I haven’t been to India for a couple of years, I think it’s fairly well known I don’t like flying and despite my love of De Montfort University’s Square Mile India programme, the food and the politics of the country, I cannot face an 11-hour journey including an internal flight to Ahmedabad, Gujarat. That said, my trips to India have impacted my life, I have seen extreme poverty, people living under questionable religious order (the caste system), beautiful colours, interesting faces and millions of people enjoying another level of spirituality I could not reach no matter how much drink and drugs I consumed on a journey to truly find myself. I can live with the fact I’m not George Harrison but it certainly feels like India does effect people in a way visits to other countries do not. Sure you can see poverty in London, New York, Berlin, and the bottom of your street, but few comeback from a holiday and say ‘that was truly life-changing’. Yet people who come back from India do, so much so it’s becoming something of a cliche. When the brilliant folks in ADH at DMU said they wanted to a research exhibition about India in The Gallery, I thought this was my chance to lance my boil and actually investigate whether students volunteering in India was truly life-changing or just a cliché. I am in the process of writing a paper on this, but as the exhibition closed last week I wanted to share the story so far and I’m happy for an academic collaboration to get the paper into shape for a future journal submission. I also created a podcast with Chris, Kainaath and Lucy from one of the focus groups that you can hear here:Continue reading
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.
You can hear the podcast here:
I have gone 28-hours without sleep. I was awake through the coldest night of winter so far with many other hardy souls from De Montfort University, Leicester, to demonstrate our solidarity with victims of breaches of human rights worldwide with a 24-hour vigil. I was willing to deprive myself of sleep and do this is because I believe that being civically and politically engaged is a crucially important attribute all students should learn and develop. Secondly a vigil is really interesting and entertaining, a place where views of different people from a variety of disciplines can come together and pull ideas apart and put them back together again and develop understanding. Finally, I believe that an outdoor vigil that lasts 24-hours is symbolic. It shows an unbroken chain of commitment that gives those suffering violations of human rights hope that there are good people out there who want to make the world a better place.Continue reading
Using waste ground coffee to grow mushrooms, create a make-do-and-mend culture and find ways to stimulate a ‘sharing economy’ were at least three ideas for a ‘Smart City’ I didn’t see coming. They were given to me at Leicester’s first Proaction Café at the LCB Deport. I was asked to host a table at the event and seek a solution to my challenge – in my case consulting people on what does Leicester as a Smart City mean to you? It is part of what hopefully be a series of Proaction Café’s in the city led by Leicester Interchange. Billed as ‘Idea Generation’, the event invited people to come to support others to generate ideas on how they can address social issues that affect the lives of Leicester’s residents. Around 30 people joined the session and they were invited to choose which subject they would like to contribute to from the five table hosts at the event.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
What is a Smart City?
Most people don’t know what a ‘Smart City’ is, and let’s face it why would they care? Even the most simplified definition, like this one, taken from Wikipedia, would switch off any man or woman in the street quicker than a dodgy smartphone battery: “A smart city is an urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of things (IoT) solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets – the city’s assets include, but are not limited to, local departments’ information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services.” If you haven’t already blown your own brains out and get the gist of it, you soon realise that this stuff is much bigger than us, so probably wont engage with it. To quote The Smiths: “It says nothing to me about my life…” I met with my colleague Dr Lee Hadlington who sits with me and on the De Montfort University Smart City Project Board to work out how we can get people more involved in the idea, as we work on a plan to see how Leicester could be a Smart City*.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
In a gloomy, dank school gymnasium in a backstreet of Berlin I got a tiny insight into what life is like for the displaced people of Syria who find themselves trying to settle in Germany. One sports hall in the complex was turned into a makeshift community centre for children and families. Adjacent to this was the living area for up to 150 families who have come to Germany in search of a better life. In my role as Head of Public Engagement at De Montfort University, I was with a delegation of (DMU) students researching the city’s response to the huge influx of Syrian people – so they can reinvigorate a programme to help refugees and asylum seekers in Leicester,Continue reading
There’s nothing like a great piece of music, fashion or a movie to set the scene of the 1960s some of the most exciting and creative times in modern history. Earlier this month I was lucky enough to take part in an event in London where a group of De Montfort University staff and students recreated the 1960s cinema experience from the findings of research of more than 1,000 people sharing their memories. The research project was led by DMU’s Dr Matthew Jones and was brought to life in collaboration with staff and students from DMU’s Drama studies course.For me, it was great to see such an innovative way to disseminate research findings. This podcast was recorded at the event, held at the Picturehouse Cinema in London’s Piccadilly Circus. It features first year DMU Drama Student Sophie Dolling, Senior lecturers in Drama Kelly Jordan and Alissa Clarke and Lecturer in Cinema and Television History, Dr Matthew Jones. Read the full blog about the event here. I hope you enjoy the podcast, if you have any questions please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
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: