Universities help develop tomorrow's good citizens

Monday 8 March 2010

More than 100 students from Birmingham University will work as volunteers in local schools later this year as part of a new civic engagement initiative. But how important is it for UK universities to play a role in preparing undergraduates for lives of civic engagement? This question and how best to educate future generations of responsible and engaged citizens will be discussed in a seminar organised by Birmingham University School of Education as part of the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Festival of Social Science on the 15 March 2010.

Researcher and event organiser, Professor James Arthur, explains: "In this new civic engagement scheme organised by the University of Birmingham and its Guild of Students, our undergraduates will be working with local schoolchildren and hoping to support and inspire them not just in reading and writing but in developing hobbies and interests beyond the school curriculum." 

While this new project is the largest it has launched to date, Birmingham University has a long and proud history of civic engagement. As Professor Arthur points out: "Educating for academic skills alone is not sufficient in helping graduates prepare for civic commitment or to understand their responsibilities as members of a community. Civic engagement is now an essential learning goal for institutions throughout higher education."

At the seminar, Educating citizens: preparing undergraduates for live of civic engagement, Professor John Annette, Pro-Vice Master of Birbeck College, undergraduates from Birmingham University Guild of Students and a range of speakers from the voluntary and charity sector will consider what society expects from higher education. Topics will include the public purposes of higher education and how best to educate students for lives of public responsibility.

Some of the driving questions for the seminar will include: What kinds of growth in the area of personal and civic responsibility occur in university settings? How does higher education engage with its students in developing responsible learners with a clear sense of social and civic responsibility? What kind of learning in a university is needed to meet the challenges of the workplace, our democratic processes and civic engagement?

"At the University of Birmingham we help prepare students for lives of significance and responsibility," Professor Arthur points out. "Public and civic engagement is essential to a democratic society and we need to prepare our students for lives of civic responsibility and engaged citizenship through opportunities, such as our recent schools initiative, to do the work of citizenship.

"This seminar will bring together experts in the field, academics and practitioners," he continues, "and we aim to stimulate debate and fresh ideas on how we in higher education can make the goal of educating students for lives of civic responsibility become a reality."

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Notes for editors

  1. Educating citizens: preparing undergraduates for live of civic engagement:
  2. Professor James Arthur is Professor of Education and Civic Engagement in the School of Education, University of Birmingham. He is Director of a major research project on young people's values and character dispositions (see Learning for Life and Citized for further details).
  3. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council which runs from 12 to 21 March 2010, alongside National Science and Engineering Week. Events from some of the country's leading social scientists the festival celebrates the very best of British Social Science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. The Festival of Social Science provides insight into research in a variety of formats; from traditional lectures and exhibitions to theatrical performances, film screenings and topical debates. The Festival of Social Science is aimed at a range of different audiences, including policy makers, business, the media, the general public and students of all ages. Press releases detailing some of the varied events are available at the Festival website
  4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
  5. You can now follow updates from the ESRC on Twitter (@ESRC), including new funding calls as they are posted, press releases, events and more.