By Anthony Hudson
Continuum, together with colleagues in UEL’s Education & Community Partnerships and the School of Law & Social Sciences recently organised a pilot two day event: UEL – Destination Europe aimed at both UEL undergraduates and local secondary school students. This formed part of the University’s outreach and learner progression strategy.
Funding from UEL and the Former Members Association (FMA) under the European Parliament (EP) to Campus Programme enabled us to invite Mr Johannes Lebech, a former MEP from Denmark, to deliver two keynote presentations and work with both student groups over the two days in addition to meeting with a range of staff. Taking the sovereign debt crisis as the topic for his presentation he used this to question whether the legitimacy of the EU has been undermined and got the students to reflect on their views and perspective on EU institutions, policies and processes. The diversity of UEL’s student body was reflected in the insightful analysis and some of the penetrating questions posed by undergraduates on the BA International Politics programme in the discussion session which followed the presentation.
Whilst the students participating in the event gained a deeper understanding of EU institutions, policies and processes, the event served a number of other purposes. For Continuum the aims were firstly, to provide another opportunity to get our undergraduate students to think about the possibility of or undertaking research overseas. Whilst the literature on study abroad is not extensive the benefits of international experience are reasonably well documented. One of the concerns is that very often specific groups of students are excluded from such experiences. UEL is challenging this through the introduction of its Going Global initiative. Europe, as our keynote speaker reminded us is only a short train ride away and there are various pots of funding, some of which are small, but nonetheless will pay for or at least defray costs of travel and accommodation.
Secondly, the event provided an opportunity for some of our undergraduates to work with secondary school students on the final day of the event. Following a keynote presentation the two student groups came together to discuss and respond to a paper (Moravscik, 2002) they had both read in advance. There were no uneasy silences as the students discussed the issues raised by the paper; with unobtrusive guidance and support from the undergraduates, the secondary school students demonstrated that they were well informed and able to articulate their views clearly. The success of the activity was evidenced by the joint feedback presented in the plenary session.
Thirdly, the event was an opportunity for Continuum to work with students from one of UEL’s National Scholarship Programme (NSP) partners. UEL works with a wide range of partner schools and colleges as part of its commitment to the local community and the Education & Community Partnership team organise a wide variety of activities to raise both aspiration and attainment. Through the NSP, UEL provides financial support to students from low socio-economic groups, enabling them to enter and successfully progress through undergraduate study. Whilst students may intend to progress to university the opportunity to work in a university setting is an important part of transition – seeing themselves as undergraduates – and developing their identity as students and a sense of belonging in an academic community. It is this sense of belonging which contributes to retaining and sustaining students through their undergraduate studies.