Bring on the summer!


Bring on the summer. A colleague and I have just finished interviewing for 3 student internship positions to work with us over the summer. We interviewed 7 students from 1st years through to graduates, and have been absolutely blown away by the talent and the entrepreneurship shown by our candidates. It’s left me thinking that their abilities and inherent skills stretch far beyond their undergraduate curricula. I’m questioning what are we doing at all to give young people the opportunity to explore, experiment and test their own abilities? University should be life changing after all?

Things that they are all doing?

Each without exception showed tremendous initiative and had looked for opportunities throughout their educational journey so far to be involved with projects. One candidate at the age of 15 had surveyed his school peers about the economic and financial plight of his home country. Another had helped enhance her family florist business. Another candidate exports second hand textbooks to schools oversees that are in need. Another has a long history working part-time in a fast food chain which is not for the faint-hearted surely, and spoke about seeing ‘through’ the job in order to collaborate and connect with his colleagues. These things were hidden and we had to tease them out which was interesting, and clearly not viewed as being immediately relevant. There is work to be done there clearly!

Personality traits they shared?

These are intuitive, opportunistic and dynamic people. They are willing to get stuck in and have a go. In fact, this project I think sounded quite dull from a scientist perspective – I really didn’t think it would attract anyone as it aims to explore public and patient involvement in education and research. I’m a bit nervous about having to move something in our department in a new direction. Our mantra is that all students just want to work in laboratories, but I have got this hugely wrong. The advert did attract a large number of students, and every one had a sense of adventure. It intrigues me that we just don’t see this in the classroom. Work to be done here clearly also.

So what are we doing to nurture this?

Where are our free spaces for students to develop their own ideas, initiative and intuition? We have undergraduate projects and activities built into university processes, but this immediately creates a barrier and starts constraining and clamping down on ideas. We need to open things up, but how? As we move along the road of ‘embedding employability into the curriculum’ and ‘embedding entrepreneurship’, in my 10 years experience of higher education I know enough to realise this is the nail in the coffin. We see this all over, once something becomes embedded, a target, a metric, it loses all effect, and time is spent obsessing over the process, and why we are 0.25% down on last year’s target.

However these internship schemes are a real success, as are international exchanges (e.g. #DMUglobal), opportunities to work in local communities (e.g. DMU Frontrunner), graduate futures awards (e.g. UWE Futures). I met a Graduate Associate from SOLENT University at OER15 who has been given ‘freedom’ to ‘go and do some stuff’ and came up with an astonishing open course to help introduce international students to university life before coming to the UK. These are all really good things.

If I ruled the world….

I would like to see education growing the individual and not just assessing the learning gained. There should be an ‘open module’ each year in which students can work on a campus based project; take time out to run a centre for student innovation; or take time out for a community or international initiative. And back to the original idea, shouldn’t we involve the public or relevant stakeholders in everything we teach?

Sorry this is an ‘off the top of my head’ article – I’m sure there are many more great initiatives out there I have missed. I can’t wait for the summer – not to sit on a beach or go and visit my friends Wendy and Mabel the donkeys at Western-Super-Mare, but to work with a group of amazing people.

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