Outgoing: Thomas' co-tutelle with Leiden University

Thomas Leclerc, 26yrs old, PhD, obtained his master’s degree in International Law from the University of Bordeaux in 2012 and spent two “academic” years (2013 to 2015) in Leiden University, the Netherlands, as part of his co-tutelle agreement between the “Centre de recherche et de documentation européennes et Internationales” (CRDEI - University of Bordeaux) and the International Institute of Air and Space Law (IIASL - Leiden University, The Netherlands). The focus of his academic research is the connection between environmental law and international air law, specifically on sustainable solutions for reducing aircraft greenhouse emissions.

Why did you choose to carry out a co-tutelle?

During my previous studies, I took every opportunity to live and study abroad. During the third year of my law degree I went on a one-year exchange program to the University of Law of Granada (Spain). Inspired by this first “living abroad” experience, I then went on another exchange program during the second year of my master’s degree, this time outside Europe, to the University of San Andrés, in Buenos Aires (Argentina), where I spent thirteen months.

It was after this second experience that my current French supervisor, Prof. Grard, suggested that I carry on with my academic research via a specific contract, including a co-tutelle agreement. This has proven to be the ideal project for me, combining a PhD research contract and a new life experience abroad in a completely different academic system.

Why did you choose Leiden University?

The IIASL, part of Leiden University, is one of the world’s leading international academic research and teaching institutes, specialising in legal and policy issues regarding aviation and space activities. Integrating the PhD program of the IIASL was therefore a unique opportunity for me. I received advice and support from Prof. Grard and a previous PhD candidate in Bordeaux, Prof. Correia. They helped me establish contact with my supervisor in Leiden, Prof. Mendes de Leon, who made the entire co-tutelle project a reality.

What have you learned from this international experience?

Fortunately (or unfortunately!), I did not have to learn Dutch, as almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks English. It is foremost unfortunate because after two years in this great country, getting to know the Dutch, learning about their culture, traditions, customs etc., I never learnt their language. At the same time, I was fortunate because it allowed me to focus on improving my English, both in an academic and in an everyday sense. As a result, I return to France without any regrets, but with the hope to return to the Netherlands one day to close this “language gap”.

Beyond the language, and the very real cultural exploration during this kind of international experience, I will add one general comment. Living abroad, with its ups and downs, gives you the luxury of time: time to visit, enjoy, work, celebrate, and have time to fill! This time provides you with the unique opportunity to develop your own “daily routine” and life experience in a foreign country. 

What are the main differences you have identified between research in France and the Netherlands?

The IIASL, as part of the Netherland’s academic system, and the CRDEI, as part of the French system, are two different worlds and each have their strengths and weaknesses. In that sense, they are difficult to compare. Nevertheless, I have remarked the following: the IIASL is built on an impressive network of professionals who are passionate about air and space law. It provides researchers with very useful contacts and makes them feel part of a worldwide family. The CRDEI has a wider program, as it focuses not only on air and space law, but also on international and European legal research in a broad sense. Considering this, the CRDEI’s body of teaching and administrative staff is larger than the IIASL’s, which helps researchers to form academic and personal links with experts of other legal and international disciplines.

At the end of the day, combining such different academic environments provides a PhD student with a unique research experience and I have no doubt that this is so for each co-tutelle agreement.

Updated on 21/09/2021