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April 09, 2013

The future of the student experience: NUS President–elect Toni Pearce

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Photography of Toni Pearce NUS President elect 2013/2014

Humbled and excited: Toni Pearce at NUS Conference 2013. Her first tweet as President-elect read "Incredibly humbled and excited to have been elected the next @nusuk national president. Thank you! #nusnc13."

Alex Miles (University of Warwick) speaks to the Toni Pearce, President-elect of the National Union of Students (NUS). Toni is the first NUS president to be elected from an FE (further education) background.

AM: Will MOOCs (massive open online courses) transform student representation for the better or for the worse?

TP: It’s a complicated issue. I think it’ll be a challenge for all student organisations, including the NUS – as we’ll have to start making more of our activities online. That’s about saying, actually, what do these people want – do these people want formal debates, do they want nights out, do they want a masculine model of democracy, where you stand up and have 'for' and 'against' arguments or do they want forums and discussions online? Do they just want somewhere where they can raise issues with the academic quality on their course? If you’re a mature student who’s studying in the evenings then you probably don’t want the wine and cheese evening that’s traditionally laid on for you but you might just want somebody who will campaign for child-care on your campus, and I think that’s the really important thing: identifying things that our students need and delivering on those.

AM: And if your student population is scattered around the globe and watching online, how do you ensure that quality and student rights are maintained? Indeed, how would you (completely hypothetically) ensure that the sense of community and student solidarity is maintained, despite the disparate nature of that education model?

TP: I think that we have to be really clear that solidarity doesn’t just mean solidarity when something goes wrong. It doesn’t just mean protests or occupations or placards - and all of those things are absolutely key to lots of the student movements, to activism – but it can be about so much more than that. We have the technology and the capability now to engage with thousands of students online and, actually, if we put our minds to it, could absolutely engage with them and create a sense of community and make sure that those people feel engaged. It’s not like we have only one student studying in Dubai, for instance, where students' unions are outlawed; we have to look at how we work around that model because, when they’re enrolled with institutions in the UK, it’s really important that they have the same rights to access student voice structures and democratic structures as our students studying within the UK have. That’s a really difficult one to navigate. Maybe that’s about bringing those students together on their campuses internationally, maybe it’s about creating students’ unions internationally that aren’t just based on institutions but are based purely on the nature of being a student, so being able to organise between institutions rather than just within your own institution. I think that will be really important in the future.

AM: And so, would you create a students' union for each online course provider?

TP: I suppose the example that I’d use is the way that we’ve begun to set up the National Society of Apprentices in the UK. Usually our constituent members are students' unions of each institution, but what we’ve actually done (because apprentices are so spread out in the UK, and you could have maybe one studying with one private training provider) is given them the opportunity to have individual membership to something called the National Society of Apprentices which is, in itself, affiliated to NUS, so they can have a democratic voice through that structure. And I suppose that’s how we might think about doing it internationally. I know that there’s obviously a lot of thought that would need to go into that but we shouldn’t underestimate the power of a better link between the students' union movement and the trade union movement because a lot of people who are studying online or are studying part-time are doing so because their own life commitments prevent them from being full-time (possibly because they’re working full-time). Making sure that we have a much stronger commitment between the trade union movement and the students' union movement will allow them to work together and ensure that those people who are working have the opportunity to access, not just education but also quality education.

AM: The University of Warwick is hosting the 2013 Global University Summit later this summer, which will issue a formal declaration on higher education to the G8. Let’s say that, for some reason Bono has decided that higher education is his new raison d’etre and he is going to lobby the G8 Summit of World Leaders to make one commitment on this matter - bearing in mind that this year’s summit is going to be focusing on free trade – what would you like that commitment to be?

TP: I think that it’s impossible, and perhaps unhelpful, to single out higher education as something that you can change within itself because it’s so subject to the changes in society around it, and not just within the UK but internationally. If I wanted Bono to campaign on one issue that would have an impact on the higher education system, and a positive impact on students in higher education, it would be to change the whole way that our higher education system works, and the way that it allows students from different backgrounds and different classes to access all types of education, (whether that’s young people from the poorest backgrounds accessing the most prestigious higher education institutions or people from the most privileged backgrounds accessing some kind of more vocational opportunities) but also making sure that that’s freely available throughout the world.

Some of the issues coming up, particularly around the Scottish independence referendum, really give us a glimpse into the future of how students will be prevented from moving around, not just around the EU but nationally, and actually I think that’s really important as we move into a much more technological age. I think it’s only right that more information is shared freely throughout the world because our education system should be about just that - educating people and not about the marketization of knowledge and information. I think that’s a really big concern for me, the fact that you wouldn’t be able to freely access knowledge, and I think with the opportunities that are given to us through technology, the internet and even MOOCs, I think people should have absolutely the opportunity to access knowledge and information freely. That’s one of the really exciting things that the Open University does. So I suppose that it’s very difficult to ask one thing from Bono, but I suppose it would be a massive overhaul of the whole of the university system in the UK.

Image c/o the National Union of Students.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the GUS, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.

January 31, 2013

All we need is One World Week vision

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Coconut shell with straws on beach

When the temperature outside has barely been above zero in weeks, your nearest international airport is only ten miles away and you can easily contact alumni in more than 50 countries, it is tempting to consider picking up a round-the-world-flight, packing a bag and deciding on which beach to rock up on first.

But, if a limited budget, deadlines (be they course or work related) or a fear of flying prevent you from boarding a plane and then slapping on the sunscreen, fear not, for while you are unable to visit the world, the world is more than happy to come, in a manner of speaking, to Warwick.

One World Week is one of the largest international student arts festivals in the world and this is down to the University of Warwick having a diverse, willing and talented student body. The week-long festival, which is currently taking place on campus, aims to “stimulate personal development and inspire a view based on acceptance and appreciation of the world's mosaic of cultures, encouraging awareness of and positive action on issues which affect our one world.” When you look at the schedule of events on offer, there is definitely a variety of ways in which Warwick’s students can be inspired – from the intellectual evening forums to the visual and sensory overload that comes from the closing Carnival on Saturday. It’s clear that a lot of work goes into organising the festival and I hope those behind One World Week get the chance to enjoy the fruits of their labours as much as the rest of us on campus.

One World Week is also one of the many events held at Warwick that make use of the University’s international connections and bring a global perspective onto the campus. Experts in various fields come for One World Week to take part in panel discussions and evening events. Among those offering their insight this year are Tony Barber, Europe editor and associate editor of the Financial Times and Bill Thompson, technology critic for the BBC. We’ll be interviewing Bill this evening, discussing net neutrality and his view of the ‘perfect internet’ and covering Tony’s contributions to a panel discussion on the future of the European Union.

Bill Thompson BBC technology critic

Bill Thompson, BBC technology critic [Image c/o Wikimedia Commons]

Tony Barber Financial Times

Tony Barber, Europe editor and associate editor of the Financial Times [Image c/o]

Whilst you wait for those articles to appear on the Knowledge Centre, here’s a few photos of events so far.

Game of Carrom Karrom at University of Warwick Students Union during One world week 2013

Roll a D6: Students enjoy a game of carrom on campus

A flavour of New Orleans at One World Week 2013 University of Warwick students union

Geaux Tigers: The gumbo flavour of Louisiana comes to Warwick

Henna tattoo at One World Week 2013 University of Warwick students union

Henna tattooist are on hand to show off their work

beating of bongo drums at one world week 2013 University of Warwick Students Union

He bangs the drum: musicians are on hand to bring an audible element to One World Week

View of the crowds in Roots Building at One World Week 2013 University of Warwick Students Union

Crowd sourcing: The Students' Union main space is turned into an international concourse for the week

November 13, 2012

What is in an acronym? WIDS 2012

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WIDS 2012 US_Navy Haitian workers Port-Au-Prince international airport
Haitian workers move cooking oil supplied by United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID) at a distribution centre at Port-Au-Prince international airport. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Higher education is full of acronyms – from HEFCE and BIS at the government/funding end through to the likes of ‘WBL’ and UWWO that students at the University of Warwick might come across during their time on campus.

Sometimes, once the acronym is spelled out, the purpose of the phrase or organisation is self-evident (WBL is work-based learning and UWWO is the University of Warwick Wind Orchestra if you haven’t already googled the terms). But over the past month there’s one acronym that keeps popping up at Warwick that I’ve struggled to get my head around. It’s ‘WIDS’ – the Warwick International Development Society. It’s not because the group’s badly named or that I’ve not come international development before, it’s just that the acronym and name cannot fully sum up all of the ideas and work that WIDS embraces. It’s a failing of the English language rather than a poor choice of name. WIDS is the student society equivalent of ‘Espirit d'escalier’1 or ‘Tatemae and honne’2. Sadly, the English language lacks a succinct term that fully sums up the work, aspirations and feelings involved in WIDS.

Think about it, what comes to mind when you say ‘international development’? Is it a mixture of:

  • Community-based development
  • Poverty reduction
  • Sustainable development
  • Self-sustainability
  • International relations

WIDS as a society covers all this but it does so much more. It:

The upcoming summit, taking place this weekend, is promoted as providing “an intellectual platform to discuss and present original means of tackling these diverse issues. [WIDS] strives to involve a range of speakers from varying backgrounds and distinct perspectives, as well as engage students from across the globe to form a truly international summit”.

If you take a look at the WIDS website, you can see that this year’s summit is clearly aiming high on the guest speaker front.

Jeffrey Sachs speaking at WIDS 2012Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute (left), Columbia University and Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will be speaking to the summit via video conference. Professor Sachs, who is also co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, is one of the world’s leading economists and has been named as one of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" twice. Amongst the many people who work closely with Professor Sachs is U2 frontman Bono. Speaking of Sachs, the singer said “In time, his autograph will be worth a lot more than mine.”

WIDS 2012 World Bank Managing Director Mahmoud MohieldinOther speakers at WIDS 2012 include the head of the World Bank Group, Mahmoud Mohieldin (left); Meghnad Desai, Emeritus Professor of Economics, London School of Economics and Labour Peer in the House of Lords; and Professor Alan Winters of the University of Sussex. The full list of speakers is on the WIDS website.

The variety of those presenting talks this weekend speaks very highly of the students involved in WIDS and their ability to both approach interesting speakers and convince them to give up their time in the hope of finding new answers to some very old questions.

Bengali famine 1943
Bengali famine 1943. Image c/o Wikicommons.

I’ll be attending the conference, running from Friday evening (16 November) to Sunday (18 November). Hopefully I’ll see you there but, if not, I’ll be producing an overview for the Knowledge Centre to accompany some audio-visual content from the Summit later this month.

1 Espirit d'escalier is a French phrase for the moment when you come up with the perfect verbal comeback but too late for it to be of any use.

2 Honne and tatemae are Japanese words for ‘what you choose to believe/publically display’ and ‘what you actually believe’ respectively.

July 16, 2012

Summer 2012's honorary graduates

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graduating studentsIt’s summer graduation time again. This week Warwick final year students are congregating in the Art Centre’s Butterworth Hall to receive their degree certificates and celebrate their achievements with friends and family. Graduating alongside them with honorary degrees will be 13 men and women who are distinguished in their chosen careers.

The University awards honorary degrees twice a year to individuals who have made a significant contribution in their field. Whether known for art or acting, physics or photography, or engineering or education, these graduates are awarded honorary degrees for their service to the University or community.

Who decides who Warwick awards honorary degrees to? It’s the University’s Honorary Degrees Committee’s job to debate nominations on behalf of the University Senate. All members of the Council, the Senate and heads of academic and administrative departments are invited once each year to submit names for the committee’s consideration. The council then invites approved individuals on behalf of the Senate to receive an honorary degree. The nominated person receives either an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, Doctor of Letters and Doctor of Science; an honorary degree of Master of Arts and Master of Science; or the Chancellor’s Medal, an award for an exceptional contribution to the University’s work and development.

The Knowledge Centre will be featuring interviews with this year’s cohort of honorary graduates to find out how they made it in their professions and what advice they have for this year’s graduates. Children’s literature and film aficionados will recognise David Bradley, a celebrated character actor best known more recently for his role of Hogwarts’ caretaker Argus Filch in the Harry Potter series. Theatre-goers will know David Edgar, a political playwright more recent works Albert Speer (2000) and Playing with Fire (2005), both of which premiered at the Royal National Theatre. Both Davids will receive an honorary DLitt.

Football fans may remember the footwork of 1970s Liverpool player Steve Heighway. He began his football career in non-league football whilst completing his economics degree at Warwick. Heighway left Anfield in 1981 after 475 matches and 76 goals, before returning in 1989 to run their youth academy. He will receive an honorary MA.

Warwick 1976 maths graduate Sir Bob Kerslake went on from being President of the Students Union to a career in local and national government. In 2012 he became Head of the Civil Service. And Dr Alan Reece brought more than £400 million worth of business to the north-east of England as founder of Pearson Engineering Limited (PEL). Dr Reece is keen to promote engineering education in the UK and is a supporter of the Smallpeice Trust, a Leamington Spa-based charity dedicated to increasing awareness of careers in engineering among 10 to 18 year olds. He is adding an honorary DSc to his list of qualifications.

See the honorary graduates press release for a full list of honorary graduates and their awards. There’s a full list of honorary graduates on the alumni website. Listen to interviews with summer 2011’s honorary graduates on the Knowledge Centre.

Interviews with this year’s honorary graduates will be published on the Knowledge Centre soon. Watch this space!

Penelope Jenkins, Online Writer

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