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The Australian National University

Doctoral scholar probes Australia's Africa policy

PhD student Nikola Pijovic highlights NSC's link between academia and policymaking.

Nikola PijovicNational Security College PhD student Nikola Pijovic is reaping the rewards of three-and-a-half years of hard work. After joining ANU in 2013, he will soon be submitting his thesis on Australia’s foreign policy engagement with Africa.

“It’s really a PhD on Australian foreign policy looking at the case study of African engagement, trying to explain how it changed, and then seeing what broader themes there are for Australian foreign policy,” he says. “One of the broader themes that I’ve found is a significant degree of partisanship in what is generally perceived to be a fairly bipartisan foreign policy in Australia.”

Nikola studied in Adelaide before completing his Masters in Poland and Denmark on a scholarship with the European Union’s Erasmus Mundus Programme. During his Masters he focused on the Somaliland region of northern Somalia, as well as African terrorist groups like al-Shabaab. When he decided to do his PhD, he wanted to continue to focus on Africa but deepen the Australian connection. Choosing to broaden his focus from traditional international relations, Nikola found the National Security College to be a good fit. “I’m working a bit on terrorism as well as foreign policy, so it all falls under national security,” he says.

Nikola’s work is already being recognised, with his 2014 article on Australia’s relationship with Africa through the Commonwealth winning the prestigious Peter Lyon Memorial Prize, awarded by The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs. The award recognises the journal’s best policy-oriented article of relevance to the contemporary Commonwealth.

For Nikola, the NSC’s small size and collegiate community has been a definite advantage.

“It’s good to be part of something where you can really contribute, rather than being in a big department where you’re just another number and whether you show up or not won’t make a difference,” he says. “Here, you can really contribute to the energy of the place. It’s got a really good collegiate culture.”

Although he originally moved to Canberra due to his wife’s work, Nikola has found being in the nation’s capital has also helped his research, especially with his focus on Australian foreign policy. “Canberra’s so small, you meet a lot of people through university connections, especially for those interested in practical and policy areas. Just by virtue of being here you meet so many people. Generally most of my fieldwork was done here in Canberra.”

Nikola is unsure what the future holds, but he feels that the NSC’s contacts and reputation in both academia and government have served him well. He has already been offered a job with a major government department, but hasn’t ruled out a return to academia.

“The thing I like a lot is that the NSC is in between academia and policymaking, which is good for contacts,” he says.

“I want to do academic work, but I think it would also be good to have practical experience with policymaking and government for at least a few years. Even as an academic, students want people who have relevant experience, and certainly we come across that a lot in the courses I tutor.”