Online students from Leiden to São Paulo share their views on the international tax law system

What is it like to study without seeing the inside of a lecture hall? Three students talk about their experience with Leiden University’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Rethinking International Tax Law.

Six weeks of international tax law

More than 11,000 people around the globe are registered for this MOOC given by Professor Sjoerd Douma and his colleagues at Leiden University. The students are taken on a six-week journey through the practice of international tax law, which in recent years has become a topic of heated debate. Who are these students and how did they find studying online?

First MOOC on Tax Law in the Netherlands

In 2013 Leiden University was the first Dutch university to offer MOOCs via the Coursera platform, and now the law faculty is the first to offer a MOOC on tax law in the Netherlands. The course consists of six modules of short video lectures from Leiden University’s most experienced tax law professors, as well as quizzes, peer review and interactive assignments.

Exchanging insights from different countries

So far, the course has proven to be a success. ‘This course offers us the unique chance to share our knowledge with thousands of people worldwide. Normally we would never be able to get so many people together at once. In return the students offer us and each other insights about tax law in their own countries,’ says tax law lecturer Judith Reijnen who developed the course with Professor Douma.

In coffee bars and via Facebook

The course inspires students to discuss current developments in international taxation law, ethical aspects of the law and how these - often outdated - rules can be adjusted to fit today’s economy. Students from Leiden and all around the world meet up at coffee bars or online on the official Facebook page to discuss the online lectures and assignments and share their views on how problems with international tax rules should be addressed.

New insights

‘The variety of backgrounds of students is amazing, and the different points of view in our debates so far has given me a lot of new insights into the current rules surrounding international taxation,’ says Lucas Carvalho a 28-year-old Brazilian tax associate from a firm in São Paulo. He is a student of the advanced track of the MOOC, which is intended for a broad audience (basic track) as well as for specialists with experience in the field (advanced track).

‘Ideal course for busy professionals’

Business and tax lawyer Magda Patiti (41) has her own firm with clients from international corporations, shipping companies and wealthy individuals and has very little time to waste. She decided to enrol in the MOOC because it is such a convenient way to stay up to date. ‘The course is ideal for busy professionals with tight schedules. I can read the materials and watch the videos during breaks and weekends or in the evening. The professors are inspiring and the course is very well organised. Knowledge from all over the world is contributed in a way that keeps the course really fascinating.’

Leiden first university to offer credits

Leiden University also offers the MOOC to Master of Law students (LLM) and is the first Dutch university to give students credits if they successfully complete the MOOC as part of their work for an LLM course on tax treaties. Rianne Starkenburg (25) is one of the LLM students who is following the advanced track of the MOOC. ‘This way I can watch the lectures whenever and wherever I want. On the downside, it requires a lot of discipline to watch the videos and read the articles and not to wait until the day of the deadlines to do the tests.’

Evaluating the work of others helps her to learn the materials. ‘By reading the work of other students you get a more profound view of topics like the plans of OECD regarding tax law strategies of multinational corporations such as Starbucks and Apple. I find this very enriching and I think this is definitely the way of learning for the future.’

‘Tax avoidance is not always illegal’

The MOOC provides students with enough knowledge to comprehend and take part in the international discussion on the tax strategies of multinationals, she says. ‘In this debate not everyone understands that tax avoidance is not always illegal. It is often a smart way of using the existing loopholes in the international tax legislation. I would recommend everyone who has no background in tax law and who wants to take part in the debate to follow this MOOC.’

(9 June 2015)

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Last Modified: 09-06-2015