The Bulletin interviews: Professor Dr. Andreas Goldthau, the Brandt School's new director

Professor Goldthau

Today, with the start of the new semester, we welcome Prof. Dr. Andreas Goldthau as the Willy Brandt School's new director. The directorship, which rotates amongst Brandt School professors has, for the last three years been held by Prof. Dr. Achim Kemmerling. Professor Goldthau has taught at, and been an integral part of the Brandt School community since 2019. To mark the occasion and to get to know the new director a bit more, Professor Goldthau took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some of our questions about how he came to the Brandt School and where he sees the school going.


Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions today, Professor Goldthau! Could you just begin by telling us a bit about yourself, what brought you into the public policy sphere?

That journey started some 15 years ago during my postdoc at RAND, a policy think tank. I participated in a project studying the national security challenges of US oil import dependence. This was just before Obama became president, and our timely study hit the desk of his incoming administration. It was a fascinating experience, and I understood that you can do both meaningful scholarly work and have important impact on real policy if you tailor it well. So, I moved on to work for several policy schools and always kept close contact with the think tank world. It is a fascinating space and one I am still enjoying.


Everyone here knows you as the Intro to Public Policy and the Comparative Public Policy professor, but your specific interests lay in the energy transition? Could you go into some detail about your work and research?

I have for long studied the political economy of oil and gas markets, and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine sadly drives home the point that fossil fuels seem to remain geopolitically as charged as they have always been. What drives my research these days, however, is how to get rid of the fossil stuff. The sheer scale of this transition is already daunting. But the most important question is: can the Global South manage it, and on time? It is in the non-OECD world where most of the future emissions lie, as developing countries are eager to advance their economies. Creating economic growth by at the same time limiting emissions going forward is a policy challenge many developing find difficult to manage. In our research we try to understand what gets in the way of the energy transition in Africa, South-East Asia or Latin America, and what can be done to facilitate it. We are also looking into the possible side effects of the EU and OECD nations going low carbon, from security spillovers to aspects related to energy justice. The truth is that some of the policy measures aimed at fostering the clean transition – though well-intended – may well create new inequality or possibly even conflict.


You joined the Brandt School from London. What brought you here?

The Brandt School is a unique place in Germany, and in Europe. I call us a ‘boutique policy school.’ We are very selective in what we do, and with whom we do it. Our teaching portfolio strictly centers on areas where we excel in our research. Our students are hand-picked. And we value diversity not only in abstract terms, but we live it, with some 90 percent of our student body coming from non-OECD contexts. I always eyed the Brandt School as a possible destination when eventually returning to Germany – which I ended up doing after working abroad for some 12 years.


Now that you’re going to be taking the reins of the directorship, what direction do you envision taking the school?

My aim is to make the Brandt School Germany’s go-to-place for anyone interested in studying public policy making in contested contexts. Once you leave the comfort zone of top-level economies with well-resourced public management systems, textbook models hit their limits. This is where things become truly interesting, and it is where the school has stand-alone quality, in graduate education and postgraduate research. We will work together with strong and selected partners, in co-creation with organizations that bring in complementary expertise, and by way of putting further resources into our EIPCC graduate center for early career researchers. We’ll take this lovely boutique school to a new level.


Can you identify any challenges that the school needs to overcome and how you plan on addressing these?

A key challenge for policy schools around the world lies in coming to terms with an almost perfect storm of deep and simultaneous changes. Rising powers no longer subscribe to democratic principle whilst populism is eroding established democracies from within. Rapid advances in technology promise socio-economic progress but also strengthens the hands of non-liberal regimes. Climate change or the global pandemic require multilateral cooperation whilst political tension between the West on the one hand and Russia and China on the other is rising. This raises some very fundamental questions: where do we need to rethink public policy in research and teaching? Which role do norms and values play here, and can we take them for universally applicable? Do our models merely reflect a world that has for long been dominated by Western ideas or do they stand the test of our times? How can we make use of the insights from emerging nations in our work, and facilitate truly mutual policy learning? And: how can we eventually come to a reckoning with the colonial past that arguably also has left its mark on policy schools? We need to find answers to this, and it will require a process we at the Brandt School will not shy away from.


Finally: tea or coffee?

Americano. Black please.

Great! Well, thank you so much for being here today. Best of luck with this new role, we'll be rooting for you!

About the interviewer

John M. McElfresh is a second year MPP student at the Willy Brandt School. 

~ The views represented in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Brandt School. ~