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University Articles

These are articles I have published for my university’s online university Newspaper, Cardiff Met Retro. Link to index of original articles as they appeared on the Retro website – http://www.cardiffmetsu.co.uk/retro/news/index.php?category=1623.

This article was originally published on the 20th May 2013.

With summer approaching it is likely that many people may be considering volunteering abroad during the break. An often recurring reason is that including such experience can boost your CV. Yet what does this tell us about our societies broader attitudes?….

When we see images of people in poorer countries in distress the idea of volunteering abroad may seem, naturally and immediately appealing. Indeed, the recent clothes factory collapse in Bangladesh and cyclone which hit the city on the 16th May certainly brings into focus the contrast between the lives of many within developed countries and those who live in poverty worldwide. In this regard the desire to volunteer can simply reflect an instinctive idealism and a self-perception of heroism and to this degree it is important to emphasise the genuine positive intentions of many volunteers. It is also important to recognise the positive potential of volunteering; it just requires research to identify genuine opportunities. Unfortunately however, as Daniela Papi expresses in this BBC radio programme, this can however disguise a naivety which can have an actual negative impact on the very community you aim to assist. In a collective sense volunteering abroad has been argued to either intentionally or very often, unintentionally, express a position of western superiority, both financially, culturally and intellectually to whom we serve.

Judging from her own experience it appears that Daniela Papi is arguing that indeed, like any academic project it is necessary to research before undertaking a project to acquire important knowledge on the subject area, gain the necessary skills and then plan in detail. Within the context of volunteering this is to prevent the activity from becoming something we apply to people rather than for people. Upon reflection, it can only ensure that your efforts genuinely empower the community by recognising their needs rather than applying our own preconceived ideas. This can potentially prevent the community becoming continually reliant on outside help. Daniela Papi admits that much of the money she had raised from a 2005 bicycle trip across Cambodia for various projects – focusing on teaching about health and the environment – had been wasted or landed in the pockets of corrupt local officials. Essentially she explains that upon reflection she came to the conclusion she had very little knowledge on the country, health or the environment. She argues in many of its consumer driven aspects volunteering is a growing system that is, in many instances failing the communities while too focused on benefitting volunteers themselves.

A particularly disturbing development is that of orphanage volunteering in Cambodia. In what can be seen as a consequence of the accelerated growth within the tourism sector of volunteering the number of these orphanages has increased from 153 to 269 in five years according to a 2011 Unicef report – which also estimates that three-quarters of children have one or more living parents. Some are made to look intentionally grim to increase donations that benefit their corrupt owners. This is a trend that affects communities in many poorer countries including Ghana and South Africa. This more consumer driven sector has even been described as colonial by Voluntary Service Overseas.

What this shows is that individuals, despite their most humane intentions must be more self-critical of their own intentions and ability and recognise the potential negative consequences of their attitudes. We have to ask questions of ourselves and take responsibility to learn before we serve otherwise our values have no real and positive value, effect or worth. A change in approach also helps to reduce the impact of those within the volunteer sector that are willing to take advantage of naivety to their own benefit, like in Cambodia.

This article was originally published on the 26th April 2013 on the Cardiff Met SU Retro website. 

Even if you don’t know Margaret Thatcher policies you will know her name. But what about her legacy on education?

During her rule as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher introduced transformational free market concepts to breed competitiveness in higher education. An example of a successful policy she introduced was the rise of fees for international students in 1981. Consequently there was a initial decrease in international students. but contrary to fears, subsequent numbers receded and universities benefitted from the increased funding it provided.

One of the areas she had the most impact was in research. In 1986 what was called the Research Assessment Exercise was first implemented. This had similar controversy to international fees, with fears that it would ultimately destroy ‘pure research’, to be replaced by pure market orientated research. Though critics point to a decline in research in liberal humanities others argue that it was an important move to an increasing application of academia to everyday life. This was combined with a cut in infrastructural support of research. Thatcher feared that universities used such support at the expense of accountability. In fact this policy eventually placed the UK behind only the U.S. on all international indices ranking the quality of global scientific research.

Yet, today it is arguable that these free market concepts were a key factor for the financial crisis in 2008 and subsequent recession due to the nature of the risk, and broader culture it nurtured. Just one of its more negative effects is its impact on youth unemployment. Though UK figures are not as severe as other countries in Europe – In Spain its rate is at a shocking 55% – on the 17th April this year Our Office of National Statistics revealed 979,000 unemployed 16-24 year olds in the UK, a figure that has led the Federation of Small Businesses to call on the government to support small firms in taking on young people. Within education, as successive labour and conservative governments since Thatcher have continued similar policies of privatisation then the current coalition government policy that introduced higher fees of potentially up to £9000 can be seen as a logical step in such a approach. As such contemporary critics of Thatcher say that due to this direction qualities such as critique, thinking, and the spirit of pure exploration, have now become an unusual deviation from a current norm of the pursuit of individual wealth. Therefore, they say, universities as a site for dissent and for critical thinking have significantly disappeared due to Thatcher’s legacy.

However perhaps Thatcher’s strongest legacy is her undeniable conviction in her ideals and a spirit that inspired other leaders around the globe and the people of eastern europe trapped by The Iron Curtain. It is a legacy that earns the description as a conviction politician from all sids of the political spectrum. Indeed it is fair to say that such a spirit has probably inspired a certain number of young people in the UK to realise their own convictions.

The most important lesson to realize though, is that we should avoid allowing free-market concepts to affect education in the same manner as it affected the UK banking sector, who’s culture of risk and huge bonuses led to economic disaster.