What are the benefits of student volunteering, beyond enhancing a CV or developing soft skills? Are there other talents developing or changes in behaviour less obvious and unintended when an undergraduate gives their time to a project or cause? I’m presenting a piece of research at the Refugee and Migration Exhibition at De Montfort University that suggests that student volunteers are showing an increase in their political participation as a result as giving time to work with refugees and migrant communities. The Refugee and Migration Exhibition has been organised by the Arts, Designand Humanities Faculty and has been inspired by DMU’s close involvement with the Together Campaign, so look out for any exhibition-related tweets with the hashtag #JoinTogether. Lots of DMU researchers are giving talks on their specialisms too. As part of my talk I’ll discuss how political engagement amongst young people has been lower than other voting groups for several decades. In the United Kingdom, since 2010, the 18 – 24 age group has received considerable scrutiny in the wake a major political decisions and election outcomes. Historically the public good of higher education was considered to not only supply a well-educated workforce for the country but to create well-rounded and civically-engaged individuals that would benefit society. Since the UK Government’s introduction of full tuition fees in 2012, questions have been raised about the purpose of universities, with an increased focus on economic and employability outcomes for graduates. In light of falling political engagement amongst young people, the government’s Electoral Commission has encouraged UK universities to seek new ways to encourage more young people to vote. Volunteering, which is offered in some form by most UK universities, is recognised through various studies as a way of building social capital and creating civic engagement. This research presents a case study of whether a programme of focussed volunteering for university students can better enhance participants’ political awareness by exposing them to people directly affected by political policies, in thiscase refugees and migrant communities. This research seeks to identify whether participation with refugee and migrant communities can lead to increased political engagement, likelihood to vote or future activism. I present the outcome of a pilot study linked to my PhD which used mixed methods of qualitative and quantitative research involving a questionnaire and focus group of a small group of students who discussed the effects working with refugees on a recent trip to Berlin (pictured top), which I podcasted with their permission.
Welcome to this lightning guide to the benefits of blogging at De Montfort University’s Research Conference for Doctoral and Early Career Researchers entitled: Your Research Journey: The challenges of writing. I have a blog that I update when I can. Often it is as a result of doing literature reviews or writing articles and experiences as I pursue my PhD. There is also other stuff on there I like to share – family history, travel and random ideas to get off my chest. As I only have ten minutes I just want to give you some key points about blogging that will hopefully inspire you. I am Head of Public Engagement at DMU so it is important that I encourage all staff and students to deploy a variety of methods of sharing knowledge. Once such was of reaching out and sharing ideas is blogging. Like most engagement, the benefits are usually two-fold for you and the university and your audience. Academic blogging is a valid and useful method of public engagement. It allows you share your work and ideas. Like all forms of public engagement, this can help to build trust and understanding of the work, particularly research, that takes universities, and helps to increase understanding of our relevance to, and impact, on society. That said, there are drawbacks to consider – you may get trolled for your ideas or receive critiques that perhaps you didn’t want to hear. In the main the benefits of blogging outweigh the negatives. Positive outcomes include creating new networks, contacts and building your researcher reputation.
Here is a piece of writing that I did recently that ambitiously I was hoping to turn into a research paper and send to an academic journal. My PhD supervisors’ feedback was that the scope was too broad and I should refine it. Since that conversation, I have taken those words on board and I’m currently developing a more focused research plan, which will potentially spin-off a number of pieces of research from this initial idea. I wanted to investigate where students’ awareness of austerity is motivating them to volunteer in the new era of Higher Education tuition fees.I thought I would blog my original writing as it will prove a useful reference point as my ideas and writing develops on this subject area. Obviously I’ve made it blog friendly and cut some details around data gathering and methodology out – oh and there’s no findings! On the other hand, it does present the notion that somewhere within this subject matter, there is an opportunity for further investigation.
I recently presented at the Annual Conference of the University Association of Life-long Learning at the University of Oxford. As I am not an academic, rather a practictioner as Head of Public Engagement at De Montfort University, I do not present things too often. In fact this was the first time I presented anything related to my PhD research. The University of Oxford was one of the pioneers of the University Extension movement in the United Kingdom. My presentation was in Rewley House, Oxford’s home of extramural activity where for over 100 years academics and communities have undertaken learning activities together (see photo). I was very proud to be presenting my work in such historic surroundings, if a little nervous. In my verbal introduction to the delegates, I explained that this research, done specifically for this particular conference, was an opportunity for me to investigate something that had been bugging me for a while. Namely, do the great things universities say are happening when they work with communities actually happen? Or do they assume they happened? As it was a conference for academics and practitioners, the research was written for a broad audience and the presentation was not particularly framed in the language of social science. With this in mind, if you have any questions about the detail or methodology, please tweet me @TheNewStatsman – otherwise here is the corresponding article I wrote for the presentation:
There is a growing interest in how universities work with the public to pursue projects that aim to deliver mutual benefits through engagement (Owen and Hill S, 2011; Watson, 2007; NCCPE, 2015) and while public engagement in higher education is not a new concept (Robinson F, Zass-Ogilvie I, Hudson R., 2012), there is now a need for greater accountability from funding bodies and authorities, increasing the need for universities to demonstrate how they connects their work with people beyond the campus (Wellcome Trust, 2011). This literature review aims to discuss two elements. It sets out to provide analysis of the existing literature around university-community engagement. It also identifies a gap in the literature around evaluation of engagement activities. Higher Education sees its third mission, beyond teaching and learning, as sharing its knowledge to benefit the wider public (Goddard J, 2009) (Boyer, 1990). How this is achieved can take many forms, from people taking part in research, school children participating in Higher Education taster days to community groups using campus facilities (Robinson F, Zass-Ogilvie I, Hudson R., 2012).How universities engage with people from outside their organisations differs from institution to institution (Universities UK, 2010) and how this is described is inconsistent across the sector, nationally and internationally (Hart & Northmore, 2011), (Mason O‘Connor K, et al 2011).
Definitions of this work will be considered, along with why different types of engagement need to be evaluated.
I always like reading about PhD students’ experiences and like to contribute to the work of the staff who work in De Montfort University’s Centre for Learning and Study Support who have really helped me find my feet after returning to academic study after 20+ years… A lot has changed in that time, from advances in technology, to support for study. This week the centre asked me to answer three questions in order to create materials to help new research students due to start at the university in September. I thought I’d blog my answers (as it’s merely a copy and paste):
I. What three research-related words would you have liked to have defined for you when you first started your PhD?
1) Paradigm – heard this a lot. I’d much rather they’d said theories, patterns or concepts! Continue reading →
The search for a research question for my future PhD thesis is a lot harder than I imagined. However, the more I speak to colleagues and fellow research students, the more reassured I am that I am heading in the right direction. My supervisor told me finding your research topic is a little like dating. He said you hold hands with a lot of ideas until you find one you want to marry. My good friend, another professor, said it was like creating a sculpture. He said it was like taking a block of marble and chiseling away until something significant was created. I wrote my initial PhD proposal twice, in which he remarked that I’d already passed through the marble twice. Continue reading →
As I dig away at the ideas that my make my research, I do tend to come across ideas that fascinate me or put things in a context I hadn’t considered. This week’s reading was around the origins of university-community engagement. I had been aware of the public good, or benefit, of a university being borne out of the foundations of places like the University of Bologna or Humbolt, Berlin, but never actually considered what our oldest Higher Education institutions in the UK were up to. Continue reading →
The great social commentator Paul Weller (cough) once said “the more I know, the less I understand” in his three minute masterpiece that was The Changingman. I always thought it was about him, and his experiences of going through divorce and becoming a new person. Just lately I have been thinking about the phrase as my attempts to settle in to life as a PhD student. In October I gave a talk at the University of Leicester, brimming with confidence that what I was saying, as a practitioner, was correct. Now I’m trying to study the theory about what I think makes my ideas correct. The result is that my confidence is suddenly not as wilful, and my ideas are changing. My knowledge is growing – so I should be even more confident surely? But that is not the case. The more views and opinions I read, the more my doubts grow. I saw a graphic of a PhD researcher’s journey earlier this week. Continue reading →