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Free access to the initial session was encouraged by the Dunedin City Council, which has sponsored the school.
The move also reflects the school's theme of exploring popular participation.
Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin will speak during the opening session, which starts at 6.30pm this Friday, with Foreign Minister Winston Peters giving the keynote address.
The 43rd annual school is this year devoted to "Power to the People? Public Participation in Foreign Policy", and is being held at Salmond College, a university student residential facility.
A leading academic, Prof Ole Holsti, of Duke University, in the United States, will speak on Saturday, via video link, about "Public Opinion and US Foreign Policy after September 11".
The three-day school will bring together leading specialists, activists and members of the public to debate whether more popular participation is needed in setting foreign policy.
About 110 people are expected to attend.
Political commentator and historian Chris Trotter, an Otago University graduate who now lives in Auckland, will formally debate the question of "More power to the people?" with Dr Lance Beath, of the Centre for Strategic Studies.
The panel discussions include "Public Input into the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement" with panellists Alasdair Thompson, chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, Peter Conway (New Zealand Council of Trade Unions) and Matt Crawford (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade).
In another first for the school, a national public opinion poll on aspects of foreign affairs, trade and defence has been commissioned by a research group at the Otago politics department, and initial results will be released during the school, organisers said.
School co-director Dr Jim Headley, who is a lecturer in the department, said the issue of public participation in foreign policy had gained new prominence after the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001.
Foreign policy decisions made by governments in the name of their people could also have "profound impacts" on those people, not only over responses to terrorism, but also over other global issues, such as climate change and free trade, Dr Headley said.