INTERVIEW with Simone Bertoli: "An apparent geographical isolation"

Published on July 27, 2023 Updated on July 27, 2023

on the February 25, 2022

Interview with the Director of the CERDI

Interview with Simone Bertoli: "An apparent geographical isolation" 

How did you arrive at CERDI? 

I am Italian, born in Florence, Tuscany. I studied in Italy up to my PhD in Development Economies in 2007. I was recruited in Germany for a major European project at the Institute for Employment Research. I then returned to Italy for an initial European development report in 2008-2009. Then I went back to Germany as a postdoc at the European University Institute. On September 3, 2010, I got married. My wife, Francesca Marchetta, is Italian and when we got married, she was a postdoc at CERDI. She is also a researcher in development economics. I followed her. I was fortunate that the following year three positions opened up at CERDI. Lecturer, CNRS - University of Auvergne co-chair for 5 years, and university lecturer in 2016. We've been here for 10 years, and we like it here. As far as research is concerned, I am a bit single-minded. I am interested in the determinants of the effects of international migration on the countries of origin. 

What are the positive points of CERDI? 

An asset of CERDI is the strong contrast between its apparent geographical isolation and its real openness to the world. Many researchers from all over the world are invited for more or less long periods, and CERDI researchers also work all over the world. I have met some of my co-authors here, and it is during these meetings that we set up joint research projects. I've missed this aspect since lockdown. I find it difficult, without informal human contact, to imagine new collaborations. We can continue those already initiated, but to be able to discuss freely again over a coffee, a meal - New ideas need human contact, and at CERDI we have always had that. I hope that once the health crisis is over, we will return to this working habit. 

Who are the students at CERDI? 

The type of student differs between bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Auvergne natives are the majority of the bachelor' s students. At the Master's degree level. 47% of our students come from non-European countries, especially French-speaking Africa. At the doctoral level, 4 out of 5 are African.

This representativeness is linked to CERDI's contacts with international institutions. In Washington, at the IMF and the World Bank, we have more than 20 former CERDI doctoral students in each of these two institutions. The current Chief Economist for Africa at the World Bank is a former CERDI PhD student. These contacts are a factor of influence, and students know that by coming to Clermont Ferrand, they open up opportunities for an internship in these institutions. CERDI has built a reputation, it is natural for its partners to recruit new civil servants and researchers from it. 

A large proportion of our students come from abroad, because of our reputation and from a historical point of view due to the specialization of our research department. The department was created in the 1970s by a couple of development economics researchers, Patrick and Sylviane Guillaumont. Sylviane is part of the Jeanneney family, an important French political family, her father was one of the architects of the Franc zone in Africa. At CERDI, we have always been interested in monetary economics and public finances. This is a field that füs well with the scope of action of the major international monetary institutions. In addition to CERDI's reputation, research has been historically focused on macroeconomics to a larger extent than in a standard development economics department, where the focus is more on microeconomic issues. At CERDI, it has always been about macro aspects, currency management, finance, management and mobilization of fiscal resources, and aid management. These more macro issues are of particular interest to international institutions. Also, the common thread that links the various theses prepared at CERDI is that they are oriented towards empirical and not only theoretical developments. 

Is the teaching in French? 

Historically, in French-language training, external speakers lectured in English. English has become the lingua franca of research. French and French­speaking students must have a good command of English to continue their studies and professional paths. I arrived here in 2011, at the time I didn't speak French. I was lucky to be able to be a lecturer in English at masters level. We also offer a selective two-language bachelor degree with small numbers, for which a large part of the courses in economics, statistics and econometrics are provided in English. 

In recent years, we have also had courses that are exclusively in English, including a Master's degree funded by the European Union, entirely in English, for which students rotate from one semester to another between the three partner universities. 

We are diversifying our offering. Courses in English are attractive for students who do not have a good foundation in French. Most of our students come from French-speaking African countries, but now also from Asia and Latin America. 

1s it easy to study in Clermont-Ferrand? 

The students are migrants. Already having a community present at the destination significantly facilitates integration. Former nationals of your country are the prime sources of information. If you want to inquire before deciding to come to Clermont-Ferrand, you will ask their feelings, and when you arrive they will be the first factor of integration. They will tell you what are the best places to eat, to go out at night, what classes or teachers they liked most. lt is a true integration factor. The African environment here is very rich in terms of associative commitment. There are various associations that allow you to socialize, to make contacts, but of course not everything is always easy. The advantage of Clermont-Ferrand compared to other French cities is the cost of housing, which is significantly lower than Paris, Lyon, and Bordeaux. This makes integration easier, but some of our students are forced to work to support their studies. 

I will not hide from you that in general at UCA, and more specifically at CERDI, the decision to introduce higher tuition fees for non-European students was a source of concern. These higher fees were abolished at the doctoral level, but remain for bachelor and masters degree courses. We do not fully know the effect of this increase because everything has been upset by the health crisis, but 47% of our masters degree students come from French-speaking Africa. 2,800 Euros per year of tuition fees is a source of concern. lt' s a shame, some students would be capable of continuing their studies in France, but will not be able to for lack of financial means.