‘People come to Warwick not because they didn’t get into another University, but because they want to be part of Warwick’. This was the vision of the ethos and values of the University of Warwick, presented to a delegation of young people from across the community by commissioner and alumna Emily Walsh. It was a personal commitment to the view that the way in which Warwick engages with the local community, and the values that underpin this engagement, are uniquely Warwick, and are fundamental to the institution.
The workshop, attended by local school children, University of Warwick students and members of the National Grid GetSkilled Programme, provided an opportunity for the Commission to consider how younger people wish the University to engage with their local community. It was a thought-provoking workshop, which aimed to challenge preconceived ideas and stimulate real discussion and debate.
Professor Cathia Jenainati opened the session with a presentation on her new degree programme on Global Sustainable Development. Cathia explained that having taught for 18 years at Warwick, and having seen 18 cohorts of admissions, and 18 cohorts of graduates, there was a constant frustration when she read in the newspapers that graduates were not qualified for the jobs they were applying for. This came not from a lack of talent and skills in graduates, but in the skills gained not being easily translated into the minds of future employers. To counter this, she had formed a new degree programme, which from the outset had sought to consult with employers about the specific skills they were looking for in potential employees, and deliver these in a highly innovative cross-disciplinary style.
Adding public value throughout the degree programme is fundamental. Every research project is designed to tackle real-word issues important to the community, be it HS2 or another issue pertinent to the area, and the projects then exist in the public domain, contributing real value to discussions and debate. It is a programme designed as much to challenge students as it is the perception of how teaching can engage real issues, real people and real communities in a live atmosphere.
This was followed by a presentation from Yuan Yao Lee and Soumya Dabriwal on the work undertaken by Warwick Volunteers in the community. They spoke of over 1,000 students working to support over 99 charities and community groups, from activities as diverse as night shelters, buddy clubs and community clear-ups. There was a clear consensus that for many of the students it was volunteering and supporting the local community which enhanced their experience at Warwick, and that the volunteering projects had a massive impact on both the local community and the volunteers themselves.
Paul Whitehouse supported this conclusion, describing the project he has spearheaded as part of the English and Comparative Literary Studies Department’s community outreach, called Transformations. The project, which sends students into schools to run after-school English clubs, seeks to demystify the concept of a university experience, demonstrating that the type of teaching, the style of learning and the nature of the content are accessible to all. Transformations goes into local schools and runs sessions for KS3 and KS4 students. Alexei Warshawski and Nia Oatley then spoke of their experience supporting the programme, and how they had both personally gained from the experience. For the Transformations programme, it was clear that there was a desire by the students involved to give something back to the community, and what they were able to offer was knowledge.
For the afternoon session of the workshop, the students were asked to prepare presentations on what young people expect from a university like Warwick, and how Warwick could better meet these expectations.
The group considered the role of the University in supporting those in the community under the age of 18 to be very important. The work of organisations such as IGGY was praised, giving people the opportunity to hear inspirational figures, take part in school-aged events and offered an online platform for interaction between members. Similarly, programmes such as Transformations was highly commended for its work in demonstrating what opportunities were available at a university, and how more people could aspire to a university education.
Communication was a major focus of all groups, both in terms of how the University communicated with the local community, and how it communicated with its students. There was a desire for some sort of central repository which could be accessed by students, allowing them to see what was going on in the local community, and what opportunities there were for them to get involved, perhaps through volunteering.
There was also a desire for greater integration, which it was felt required a commitment from the University to work towards closer community integration. Although it was acknowledged that many different activities were undertaken by Warwick students and different departments, there was a perception that there was no real system or structure, to support, encourage and promote such integration. Transformations was presented as a project that could be adapted across every department, but to do that a central resource for coordination would be required. Similarly, students themselves felt they wanted a greater say in how the University community operated, and wanted a more substantial shift to a dialogue between the University management, the student body and the local community.
There was an undoubted recognition that there was something really special about Warwick and its character. As a University, we have an edge because we feel we should give something back. Throughout the workshop, the nature of how that ‘giving something back’ ethos could be better supported was discussed with many useful conclusions, not least greater communication between the different groups working towards community integration across the University, and a better co-ordination of information and activities, both internally and externally, with the shared purpose of making Warwick the very best example of University-community cooperation and integration.