Universities Collaborating with Cities Around Sustainability – UWE Bristol

In 2015, the Bristol became the first city in the UK to achieve the honour of being named European Green Capital. The award is given to a different city yearly by the European Commission and aims to promote and reward sustainability initiatives in cities, to spur cities to commit to further action, and to showcase and encourage exchange of best practice among European cities.

UWE Bristol played a key role in the year, not only working closely with Bristol City Council and others in supporting the bidding process for the award, but also as a founding member of the city-wide Bristol Green Capital Partnership (now made up of 800 local organisations). The year provided an opportunity to weave sustainability into the curriculum, undertake focused research on sustainability and celebrate and get people thinking and inspire action for sustainability.

I recently spoke with Georgina Gough, James Longhurst and Svetlana Cicmil from UWE Bristol about the insitution’s engagement in progressing SDG11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities and their involvement in Bristol’s Green Capital year.

How is UWE Bristol engaged in the topic of sustainable cities?

UWE Bristol’s teaching and research mission explicitly supports the development of sustainable cities. We have a number of degree programmes and research centres located across the university academic portfolio that focus on this topic. A few examples include our

World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Healthy Environments which is part of the European Healthy Cities network, the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments which aims to develop understanding of how to achieve places that are environmentally sustainable, socially just and economically competitive: the Centre for Transport and Society which aims to to improve and promote understanding of the inherent links between lifestyles and personal travel in the context of continuing social and technological change; and the Air Quality Management Resource Centre which is widely recognised by air quality and carbon management practitioners, nationally and internationally as a leader in this field. The Bristol Leadership and Change Centre is further internationally and locally recognised for developing leadership practices driven by the vision of sustainable cities and the global sustainability agenda

How was UWE Bristol involved in the European Green Capital in 2015?

Our campuses were buzzing in the Green Capital year. Social media channels were used extensively to connect students and staff and promote activities. Budget allocations encouraged engagement and innovative action from academic departments, professional services, the Centre for Performing Arts, the Students’ Union at UWE and others, embracing research, teaching, music, work in schools, volunteering, internships and extra curricular activities. Over 5,300 staff and students attended presentations/stalls specifically about Bristol Green Capital 2015 including 200 events either led, co-ordinated or facilitated by UWE. Over 3000 students engaged, volunteered, interned or undertook Green Capital projects. We had some 600 students sign up to be part of UWE Green Team working on student-led sustainability projects on campus. This is just a brief snapshot.

What was the Whole Earth Exhibition?

One of UWE’s busiest thoroughfares was transformed into an outdoor art gallery for The Whole Earth Exhibition, a powerful visual statement of the environmental and sustainability challenges facing the world as we struggle to provide for the needs of more than 10 billion people while safeguarding our planetary life-support systems and conserving the non-human lifeforms that make up those systems. The Hard Rain Project and the National Union of Students (NUS), who curated the Whole Earth exhibition, invited students and universities to share the sustainability work that they are doing and approaches they are taking that might underpin future security for all. Embedded in the exhibition were a series of challenges to the university sector. When UWE Bristol opened its Whole Earth Exhibition, the President of the Students’ Union at UWE formally requested that the university publically respond to the University Challenges presented in the exhibition.

What was the MOOC on ‘Our Green City’ and how did it come about?

Our Green City celebrated and showcased UWE academics and Bristol based sustainability organisations to develop public understanding of sustainability issues in Bristol’s year as European Green Capital 2015. Based on a free, open, online course format, c2000 learners signed-up to gain insight into themes of food, nature, energy, transport and resources through a range of video presentations, tasks, quizzes and community discussion forums.

Our Green City featured the work of 14 academics, 24 organisations including The Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bristol 2015, Bristol City Council and the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

We have archived all the materials for future use, including by schools and will soon be creating a series of school engagement and outreach products from the learning materials that will form part of our BOXed project, an outreach programme of STEM related activities aimed at youth aged 11-18.

Did that year change the way the institution interacts and works with the community?

UWE is an initial funding partner of Bristol Green Capital Partnership (BGCP) and serves on the Board of Directors of this Community Interest Company. The 800 organisations who are part of BGCP work together in pursuit of the Partnership’s aim to develop a sustainable city with a high quality of life for all. The research activity of the university supports the work of the Partnership and current activities include Urban ID, a study diagnosing the sustainability issues and challenges in the city region. An innovative multinational Horizon 2020 project ClairCity is exploring solutions to air pollution in 6 cities including Bristol. UWE is actively engaged with and supports (with financial and in kind support via time of students and staff (including very senior staff)) the work of sustainability minded organisations and networks in the city (which in Bristol are many in number!).

What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

Delivering enough support, given the extremely high demand for knowledge, research and action, is a key challenge. Aligning the rhythm of the academic year to the needs of the city and its communities can also be challenging at times.

UWE’s activities to support Bristol Green Capital complemented those in and around the city and our commitment was recognised by key Green Capital players. UWE staff have produced a number of research papers and reports on the Green Capital year which are available in our Research Repository.

What advice would you have for other institutions thinking of putting something similar into place?

Consider the strengths of your institution and the needs of your potential partners in order to identify the most fruitful project partners. Have an open mind and willingness to work through challenging situations. Commitment to the objectives of the project by senior management is important in working through challenges. A diverse project team is useful for enabling action across the institution.

What’s next for the initiatives?

The Green Capital Student Capital project has formally ended. However, much legacy work continues. The project team continue to disseminate their experience via publications and conference presentations in order to support other HEIs to undertake similar projects. An online portal, SkillsBridge, has been established by the project team to facilitate the development of opportunities for students to support sustainability work of organisations in the city of Bristol. This work is being undertaken in conjunction with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership. UWE, Bristol’s sustainability work is ongoing, in accordance with commitments made in our Sustainability Plan.

For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

12 Visuals to get inspired by for your next SIP report (Part 1 of 2)

Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) reports, beyond being a requirement for PRME signatories, are an opportunity to bring together the work a school is doing in the area of responsible management education, reflect on that work and explore future opportunities. SIPs can provide an important communication tool to raise awareness both internally and externally about your initiatives. Using visuals in your report is one way to bring the information contained within your report to life, to make it easier for your stakeholders to navigate, understand, engage in, and to take action on. To inspire your next SIP report, here are 12 visuals (in two parts) taken from recent SIP reports. These examples are intended to be an exploration of the different approaches taken from different schools. For more examples you can browse through all of the SIP reports on the PRME website.

 

Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria in Canada has been working steadily to measure and reduce its carbon footprint. Over the past few years they have put in place new systems for data collection to ensure more accurate measurements for the various sources of emissions related to the school’s operations. They publish an annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions report for Gustavson, prepared by Synergy Enterprises, one of many sustainability-oriented companies founded by former University of Victoria students.

Gordon Institute of Business Science in South Africa has a series of illustrations created to capture the school’s ongoing commitment to the principles of PRME. The first explores GIBS’s engagement through its people, the second its impact on its community and globally and the third innovation that it is fostering.

 

The MBA office at Reykjavik University Business School in Iceland interviewed all teachers in the MBA programme in order to map the extent to which a focus on ethics was built into each course. This showed that nine courses out of twelve have CSR or business ethics elements in them. Of the nine, three put a great deal of emphasis on the subject as can be seen in the syllabus mapping.

Copenhagen Business School in Denmark provides a snapshot of different sustainability related research projects. They also include a picture, the name and contact details for those responsible for each project, making it easy to find out where you can find out more information about their projects, whether you are a member of the community or not.

 

Material issues for KU Leuven Faculty of Economics and Business in Belgium are displayed in the materiality matrix. These issues are categorized based on their ascending relevance to stakeholders (based on engagement activities) and the organization (based on the school’s vision, mission, values, and strategy). The most material sustainability issues are education and research that address sustainability topics, as well as the promotion of diversity/non-discrimination with an emphasis on gender equality.

 


Hanken School of Economics
in Finland uses tables such as this one throughout their report to outline goals from previous reports, progress made on those goals and to lay out future goals. Here they also address any delays or challenges to reaching set goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals – A List of Resources


On 25 September 2015, all 193 member states of the United Nations adopted a plan for a path to achieve a better future for all, to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect the planet. A set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 related targets were presented that address the most important economic, social, environmental and governance challenges, and that will help guide national priorities over the next 15 years.

Business schools play a role in the successful implementation of the SDGs. Here are 6 ways they can do so with links to various resources to help.

  1. Learn more about the SDGs themselves: The Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform provides information about not only each goal, but all of the individual targets related to each goal. The site provides multiple resources as well as links to individual organisations around the world focused on working to reach the individual goals (a good source of possible partnerships and projects) and how the nine major stakeholder groups are engaging in the SDGs. There is even an app for the SDGs that can be downloaded for free. GOWI provides a range of free online courses around the Sustainable Development Goals delivered via email that take 2-5 minutes to read. To get more in to depth take a look at the growing number of MOOC on the topic.
  1. Integrate the SDGs into teaching. There are a wide range of videos (the Global Goals have their own YouTube channel) as well as several online games, platforms and apps to engage in the different issues. World’s Largest Lesson offers lesson plans around the different goals which, although aimed at a younger audience, provides some good resources and ideas. Connect research on sustainability in economics, finance, and management among bachelor, master and PhD students through the oikos-PRME Research Hub. There are also a growing number of examples of how to integrate the SDGs into business school courses and how to get students more engaged.
  1. Explore what management education’s role is in the SDGs: The PRME Secretariat has released a toolkit, Management Education and the Sustainable Development Goals, exploring why signatories should engage in the SDGs and how they can do so. This includes aligning curriculum and research with the SDGs, seeing more applied research, acting as leaders of public opinion and connecting and collaborating regionally and internationally. Other articles exploring how schools can get involved include a summary of a panel discussion about the role of Management Education in the SDGs, Management Education and the Sustainable Development Goals – Get Engaged published by AACSB and The Sustainable Development Goals and Management Education – an Overview and Update. For some inspiration as to how business schools are already engaging in the SDGs read Primetime posts or look through this list of 100 examples.
  1. Explore what business’s roles are in the SDGs: The SDG Campus The Guide for Business action on the SDGs assists companies in aligning their strategies with the SDGs . The UN Global Compact also has a website which outlines how companies can advance each of the SDGs with links to additional business resources for each SDG. The Global Compact is currently working on a number of action platforms which will focus on different SDGs which are likely to produce additional resources through the coming year. AIM2Flourish provides a database of short case studies, written by students, on businesses engaged in sustainability and the SDGs and several businesses themselves have created SDG related toolkits.
  1. Explore new and strengthen existing partnerships with business: Partnerships isn’t just Goal 17 of the SDGs, it is a crucial part of all SDGs. The UN Global Compact and PRME offer a range of documents focused on how business and business schools can collaborate to co-create solutions for sustainability challenges, win-win partnerships that can yield fresh and innovative ideas. Partners with Business Schools to Advance Sustainability toolkit provides case studies and tips and the following blog posts also focus on developing partnerships with business:
  1. Audit and report on what is already happening across your campus and programmes: Take a look at what is already happening on campus and how you can link these activities to the SDGs. Use your SIP as an opportunity to take stock of which SDGs you are already engaged in and which you need to be moving forward with by reporting on progress and future goals. Some recently submitted reports have already started to report on SDGs or explore how students feel companies are doing reporting their own initiatives with Wikirate.

 

What resources have you developed to raise awareness about the SDGs in your school?

A Selection of MOOCs on Sustainability and Ethics for Winter 2017 (Part 2)

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-14-37-09Every year there is an increase in the number of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) available on sustainability topics. These courses are available for free online and open to anyone with an interest in the topic, lasting between three and fourteen weeks and taking three to eight hours per week to complete. Below is a selection of such courses offered this Winter 2017, listed by topic, from PRME as well as some non-signatory schools. The first part focused on courses that relate to social and environmental issues. Here we focus on economic issues and how business specifically is embedding sustainability topics.

Economic Issues

Citizen Engagement A Game Changer for Development: This course explores citizen engagement and the role citizens can play in actively shaping public policy. Students will learn about cutting edge research and theories related to citizen engagement, and examples of ways citizens and governments are working together in new ways to improve their societies. From the World Bank Group – starts February 7.

Foundations of Development Policy: Advanced Development Economics: This course uses economic theory and data analysis, explore the economic lives of the poor, and the ways to design and implement effective development policy. From Massachusetts Institute of Technology – starts February 6.

From Poverty to Prosperity Understanding Economic Development: The course explores the role of government and the key political, social and economic processes that elevate any society from poverty to prosperity. From the University of Oxford – stats February 1.

Greening the Economy Sustainable Cities: This course explores sustainable cities as engines for greening the economy including sustainable urban transformation and the ways to effectively direct urban development toward ambitious sustainability and climate goals. From Lund University – starts January 9.

Subsistence Marketplace: This course explores unique synergies between pioneering research, teaching, and social initiatives through the Subsistence Marketplace Initiative. Unique to this approach is a bottom-up understanding of the intersection of poverty and the marketplace. From University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – starts now.

Greening the Economy Lessons from Scandinavia: This course explores greening the economy on four levels – individual, business, city and nation including the relationships between these levels. From Lund University – starts January 9.

Business Specific

Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility: This course explores what corporate social responsibility is, what does it mean and what does it involve? Do stakeholders really care, and if they do, how should companies communicate with them? Universite Catholique de Louvain – starts February 6.

Strategy and Sustainability: This course explores the topic of business and sustainability focuses on filtering out the noise and making choices in a hard nosed and clear eyed way. From IESE – starts now.

Practicing Substantiality, Responsibility and Ethics: This course explores to process to engage in changing practices to make the more sustainable, responsible and ethical. It starts with exploring the trends of responsible management practices From University of Manchester – starts now.

Become a Social Entrepreneur: This course teaches students how to create societal impact through social entrepreneurship: the discovery and sustainable exploration of opportunities to create social change. It includes teamwork to explore a problematic issue and learn more about the source of the problem. Including creating a business plan. From Copenhagen Business School – starts January 2.

Social Impact Strategy Tools for Entrepreneurs and Innovators: This course offers an introduction to social impact strategy and social entrepreneurship, including key concepts, an overview of the field, and tools to get started as a changemaker. From University of Pennsylvania – starts now.

New Models of Business of Society: This course discusses the emergence of a new story about business which locates business within a social framework. It explores how almost every business creates or destroys value for customers, suppliers, employees, communities and society and how to create a business that makes money and makes the world a better place. From University of Virginia – starts now.

Engaging Students in Extra-Curricular Learning – The Ethikum Certificate

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-16-13-07Reutlinger University in Germany, along with a newtork of other universities of applied sciences across southern Germany, offer students the opportunity to gain an Ethikum certificate. This certificate, awarded at graduation, shows the students‘ exposure to and experience in ethical and sustainability topics during their time at University. I spoke with Ulrike Baumgartner from Reutlinger University about this opportunity for students.

Introduce the Ethikum certificate and how it came about

The Ethikum certificate documents that students have been engaged in ethics and sustainability questions beyond their regular degree programmes. All universities of applied sciences in Baden-Württemberg in South Germany issue the Ethikum certificate. The idea of this certificate is rooted in a tradition universities in South Germany have practiced for a long time. Thus the network of universities of applied sciences (RTWE), which all have ethic and sustainability officers, decided to adopt this idea.

What are the key features of the programme and how does it work. 

The ethics and sustainability programme is an offer for students of all schools at Reutlingen University on a voluntary basis. Each semester we organise a variety of courses as workshops or lectures on different aspects of ethics and sustainability.

In addition to input oriented thematic workshops students may get involved in concrete social or political projects. This offers them a learning experience in a social context. Usually they work with other students, people with disabilities or refugees for one semester. After the semester they present their experiences in a colloquium we organise. For the participation at the workshops, the social projects and the colloquium students gain ethic credit points -usually 20 credit points per event. To obtain the certificate students need 100 credit points.

What have been some of the challenges? 

There are three challenges that I consider to be the most important.

First, the definition of the amount of ethic credit points per workshop or per social project is a bit complicated. We decided to base this definition strictly on the respective workload students have to complete.

Secondly, the transfer of experiences in social or political projects to the academic environment was not clear in the beginning. That is why we established the colloquium as a venue to present and discuss individual experiences and reflect on them with regard to a wider societal impact.

Thirdly, it is always a challenge to advertise our programme to students so that they will engage and choose to pursue the certificate.

Successes? 

First, we managed to integrate the awarding of the Ethikum in the official semester speech of the president of our university. That means that the president hands over the Ethikum to the students and our ethics officer gives a special speech honoring the students who receive it. This has increased the visibility of the programme.

Secondly, we now cooperate closely with the School of Textile and Design. We have now allocated ethics credits to their classes which can be used towards the Ethikum certificate.

Over 100 students are currently working on their Ethikum certificate at the moment and the programme is increasing in popularity.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

The better an extra-curricular programme is interlinked with regular degree programmes the better. Thus, I would advise talking to individual professors in the schools on their regular teaching issues and ask what kind of extra-curricular course would match.

What’s next for the initiative?

Our next project involves reshaping our course work, to intensify the cooperation with other universities of applied sciences and to create a central conversion table for credit points. This last point is a very ambitious project which involves contacting all the responsible persons in the different degree programmes to arrange a mode of converting ethic credit points as each school at Reutlinger currently has its own system in this regard. A central conversion table would increase the transparency for students on how to obtain the credits they need.

We also aim to broaden the range of courses we offer our students in the programme. By advertising the ethics and sustainability programmes of other universities of applied sciences in the region we invite our students look at these other schools as well and pick courses according to their personal interest and collect further ethical credit points outside our university.

Finally, we are looking to organise more field trips to local companies that are role models in ethics and sustainability. Such an offer would broaden the diversity of the learning formats in our programme.

SDGSDG16SDG4

Engaging Employees with Intellectual Disability – Antwerp Management School

idwork-pagina-18ID@Work at Antwerp Management School in Belgium is a unique research project aimed at supporting organisations in attracting, developing and retaining employees with an intellectual disability. The project identifies the levers that can help facilitate the employment of disabled people, as well as the potential challenges and obstacles related to this type of employment effort. Intellectual disabilities are part of most of the Sustainable Development Goals including Goal 8 (unemployment rate and average hour earnings of persons with disabilities) and Goal 16 (increasing the proposition of positions for persons with disabilities in different organisations including in decision making positions).

I recently spoke with Professor Bart Cambré, associate dean research from Antwerp Management School about this innovative initiative.


How did ID@Work come about?

In the margin of the 2014 Special Olympics European Summer Games, Antwerp Management School conducted a study on the employment of people with intellectual disability (ID). The research was done by an inclusive team existing of two athletes participating in the Special Olympics European Summer Games and a senior researcher without ID. Their study focused mainly on employment in sheltered workshops and social economy. A first white paper was published.
The positive experience Antwerp Management School had by working with the researchers with ID, their added value during interviews, and the obvious need of more information and data on employment of people with ID in the regular economy, motivated AMS to develop a new project: ID@Work was born.
What is ID@Work?

ID@Work is a unique scientific project on the inclusion of workers with intellectual disability in the regular economy. ID@Work, stands for intellectual disability@work and has 6 goals:

  • hire the researchers with ID who volunteered in the previous study
  • conduct a study on the employment of workers with ID in the regular economy
  • write a white paper on this study (at this moment only available in Dutch and French)
  • develop a free scan for employers
  • develop a coaching programme for employers wishing to hire workers with intellectual disability
  • organise HR Master classes to train HR personal to hire workers with intellectual disability. This will be an exclusive AMS product.

The first 4 goals have already been achieved. The most recent one was launched November, 2016 and is a scan enabling employers to check how ready a company is to hire workers with intellectual disability. After having taken the test, every participant receives instant feedback and can ask for a full report and profile including advice and links with further resources to engage employees with intellectual disability. Both the tool and the report are free of charges.

What were some of the results of the study you conducted?

For the study mentioned previously, the inclusive team visited 26 companies and interviewed over 60 people all involved in inclusive work with people with ID.
The team extracted 6 pillars on which working with people with ID is or should be based. It is obvious that if one of the pillars is lacking or not equally balanced compared to the other ones, the risk of failure or a less positive experience with working with an employee with ID rises.
Those 6 pillars are:
1. Knowledge & Expertise need to be present before starting. If the company lacks knowledge, call in the help of experts.

  1. Strategy – refers to the reason for inclusion. What are the motives of an employer to hire people with ID? Is there an economic inspired strategy or rather social responsibility?
  2. Job matching – refers to the processes to match a candidate with the tasks needed to be done. Job design is a key element.
  3. Work culture – refers to the values and norms of an organisation when it comes to diversity, performance, organisational practices and policy. Integration and respect are key.
  4. Experience & Support – how much experience does the organisation have in managing diversity and to what extend is there support to facilitate the inclusive policy?
  5. Empowerment – refers to the level of autonomy and self-reliance of the worker with ID. Both need to be stimulated and can be endangered when the employer/organisation has a (too) protective attitude towards the worker with ID.

What have been some of the challenges and successes?
Working with two researchers with ID has been eye-opening. It has become clear that they have another view on the world compared to researchers without ID and that their vision leads towards other types of questions and unexpected answers from the interviewees. It was definitely an added value to the study.

Also, by walking the talk, Antwerp Management School became its own case study. Experiencing real live that things go wrong when the job doesn’t match, that getting professional accompaniment and the right financial incentives as an employer, and other types of help is a complicated adventure in Belgium.

We’ve proven the need of a project like ID@Work to facilitate the employment of workers with ID and to make employers reflect on the possibility and the benefits of hiring people with ID. The fact that not only placement agencies and care organisations, but also the associations of entrepreneurs back the project and promote the test, is a key element for making this project transcend the purely scientific level and enable the tools to actually make a real difference for people with ID in the regular economy.

What does a school – or any other employer for that matter – needs to know before hiring a person with ID?
The most important thing is to gain knowledge on intellectual disability and to know what kind of tasks you would this person like to execute and what basic skills he/she needs to have able to do this. For example, would you like to hire a person with ID to help in administration, then list the tasks involved and the required skills. Does the job include sending emails, look up things on the Internet or use spread sheets to make listings, then be aware of the fact that the worker needs to know how to use a computer, write emails in a proper way, etc. Do not expect these skills to be granted. Reflect on the question if your company/organisation is willing to invest time and money into extra IT training for the worker with ID. Also determine if the tasks you would like to be executed by a person with ID are sustainable or limited in time. If so, you might need to foresee other matching tasks for the worker with ID later on or make him/her aware of the fact that the job is only temporary.

Second is communication. Make sure that the whole company or organisation carries the initiative. Everybody needs to know why a person with ID is being hired and what the benefits are.
Third, set boundaries. In a people and socially oriented environment such as a school, the danger of ‘over’-caring is real. Being too protective is not stimulating the empowerment of the worker and will consolidate the innate helplessness the majority of people with ID are locked into. On the other hand, too much care will weigh on the co-workers of the person with ID. Because of the innate helplessness and the fact that the borders between private life and work are not always clear to the worker with ID, they keep asking for all kinds of help if co-workers do not set clear boundaries. The danger for workers to become after-hour caregivers for their colleague with ID is real.

What’s next?

With another 6 months of the project left, we’re now working on the last two goals of the project: a coaching program for employers and HR Master Classes. The first one will be developed with agencies already active in placement and job coaching for workers with a distance to the labor market. The HR Master Classes will be an exclusive program by Antwerp Management School.

Parallel to this development we will be analysing the data harvested with the ID@Work scan and use the results to consult experts and authorities in improving policies regarding inclusive work.
We secretly hope to be able to install a chair on the subject later on.

SDGSDG11SDG8

United for Refugees – JAMK University of Applied Sciences

image003Support for the continuing education of newcomers is quite broad in Finland, and as a university there is always the consideration for exactly how to support educational needs of asylum seekers and other newcomers at a university level, many of whom arrive with extensive professional experience and are highly educated. In response to this, students and staff at the School of Business at JAMK University of Applied Sciences organized the JAMK United for Refugees project in September 2015. The project is based in a cross-cultural management course where teachers and students develop their own approaches and solutions to supporting the present and future multicultural Finnish society. In response to this, Steven Crawford, a senior lecturer at the School of Business, decided to integrate asylum seekers into the classroom through the Open University system as credit earning students to share their stories and contribute to the course, and to connect students and staff directly to the refugee crisis. I spoke with Steven about this successful and scalable project.

What is United for Refugees?

The JAMK United for Refugees project began at the start of the fall semester of 2015 at JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä, Finland. The refugee crisis was quite prominent in the media then, as it still is, and I initially thought we might “pack a van” with personal sorts of supplies and head to Greece, where refugees were landing in large numbers on beaches. However, when we examined the idea more closely the reality set in that we were too far away from Greece. So my colleague Ronan Browne and I brought the idea of a refugee support project into a cross-cultural management course as a “local response” to the crisis, and offered it to the students as a potential project. They universally embraced the project idea and the development process started from there and is now (fall 2016) in its third semester.

How does it work?

A key feature of the project is that it forms a framework for the cross-cultural management course in which the underlying pedagogical approaches include experiential learning, meaning-centred education, and transformative adult learning. We activated students by giving them a stakeholder role, organized them into distinct task-oriented groups, and gave them the power to make their own decisions about what sorts of activities they would develop and execute. For the initial fall 2015 project semester, the students designed and executed a campus-wide awareness campaign that included and engaged numerous other stakeholders in our community, including asylum seekers. In spring 2016 the project continued in a more directed way so that we could develop a more tangible response to the crisis in the form of an educational game. Now the first version of that game is complete and we are moving into a phase in which we promote the product across Finland and support users, while also training students to facilitate game play.

What have been some of the interesting experiences so far?

At this point over two-hundred students, teachers, administrators and other stakeholders have participated in our project. Many of them have been affected in some significant positive way through their contributions and participation. Two of our asylum seeking students from the spring 2016 semester are now Open University track master’s students, thus proving that education as a path to integration is a primary means through which both newcomers and hosts benefit. Presently, in this fall 2016 semester, among our nine registered asylum-seeking students I believe that most if not all of them have had their residency applications rejected by the Finnish state. And still they press forward their desire to reside in Finland permanently. Our project of course is not involved in the political processes that produce these decisions, which presently lean toward residency application rejection. And so during each phase of our project there are very compelling personal and social situations both above and below the surface. I am concerned at the moment about one Iraqi lawyer from our 2016 spring semester. She lost the immediate male members of her family and brought her eight children to Finland. All children of asylum seekers in Finland attend school, and her children did also. But I have lost track of her now, so I wonder what her status is and how things will turn out for her and her children. This woman brought discussion into our course about the situation and roles of women in Iraqi society, and the resulting dialogue was compelling and constructive for all of our students.

What have been some of the challenges? 

In my view biggest opportunity is to positively affect the attitudes of Finnish people, those who comprise the dominant group that is the “host,” and who control the processes and outcomes of the asylum seeking system. As is the case in most European nations a sizable part of our host population feels threatened by the refugee crisis and its potential for changing things at home. On the other hand, many Finnish citizens see the very positive potential that diversity brings to societies in the global age. There is tension between these two perspectives, and so we seek to learn about and address the needs and concerns of all Finnish inhabitants about their future together.

In our project course the working language is English, and so all of the course students must have at least a conversational level of English. Thus there have been a few prospective refugee students who were not able to join the course but were able to find some kind of education opportunity elsewhere in our city that they could participate in. There is also the question of student assessment, and in this case I chose to employ the option of either a pass/fail grade or a numeric grade. If a student participates fully in classroom, groupwork and development activities I am comfortable in giving them a “pass” grade. If he or she also completes the “academic” requirements, which includes for example reflective essay-based assessments, I have the option of giving them a numeric grade. Sometimes our expectations, norms and “rules” must bend a bit to fit the urgency of a given situation. At least it is my view that educators have a distinct social responsibility to engage and work with these newcomers, and this may require us to change our practices.

Successes? 

All of our asylum-seeking students who participate fully earn university credits at a Finnish university. Perhaps this is not the first idea that comes to one’s mind when thinking about asyslum seekers. Two of our spring 2016 asylum seeking students received permanent residency status and are now taking Open University master’s-level courses. That is enough in my view to conclude that the project is successful. Beyond that, I sense that we have a positive impact across our community in terms of helping Finland to manage its part of the global refugee crisis and to provide unique and particularly socially relevant educational opportunities to the school’s more “traditional” sorts of students such as our Finnish and international degree students, and also our international exchange students. From a pedagogical perspective, the project has provided us with an excellent framework for a course that sets out to help student learn how to manage through cultures, including the approaches needed to activate experiential learning, meaning-centred education, and transformative adult learning. Overall, taking a community-wide stakeholder approach has allowed us to engage a wide range of participants while moving from a local to a national response to the crisis.

 

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

There are many criteria that need to be addressed for a project such as JAMK United for Refugees to form and progress. First, the organizing teachers need support from the highest levels of the school. Our project also has a strong management team which now includes three teachers and quite purposefully includes students, some of whom are earning thesis, internship and project studies credits through their management level particpation. In this way multiple educational agendas converge to form and drive the project.

Bringing the project into a course may support both specfic course and curricular program-level intended learning outcomes. I suggest that a stakeholder analysis be conducted at the start in order to identify those who may be served and those who might help. After that, the students should be empowered through ownership to make the project happen. Engaging outside partners and stakeholders in the project is also essential.

I would conclude this section by pointing out that at JAMK University of Applied Sciences there is a distinct emphasis on projects and practical “hands-on” learning. And so this particular project fits quite nicely for us and also makes the project realizable based on our limited resources.

What’s next for the initiative?

We are presently rolling out our base training product, diversophy® New Horizons, across Finland to teachers and trainers, and our fall semester students are creating additional game content that focuses more specifically on certain topics, such as youth culture, sports, and employability & entrepreneurship. As part of the cross-cultural management course we are training our students how to facilitate our game in multicultural contexts. We are interested in youth culture because we know that Finnish law requires that all children, including newcomers, go to school. And so we know that there is a lot of interaction every day between dissimilar others in schools. We are interested in sports because, I suppose, Finland is a very healthy and sports conscious society. And we are interested in improving the receptivity of Finnish employers to newcomers, and to help newcomers acquire the insider’s perspectives needed to advance their career and business goals as contributors to Finland’s society. There is plenty left to do!

For information about the project visit the JAMK United for Refugees Facebook page.

For information about the the game, visit diversophy® New Horizons.

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