SOAS University of London

Urs Baumgartner, MSc Environmental Management (2015)

Working in international development in Asia, I felt that at SOAS I would feel ‘at home’ rather than simply studying a degree for the certificate’s sake.

Urs Baumgartner

Founder, Associate - ekolibrium

Why did you want to study in this subject area, and what made you choose SOAS?

I had a BSc degree in Environmental Engineering that I did in Switzerland and felt that I needed something more, despite of having almost 20 years of professional experience. From my BSc degree I had a very generalist understanding, but felt that I needed more specific knowledge in areas that I was interested in. Besides I wanted to have a broader geographic scope with an understanding of EU and other relevant environmental policies.

With the MSc at SOAS I found all that combined. The flexibility of the programme to choose different topics and compile my own curricula was extremely rewarding. It allowed me to add some subjects that are not part of a ‘typical’ environmental management degree, yet, very relevant for my area of work. Working in international development in Asia, I felt that at SOAS I would feel ‘at home’ rather than simply studying a degree for the certificate’s sake.

Why was distance learning suitable to your situation?

At the time I considered studying an MSc degree I worked as a consultant in natural resource management for a small consultancy. I was based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, but had to travel a lot. I was also regularly transferred between countries. Knowing that I wouldn’t be staying in one location for the entire study period, I needed a flexible study plan and geographic independence. Furthermore, I prefer not to sit in a class room, as I have my own pattern of learning. For instance, I can best read in the early morning, before I do anything else. Later during the day I get distracted from my own thoughts. Distance learning allowed me to combine working and studying, with progress at the pace that was right for me. I also had the flexibility to study different numbers of subjects between the years depending on the respective professional work load at that time. Furthermore, the possibility to choose from different examination centers was a real relief since it allowed me to focus on studying rather than organizing my life around the exam. Eventually, I took one exam in Melbourne, Australia, and two in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

How did you manage to work and study?

The flexibility to study when I wanted, and could, was ideal for me. I generally studied one or two hours in the mornings and then went to work. Saturdays were full day studying and Sundays often as well. When I started my MSc degree, I expected to have part-time employment with less workload than I eventually did. I finished my degree in three years and in the meantime always worked between 80 -100%. This was only possible thanks to a very flexible study plan.

How would you describe your learning experience?

My learning experience at SOAS was excellent. Studying an MSc degree at SOAS was so much more than studying. Although I never sat a single minute in a class-room, I felt being part of a group of people that was very close to each other. Despite my classmates changing in almost every subject and hence being different over the years, I felt connected. This was due to the many lively conversations in the discussion area which allowed learning from the experiences of my classmates in addition to the ‘mandatory’ study material. I also felt that the variety of backgrounds of my classmates and the different organizations that each one worked at was extremely enriching as it constantly related out study experience to the practical realities that each one of us was confronted with. It was as if we had an enormous real-time laboratory that allowed us to directly apply our gained knowledge over sectors and around the globe. I missed studying at SOAS even before I received the marks from my final exams! Looking back I feel that I achieved much more than simply doing an MSc degree.

What difference has your University of London qualification made to your career?

Working in an international environment, I feel that University of London and particularly SOAS is a reference. People react when they hear SOAS and many of them understand what SOAS is about. I honestly didn’t know that when I started. However, considering SOAS’ reputation, I am very happy I studied here. Although I hold a Swiss passport, I feel that I am a European citizen. With an MSc degree from the UK studied in English, I can express this European mind better than I could with a degree from Switzerland. In addition, the actual qualification I gained is much more international that it could be from any Swiss University.

Have you been able to apply the knowledge gained in your studies to your work?

Yes, definitely. The learned skills that I applied since range from implementing measures that prevent excessive rent capture by elites in countries where I work to coordinating an environmental impact assessment in Nigeria. I also improved my English skills and published two scientific papers from the research that I carried out for my master thesis. I feel that an MSc degree at SOAS allowed me to transform from a generalist in environmental engineering to an expert in environmental management working in international development.