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[USR Summit 2022 Post-Event Highlights] Cultivating social responsibility through teaching and learning: case studies from The University of Manchester

(Presented by Dr Julian Skyrme, Founding Director of Social Responsibility, The University of Manchester; Dr Jennifer O’Brien, Academic Lead for Sustainability Teaching and Learning, The University of Manchester; Prof. Raj Ariyaratnam, Professor of Dental Education and Global Oral Health, The University of Manchester; Prof. Jackie Carter, Professor in Statistical Literacy, The University of Manchester; Dr Philip Drake, Senior Lecturer and Director of Social Responsibility for the School of Social Sciences, The University of Manchester)

Universities are increasingly regarded as playing a broader role than fulfilling the responsibility of educating youth and developing knowledge. In an international summit hosted by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, The University of Manchester put together three rich and diverse case studies to demonstrate the cultivation of social responsibility through teaching and learning in the contexts of health education, data science and legal training, emphasising on reflections and critique, as well as co-creation and diversity.

The International USR Summit 2022, co-organised by the University Social Responsibility Network (USRN) and The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), was held virtually from 16 to 18 November 2022 with a theme of “Education and Action for a Sustainable Future”. The University of Manchester (UoM) in the United Kingdom hosted a plenary panel session on “Education to Cultivate Social Responsibility”.

Dr Julian Skyrme, Founding Director of Social Responsibility at UoM moderated the session. He said that UoM is unique in British higher education in having social responsibility as one of the three core strategic goals, sitting equally alongside commitments to research, and teaching and learning.

UoM has introduced education for sustainable development to have a holistic transformational education to support students and staff to develop the knowledge, competencies and abilities. Dr Jennifer O’Brien, Academic Lead for Sustainability Teaching and Learning at UoM, explained, “It’s about empowering, informing, and equipping our students as responsible actors and taking responsible action for environmental, economic and social society,” she explained.

She critically described the current education system as neoliberal, driven by marketing criteria. Many students have to make a huge investment for their degrees. “I’m interested in how we can move away from an education system that is focused on information to one that is much more driven by our students doing things,” she said, “which then generates a much more lifelong learning.”

“Humanising Dentistry Manchester” (HDM) is one of the cases of learning while doing and reflecting.

Prof. Raj Ariyaratnam, Professor of Dental Education and Global Oral Health at UoM, said that he was concerned that dentistry education was moving towards a heavily technical side. “If we don’t correct this part, we are going to produce more technical experts and technicians in dentistry rather than the dental professionals,” he said.

HDM is a concept that creates and promotes a learning environment in which students have the freedom and space to co-create, develop and become socially responsible graduates and global citizens. Students engage with the community through service learning. “We are connecting learning to emotional experience,” said Prof. Ariyaratnam, “and when we learn something with the emotional experience, the understanding becomes deeper.”

Students work together with multicultural communities. They develop intercultural skills and community awareness, and the communities are empowered with oral health knowledge. By working in emergency dental clinics and outreach clinics, dental students help treat those vulnerable people with low income, and the homeless and refugees, under the supervision of teachers, national health service dentists or community dentists.

“We also encourage our students to go around the world with global structured volunteering, to the low and middle income countries under the supervision of local dentists,” he added.

“Normally in classrooms we talk about binary education, either black or white, or we treat this disease, or we cut down the sugar,” said Prof. Ariyaratnam, “but that’s not exactly the real world working, isn’t it? There’s a lot of grey between the black and white.” He found it encouraging that students internalise their societal consciousness while building on scientific knowledge and skill competency.

More than 1,000 dental students took part in the community outreach programme over the last 12 years, benefitting more than 140,000 people with dental treatment or health education. Over 150 students took part in the international volunteering programme over the last 7 years, treating thousands of patients in more than 15 countries.

Prof. Jackie Carter, Professor in Statistical Literacy at UoM, presented the second case study from a totally different context. She leads UoM’s Data Fellowship programme, and from there she changes the lives of many students.

According to Prof Carter, to have United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be successfully delivered, the world needs well trained data literate people. As early as in 2013, UoM has created a centre of excellence with funding from the UK government to enhance the teaching of undergraduate social science students on quantitative analysis and research. The Data Fellowship programme has been developed as 8-week long data driven research projects in which students are placed into host organisations to do data driven research.

Prof Carter described this work placements or internships as a win-win process. She said, “Not only do our students get this amazing opportunity to practise their data skills, but these organisations are opening their doors to our students to give them a real world experience of being in an organisation which cares about doing data driven research, which really cares deeply about society.”

The programme also builds the confidence of students. Until now, the programme has placed 330 data fellows in about 65 different organisations. Among the data fellows, 70% are female and 25% are from historically underrepresented backgrounds. “We are developing this diverse talent pipeline and giving all of our students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, the opportunity to be engaged in this programme,” said Prof. Carter.

The third inspiring case study was the emphasis of social responsibility and ethics in UoM’s law curriculum, presented by Dr Philip Drake, Senior Lecturer and Director of Social Responsibility for the School of Social Sciences.

Dr Drake said that as part of the Law in Practice course, law students have to undertake a real life Legal Advice Centre case where they provide legal advice to individuals who would otherwise be unable to access any other form of legal assistance. Students do it under the supervision of a volunteer lawyer or an academic with professional experience, but they are not encouraged to think like lawyers.

“We tell them, don’t think like lawyers. We challenge them to think like clients. How does this client feel in this situation?” Dr Drake continued, “We also encourage them to consider on a more macro level the social, political and economic structures that influence the law. It often has a detrimental impact on the most vulnerable, disadvantaged, and marginalised in society.”

“The first major lesson that a lot of students learn, particularly through their work in the Legal Advice Centre, is that there is often no homology between the law and justice,” he said.

Students are also asked to frequently reflect upon micro and macro levels about what is happening in their case and what is happening in their law. “We ask them to think critically about accepted norms and values. We ask them to welcome diversity and to question stereotypes,” said Dr Drake, “Is this right? And to have this narrative imagination to understand value and empathise with others’ perspectives.”

According to Dr Drake, this is an experiential liberal education. As part of the course, students are exposed to different theoretical positions for them to create a different, deeper, and more critical lens to observe the world. “Importantly, they construct their own ideas of not just what the law is, but what it does and also what it ought to do,” he said.

In the new undergraduate law degree of UoM, all the modules carry a social responsibility and ethics element. “The law has an impact upon specific individuals. We want graduates to take account of this humanistic nature of law, and an understanding of the human side of law beyond the legal rules,” he concluded.

International USR Summit 2022 Plenary Panel: Education to Cultivate Social Responsibility
by The University of Manchester

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