the broad range of opportunities across UK universities. Daniel Butt, Tutor in Politics and Tutor for Admissions at Balliol College, Oxford, gave the keynote address, emphasizing that academic ability and an enquiring mind were the only criteria for selection, unlike for many other universities, where candidates were assessed from more angles.
Steve Brabbs of the Cambridge Society then provided a quick introduction to the mysteries of the UCAS applications system, after which the visitors were free to chat with alumni over drinks and snacks. The meeting was admirably supported by alumni from both Societies, wearing badges displaying a wide range of subjects studied. Conversations went on for a long time, which we may judge to be an indication of a successful event.
The Oxford and Cambridge Societies wish to express their thanks to the director of the Ecole de Commerce et Gestion for providing the accommodation for the meeting as well as the refreshments.
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Tuesday 24th February: Talk by Dr Sabine Dörry, a joint event with the EIB Institute

Dr Sabine Dörry, Marie-Curie Research Fellow at the School of Geography and the Environmentin the University of Oxford, gave a fascinating talk with the title: “How Smaller Companies Network: Linking Finance with Regional Development”.
Dr Dörry spoke about her current research programme, in which she is examining the role of innovation in the global investment fund industry of the international finance centers (IFCs) in Luxembourg, London and Singapore. There is to date little systematized knowledge of how innovation works in IFCs, but Dr Dörry was in a position to outline some preliminary findings.

Examining the pattern of working relationships between different firms in Luxembourg and the way that new firms are created, it is clear that successful IFCs depend on attracting and holding innovative companies along the ‘production’ network that create, enhance and capture value. In this respect, Luxembourg has done well to attract a large number of originators of financial services, and it has done it by developing a specialized ‘knowledge eco-system’ consisting of many different and specialized firms such as lawyers, management companies, compliance departments, IT services companies, consultancy firms, etc.

Hence, these firms supply complementary financial services to those, for example, in London, where primarily the funds’ investment strategies are designed. In this respect, Luxembourg has differentiated itself from both Singapore and London as it has successfully established as a legal home of choice for a vast number of investment funds, as well as a ‘market intelligence centre’ with highly specific knowledge indispensable for the funds’ worldwide distribution. The regulated category of ‘professionel du sector financier’ (PSF) is a guarantee of quality and competence whilst allowing the relatively easy formation of new PSFs.

Dr Dörry identified the transfer of specialised knowledge from one company to another, by way of staff movement and spin-offs, as a key factor in the development of the local knowledge-eco-system. Luxembourg is the 3rd biggest exporter of financial services after the U.S. and the UK, and Dr Dörry explained that in Luxembourg small and medium-sized enterprises in particular can contribute to shaping the competitive edge of Luxembourg’s IFC. Examples included the multi-lingual capabilities of Luxembourg firms, for instance by exercising or exploiting ‘language arbitrage’ in the interpretation of other countries’ laws and regulations.

The role of the ‘inventory state’ is also crucial in creating competitive legal environments, such as the introduction of LLPs (limited liability partnership), which has been instrumental in attracting more private equity and venture capital funds recently. At the same time Luxembourg remains resolutely open to global pressures, which obliges financial firms to adapt and innovate. Singapore is making a big push to attract a new class of financial high-tech companies, and Luxembourg cannot afford to be left behind.

It seems that Dr Dörry will have some very valuable conclusions to present to the Luxembourg finance sector when she finishes her research project, and we all look forward to hearing about them.
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Thursday 15th January: Talk by Prof. Janet Gornick and dinner

A group of twenty alumni from OUSL and the Cambridge Society gathered at the Cercle Munster in Luxembourg to hear Prof. Janet Gornick talk about “High and Rising Inequality: Causes and Consequences”. Prof. Gornick is Professor of Political Science and Sociology at City University of New York and is also the Director of LIS, Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
LIS has built itself up over a period of more than thirty years to become an indispensable resource for cross-national research into income distribution and other socio-economic outcomes. Although LIS has been well-known in international academic circles for decades, many inside Luxembourg have learned about LIS only recently; in the last five years, LIS has built new collaborations within Luxembourg and hosted several public events.

Questions of inequality are at present very topical and Prof. Gornick took care to illustrate the complexities of the subject and the considerable variations between countries. Despite these differences there has been, she said, a discernible trend towards rising inequality in many high-income countries, with a corresponding reduction in the size of the middle class, that is, those households with incomes (after tax and transfers) that lie between half and twice the median income. As has been reported widely in the press, the share of income going to the top 1&percent; of earners has surged, by up to 20&percent; in the USA and 15&percent; in the UK.
Academics studying these phenomena have advanced many possible causes, ranging from globalization through the weakening of protection for low-earners to reductions in redistributive policies. Prof. Gornick’s judgement was that probably all of these have played a part in what is undoubtedly a complex phenomenon. She did however highlight one countervailing factor: the increased participation of women in the workforce over the last few decades has made a bigger contribution to the incomes of poorer households than to those of richer ones.

As to the consequences of rising inequality, Prof. Gornick referred to recent studies by the OECD, showing that it had very likely caused countries to have lower rates of economic growth. We should not forget either straightforward poverty at the bottom of society nor ignore more subtle longer-term effects such as reduced intergenerational mobility or distortions of democratic processes.
The audience were left with plenty to be concerned about, as was amply demonstrated by their questions and by the discussions that went on over dinner after the meeting. The Society is very grateful to Prof. Gornick for a most stimulating evening.
See a photo of this event

Prof. Gornick has kindly made her slides available.
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