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ChatGPT could be your Ally – really!

Professor Balbir Dean, Academic Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, explains why academia should embrace rather than fight against the AI platform

For academics not up to speed with emerging AI platforms, ChatGPT is a conversational chatbox that uses a generative, pre-trained large language model (trained to predict the next token) using natural language parsing. The scale of the trained model is derived from a dataset constituting almost 1 trillion words

Google searches for ChatGPT have shot up since the release of the platform in Nov 2022. It has also been the subject of media attention. Up and down the country, academic staff rooms (both virtual and real) have been in various stages of shock as faculty staff attempt to establish what it means for course design, student learning and quality assurance. There are already early cases of academic misconduct through the use of the ChatGPT platform for student assignments.

It presents us with real challenges as it could make cheating and misconduct easier. Will the shift to moving away from exams be halted Its tracks as universities aim to ensure quality control and stamp out dishonest behaviour?

I believe neither burying our heads in the sand or yearning to go back to what we had before is the answer. It never has been when it comes to the opportunities and risks posed by new technology. I’m suggesting we embrace rather than fight.

For Higher Education (HE), two key stakeholders are affected – the teachers and the students. This note advances the notion that these stakeholders need to invert their thinking and approach to ChatGPT especially in the context of broader digitalisation agenda in HE.

Faculty staff need to avoid entering an arms race that they will lose. Every request to ChatGPT generates a unique response making both detection and provision of sufficient proof time consuming.  Detection mechanisms may exist as there are already cases of software apps claiming to detect ChatGPT outputs, but the underlying large language models only get better and detection may get harder. OpenAI (the owners of ChatGPT) itself may provide digital watermarks. We will have to wait and see as the move of OpenAI from an open platform/“not for profit”mode to a new model where profit is capped to 100 times the investment for investors, is a fundamental direction change in the ethos of the company.

Other product companies working in plagiarism detection, such as Turnitin, will also enter the arms war. Costs will inevitably rise for institutions as new “value-add” services such AI Detection are bolted on.

Academic departments will re-examine their assessment design.  The recent welcome shift away from unrealistic (and not terribly useful in real life) modes of assessment such as exams will return with vengeance and on steroids.  This exam artillery was never helpful and now it may be damaging especially to those from minority backgrounds.

Other strategies will include efforts at “designing out” misconduct opportunities. Multiple assessment points will be embedded. All will lead to increased costs and take away valuable time that can be used to support students properly.

Meanwhile, what of the students, who are potentially future consumers of enhanced ChatGPT 4.0 services? Students driven to potential academic misconduct will spot an opportunity to move away from essay mills and other contract services and want to have more direct engagement to their course assignments and for free.

Given the range of capabilities (albeit with limitations) many more opportunities for misconduct will become available. Students will be able to use ChatGPT on their smart phones during in-class synchronous discussion, as well seeking support in writing 3000 word complex essays or even software programmes.

We are safe in the assumption that ChatGPT or similar platforms are only going to increase in their availability and usage so an alternative approach from both stakeholders is required.

That’s why I’m proposing that given ChatGPT offers a new sweet spot of opportunity for 21st Century HE, we should embrace it rather than fight it.

Here are some alternative ways of using ChatGPT:

  1. For Faculty: Design assessments that incorporate deliberate use of ChatGPT so that students can demonstrate how they refine their submission requests to ChatGPT to get better answers. Award marks for enhancing the outputs with assumption that presented work has been partially generated. A good practical example of this is the academic paper on ChatGPT by Cotton et al. Input to ChatGPT that helps develop useful starting point text and how the final output is enhanced through factual error correction, grammar improvements and citations are all examples of important academic writing skills.
  • For Students: Starting an assignment, such as an essay, is often a major stumbling block. Structure of essays also exhibit cross-cultural differences.  ChatGPT is excellent in generating some initial ideas that can be further developed using more traditional academic approaches. Used in this way, ChatGPT becomes the sage on the side with the added bonus of supporting decolonisation agendas.  Another common question students ask is how to structure essays. ChatGPT can help in this too. Is it possible then, that ChatGPT will actually release scarce teaching resources? It seems so. Tutors can then focus on helping students with content and other higher order support.
  • A third potential use of ChatGPT is in the actual interaction between the teacher and the pupil. The platform and the outputs can become a boundary object for critical discussions in classroom settings. It can be used for generating false positives and other boundary conditions to help explain problems and solutions, spurious claims and other critical thinking needs. Further advantage is gained by the mediation through a technological platform that is strongly aligned with post-Covid Hyflex teaching models.

A third stakeholder also stands to benefit from this new learning technology. New software tools can be imagined. Just think: An essay authoring environment that integrate argumentation frameworks such as Toulmin, with ChatGPT capability,  Google scholar search with Mendelay citation. Could that be a potential software package that students might get bundled in with the latest tablet device at the start of term?

Pro-vice chancellors of Education are hopefully commissioning local research to get to grips with understanding the impact of ChatGPT. There are lots of pedagogic research questions worth exploring such as protocol frameworks for using ChatGPT as an additional virtual teaching assistant, or even implementing/prototyping example tool chains such as that mentioned earlier. It’s not all gloom. We can make ChatGPT work!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


Practice-based learning – starting with practice

Professor David Boud asks whether higher education can truly be practice-based unless we re-evaluate the system with future practice at the centre.

Much current discussion in higher education is about the possibility of providing additional work experience, placements, internships, or other practice-based activities, to existing courses. It is said that this will help students understand the workplace, aid employability and add to their motivation to graduate.

Many universities throughout the world are moving towards making such experiences compulsory and including them, not just as add-ons, but as a normal part of the curriculum. Middlesex University is involved in such discussions and many courses that had not previously thought about including placements are considering using them.

Such discussions assume that our courses are mostly fit for purpose and that the conventional three-year campus-based undergraduate degree will equip students for the future. But what if we didn’t make this conventional assumption? What if, rather than starting with what educational institutions offer now, we start from the needs of the external world and work backwards from that? What if we acknowledge that there has been a practice turn in society and consider what a fully practice-based degree might look like?

In the world outside educational institutions, people rarely work as isolated individuals judged only on what they do independently of others.

Why should we even begin to think in these terms? The first reason is that the old educational model of years of schooling plus a degree to equip students with more and more knowledge without applying it to real problems in real contexts is reaching its limits.

Secondly, in the world outside educational institutions, people rarely work as isolated individuals judged only on what they do independently of others, in the ways that are the norm in educational settings.

Thirdly, scholarship in the social sciences is suggesting that it is more useful to view the world in terms of the practices that make it up rather than the individual attributes of those who practice. These practices involve multiple peers, material things, particular settings and the discourses that hold them together. Practices transcend individuals, and individuals need to find their way into them.

In a few university degrees, we know what kind of work the graduates are likely to do (e.g. nursing, teaching, etc.) and they can be prepared directly for it. In other degrees, students will be entering a world of practice, but neither we nor they know what the practice might be and how that will change. What we do know however is that they will certainly be engaged in different practices. They must act in real situations with other people and with problems that are often ill-defined. But, do our courses equip students for this? They may gain some knowledge (which will soon be out-of-date) and a few skills. Most of what they specifically need, however, will be learned after graduation and typically not in an educational context.

Can we do more to design courses to better prepare students for acting in the world? There are many ways of organising courses that start with practice. They include fully problem-based courses, work-based learning programs and graduate apprenticeships.

But we don’t need to follow a standard model. There are various questions we need to ask ourselves: Are our courses oriented around authentic problems with which students can grapple with their peers? Are the things students do likely to have an impact beyond themselves? Are they taking place in contexts outside the bounds of the campus? Do they involve interacting with people other than their teachers and their peers?

The question is not whether there are some elements of our current programs that do this, but whether these are the dominant modes and whether other educational activities are subordinated to them.

Where can we start on this?

The last place to start is by looking at existing courses. They represent the accretion of many compromises over a long period of time and this can narrow our horizons. To think differently, we must set them aside for the time being and ask what a fully practice-based course would look like in some area of need with which we are familiar (familiarity with external need is the starting point, not with how it can be met by what we do now). We shouldn’t begin with knowledge, that will change. What capabilities will practitioners in the area of need and related areas require? What will they need to be able to do to meet the challenges they will face, that are at present specifically unknowable?

Boud, D. (2012). Problematising practice-based education. In Higgs, J., Barnett, R., Billett, S., Hutchings, M. and Trede, F. (eds.) Practice-Based Education: Perspectives and Strategies, Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 55-69. Boud, D. (2016). Taking professional practice seriously: implications for deliberate course design. In Trede, F. and McEwan, C. (Eds) Educating the Deliberate Professional: Preparing Practitioners for Emergent Futures, Dordrecht: Springer, 157-174.

Read Professor Carol Costley’s response to David’s blog, What might a practice-based curriculum look like?

This blog was originally published on INSPIRE – Promoting excellence in Learning and Teaching, driven by Middlesex Senior Fellows of HEA with contributions welcomed from all Middlesex staff.


Partnership – Student Engagement or Engaging Students?

Dr Sheila Cunningham is an Associate Professor and Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the Faculty of Professional and Social Sciences at Middlesex. Here, Sheila outlines the benefits and challenges of adopting a partnership approach to teaching in higher education.

Partnership is a process of student engagement, but these terms are not interchangeable (Healy et al, 2014).

Ways of engaging students in higher education as partners in learning and teaching is arguably one of the most important issues facing higher education in the 21st Century, partnership is part of this, but it is a way of doing things, rather than an outcome in itself (Healey, 2017).

The HEA’s focus is on the pedagogic rationale for partnership: how it can lead to increased student engagement with, and success in, their learning as well as supporting the design, delivery and support of engaged student learning.

Much of the literature points to HEA benefits for both staff and students.

Students, it seems:

  • are better engaged with the process of learning in and out of contact-time;
  • develop essential high level knowledge and skills to support their employability; and
  • feel a sense of belonging and community that the ‘What Works?’ programme has shown is key to student retention and success.

Staff experience:

  • renewed engagement with and transformed thinking about their practice, and a
  • deeper understanding of contributions to an academic community.

Whatever the rationale for staff, students, institutions and students’ unions to develop partnerships in learning and teaching, this framework aims to offer an evidence informed and reflective approach to support their development.

One proposed model (see Figure 1) is interesting in that it distinguishes four broad areas in which students can act as partners in learning and teaching:

  • learning, teaching and assessment;
  • subject-based research and inquiry;
  • scholarship of teaching and learning;
  • curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy.

Visually the model is represented as four overlapping circles to emphasise that distinctions between the areas are blurred and inter-relationships are complex and diverse when put into practice. At the centre of the model is the notion of partnership learning communities, which draws attention to the processes by which partnership operates in the four different areas.

Partnership is a relationship in which all participants are actively engaged in and stand to gain from the process of learning and working together. This approach argues that partnership represents a sophisticated and effective approach which offers the potential for a more authentic engagement with the nature of learning itself and the possibility for genuinely transformative learning experiences.

Research has also shown that partnership can engage and empower traditionally marginalized students and lead to sharing authority and responsibility with staff in the development of culturally sustainable pedagogy (Cook-Sather and Agu, 2013; Healey et al., 2014). This appears a panacea for addressing key issues within higher education, however it cannot surely be that straightforward?

Healey et al (2014) advise there is potential for an inherent tension between partnership policy and partnership pedagogy. It appears policy is about determining the direction and shape of work in advance, whereas partnership pedagogy is about being (radically) open to and creating possibilities for discovering and learning something that cannot be known beforehand. They propose suggestions for addressing this tension:

  • remain aware of the tension
  • consider how partnership is (or is not) described in institutional policies and strategies (e.g. learning and teaching strategies, student charters, partnership agreements, marketing materials)
  • consider implementing staff and student engagement surveys for a nuanced picture of the views, priorities and experiences of potential partners to inform local policy
  • use participatory and whole-system approaches to the development of strategy and policy in ways that seek to embody partnership in practice.

That said this is something actively engaged with at all levels within higher education. Middlesex is replete with examples and the Middlesex Teaching Fellows Newsletter will address these to stimulate and encourage experimentation and innovation.

Fig. 1 A conceptual model for students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education (Healey, et al, 2014)

This blog was originally published on INSPIRE – Promoting excellence in Learning and Teaching, driven by Middlesex Senior Fellows of HEA with contributions welcomed from all Middlesex staff.

Education Uncategorized

The Apprenticeship Levy: one year on

David Williams

David Williams is the Director of Global Corporate Engagement at Middlesex University. At the close of National Apprenticeship Week 2018, he reflects on the recent developments within the world of apprenticeships, and identifies areas of best practice which can benefit both learners and businesses.

It’s now almost a year since large employers started paying the Apprenticeship Levy.  As we celebrate the successful apprentice programmes during National Apprenticeship Week (#NAW2018), the 5% Club recently published research that reveals the majority of parents want more alternatives to university for their children such as apprenticeships, with 80% stating there are not enough options. 77% agree that apprenticeships are given a much lower profile in society than university education. Only 20% of parents felt they had enough knowledge to advise on apprenticeships while 54% felt schools did not provide enough information.

The Apprenticeship Levy - One year on

This is difficult for a Government committed to addressing the skills gap and whose ambitions are a significant driver for the development of apprenticeships at all levels for the post-Brexit UK. The Government has pledged to create three million new apprenticeships in England by the end of the current parliament, including the new innovation on the block, the higher education-level Degree Apprenticeships. However, after nearly a year of Levy payments, numbers overall have fallen and some apprenticeship schemes have come under fire for not providing businesses or employees with the skills needed to succeed.

But there are a large number of well-organised, first-rate apprenticeships being run by businesses and there is a great deal of innovation that promises well for the future. These are at all levels, from the traditional Levels 2 and 3 to Degree and Postgraduate Apprenticeships at Level 7. The debate at the highest level is more around the title than the impact; senior employees may prefer an MBA or professional qualification than being ‘badged’ as an apprenticeship.

Overcoming challenges

One of the biggest challenges employers are facing is how to strategically include their Levy payments into meeting the needs of their business through robust Workforce Development planning to maximise their return. Additionally, the requirement that all Levy-qualifying training requires the employee to be released for off-the-job training across 20 per cent of their time is a barrier and a change from the historical delivery models. Most organisations that we have spoken to are trying to find ways to embrace the current situation and plan long-term to ensure organisational impact. This approach tends to lead to the upskilling of existing staff rather than recruiting new staff.

We would call the Government, along with the Institute for Apprenticeships, to make some subtle changes and give employers more ownership and control, letting them decide what percentage of off-the-job training best suits their needs on a sector-by-sector basis but particularly with the input of the Higher Education institutions. At the moment, the constraints are hindering staff development, and so, organisational productivity and the return on investment.

Employers working with professional bodies have formed Trailblazer groups to develop nationally recognised apprenticeship standards – succinct documents that define the knowledge, skills and behaviours for occupations and related high-level assessments.

Degree Apprenticeships at Middlesex

Middlesex University has a proud track record in higher level work-based learning and Higher Apprenticeships. We believe we offer the very best practice as our qualifications are designed to meet employer needs and are delivered flexibly in the workplace; these programmes are suitable for a company’s existing employees or for new apprentices. All assessment is around the workplace role, tailored to maximise the impact on the organisation and on an individual’s performance at work. Degree Apprenticeships are currently offered in management, leadership, construction and B2B sales, and there are others in development across public sector occupations.

There are many benefits to an employer undertaking an apprentice programme outside of utilising their Levy payment. Younger apprentices can offer new and skilled workers for the future and be developed to fully appreciate the culture of the organisation; and by upskilling staff through an apprenticeship programme, they may grow in loyalty and help increase retention rates. The new thinking and skills of staff can re-energise a company, offering new insights and innovation that can be applied to everyday work and responsibilities. This is the real legacy.

The time to act is now: talk to your preferred training provider and ask how they can support your workforce development and help promote best practices –  I have no doubt you will pleased with the options available.

Find out more about apprenticeships at MDX

Learn more about business and partnerships at MDX

Social commentary

Changing the debate about social mobility

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the modern university, Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Blackman urges policy-makers, business leaders and the media to work with Middlesex ‘to change the world’.

I am incredibly proud of Middlesex University’s rich history because of what it means for the modern university we are today. Our founding institutions are part of a North London story of pioneering industrial innovation, professional practice and the arts, as well as shaping the idea of the polytechnic itself as a ‘people’s university’ serving the needs of its locality.

For us, the creation of modern universities in 1992 was not about polytechnics ‘becoming’ universities, as if the pre-existing old universities were the model to follow, but of modern universities demonstrating the huge contribution of a socially relevant higher education, and especially its neglected capability to drive productivity and social mobility.

“The modern universities are distinctive in having this mission of mass social change.”

At Middlesex, we remain true to our polytechnic origins in our approach to high-quality practice-based learning and the importance of high-level skills as well as expert subject knowledge. At a time when some forecasters predict that the millennial generation will be the first in the country’s history to face living standards lower than the generation before them, our aim is to prove them wrong by our graduates being agents of change, adding tremendous value to the companies where they work, pioneering innovation in the public services and creating the businesses of the future.

Huge potential

This cannot just be a project about young people from already privileged backgrounds going to very selective universities, for whom the transition from school to university is taken for granted. It is also about the huge potential of young people and adult learners who have not enjoyed these advantages, for whom university is a step into a totally new experience full of opportunities their parents could never have imagined for themselves.

The modern universities are distinctive in having this mission of mass social change, but we share with the old institutions their commitment to high standards of scholarship and the outstanding quality for which British higher education is known around the world.

This quality has enabled Middlesex to export our courses and awards abroad, at our campuses in Dubai, Mauritius and Malta, and with partners around the world, as well as attract thousands of international students every year to our London campus. We started out meeting the skills needs of Londoners and are now a global institution running a trade surplus with the rest of the world.

Yet despite this success we face some deep-rooted prejudices, such as that international students are immigrants whose numbers must be controlled, that students coming to university with BTECs rather than ‘A’ levels are not prepared for university study, rather than university study not modernising to a 21st century skills agenda, and that social mobility is about a few bright working class kids getting into Oxford rather than all our universities having diverse student communities.

Changing the world

At Middlesex, we engage children as young as 11 through inspiring campaigns such as ‘Make Your Mark’, encouraging them to start thinking about what they could become and their future career possibilities. Just last year our outreach work with some 80 schools in the London Borough of Barnet – London’s largest borough – and elsewhere in London meant we engaged with 10,000 children who are now thinking about their future lives as teachers, scientists, designers, artists and entrepreneurs.

Recently the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility took evidence from a major accountancy firm who explained that after adopting a university blind recruitment process their intake of graduates from Oxbridge and other Russell Group universities declined considerably in favour of other universities. Unfortunately, discrimination against comprehensive schools and modern universities still pervades many sections of our society, writing off potential and denying opportunity.

Our Middlesex students never cease to amaze me with their spirit and determination. Despite all the obstacles many of them face, the vast majority succeed and find meaningful employment. As a visitor said recently: “Middlesex students are like a mirror of London. They are urban, savvy and real and these are the people who will continue to grow our economy now and into the future.”

As we celebrate 25 years of the modern universities, I urge policy-makers, business leaders and the media to work with us to change the world. It is a job that we cannot do just on our own.

This blog originally appeared on MillionPlus


Widening access to HE by developing skills


Make Your Mark is a new campaign developed by the Education Liaison and Outreach team at Middlesex University. The campaign is for 11-16 year olds and draws on a genuine interest in how young people develop their transitional and life skills and how we, as higher education practitioners, can best support them towards successful outcomes. Relationship Manager (Schools and Outreach) Elita Eliades-Ahmed explains more.

Eleven may seem like a very young age to be thinking about careers, but before they know it young people are being asked to make important life choices, such as which GCSEs they will study to lay the foundations for a life of work.

Students from local schools taking part in Middlesex University’s Junior Entrepreneur of the Year competition, held as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2016.

Too much, too late

Research shows that a large number of students have already made their decisions about higher education by Year 11 and yet schools and colleges tell us that there is a real lack of accessible skills and careers information for school pupils between the ages of 11 and 16. Students in Year 12 often find themselves bombarded with ‘too much, too late’. By this stage in their student journey they are likely to be overwhelmed by the volume and breadth of information that is out there.

Furthermore, this means that by the time students get the information they need about career paths, university life, and the skills they will need for their future careers and the different routes available into higher education, they may well be right in the middle of studying for their GCSEs. This information and advice gap is reinforced by a recent Ofsted report which warns that the current careers education system could harm the UK’s future economic prosperity.

Tough competition

Through the business connections we have at Middlesex, we know that the world of work is more competitive than ever before. In the future, more jobs will require higher qualifications, and we know there are skills gaps now – particularly in London – that need to be filled.

Our Make Your Mark campaign was developed to inspire children from a younger age to make sure they know what they need to do to tap into the 41,000 new jobs that are predicted to be created in London every year, many of which will require a degree.

Education is also one of the answers to increasing social mobility, with universities such as ours at the frontline of raising aspirations and improving attainment among London’s young people. As a leading widening participation university, we think it is even more important to start the conversation about higher education with students from more disadvantaged backgrounds as early as possible. Leaving it until Year 12 may leave many young people with a mountain too big to climb.

A school pupil tries out virtual reality at our 2016 Big Draw event.

Pathways into HE

Make Your Mark is not just about sharing information about university life and career pathways. It sets out other routes into higher education – such as apprenticeships – and gives valuable insight to help students take steps towards getting a degree or other qualifications.

The campaign website is highly interactive, with features, blogs, listicles, quizzes, tips and lots of insight into what university life and study is all about. Other topics include exam preparation, understanding different learning styles, how to complete personal statements and UCAS forms, and all important budgeting. We are working on new content for the Make Your Mark platform all the time, and a range of fun and engaging events are planned over the next few months both on and off campus.

At 11 years old there are so many unknowns. University may not be for everyone, GCSE choices may be regretted later on and apprenticeship may seem like a more appealing route for some. What is known is that getting a degree will become more important, and young people need to be made aware of this. They also need to know there is more than one pathway into higher education and we hope Make Your Mark will help them to understand how to access these routes.

To keep up to date with Make Your Mark developments visit Instagram and Facebook.


Equality, diversity and HE policy

Professor Kurt Barling Middlesex UniversityFormer BBC reporter and Professor of Journalism Kurt Barling says that while much progress has been made in the UK since universities were reformed in the early 90s, more needs to be done to make higher education truly inclusive.

It probably wasn’t intended this way but the reform of universities in 1992, which allowed the former polytechnics to take their place alongside the older universities, helped begin the transformation of the demographic profile of higher education.

When I started my undergraduate studies in 1980, you’d be hard pressed to find a handful of black or Asian Britons in most of Britain’s higher education establishments. We were curiosities.  The riots in Brixton, Handsworth, Toxteth and St Paul’s had not yet shaken Britain’s establishment out of its lethargy on the issue of social inclusion. Lord Scarman was still to write his seminal report on the dire state of race relations.

Police with shields line up outside the Atlantic Pub during the Brixton Riots of 1981 – Photo by Kim Aldis, via Wikimedia Commons

New responsibility

The Race Relations acts of the 1960s had tried to deal with overt discrimination against the first generation of immigrants. The emphasis in the 1970s metamorphosed into recognising and trying to challenge the inequality of opportunity for the children of that generation of migrants as they passed through the school system. Street battles with the police reinforced the message that a generation of children of migrants believed they lived in a world where hope was absent.

Much has changed to widen participation in the post-1992 sector, but there is still a poor recognition across British universities that with difference comes new responsibility to change what is being taught, who is teaching it, and what norms and values universities are trying to impart to the modern student.

The Macpherson Inquiry in 1999 raised penetrating questions about the way institutions responded to the changes happening in our society, but where the fruits of those changes were not equally distributed.  Big questions still have no clear answers in Britain’s universities. At the last count there were only 85 black professors across the whole Academy.

When the Reverend Jesse Jackson addressed the Middlesex community in 2013, he reminded those assembled that they were being provided with the most meaningful of educations because they were learning how to work together across social and ethnic divides. Martin Luther King no less, he said, went to a similar institution in America that inspired his civil rights work.

What we do at university matters

Here in Britain, it is a work in progress, but what a time to be involved in this project in London. The light of change burns brightly in our city. Whatever your politics, the election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London is a powerful symbol of equality, diversity and inclusion. It reflects the moral challenge of our times, which is to learn to live together. To negotiate our differences is an imperative, if the pluralism of our society is to remain vibrant, prosperous and peaceful. History is littered with examples of nations that have failed in this quest.

What we do here at university matters. Middlesex has a powerful heritage of making education matter to those who are less privileged in our society: from the founding of the Art School in Hornsey at the time of the Arts and Crafts movement in the 1880s to the technical faculty in Enfield, which was founded on the back of the electronics revolution led by companies throughout the Lee Valley at the turn of the 20th century.

These technical schools broke out of the centuries old tradition of knowledge for knowledge’s sake and gave students knowledge for a purpose; to use their new found knowledge to go out into the world and make a difference. Now the priorities at universities have had to shift to account for over 50 per cent of the age group entering higher education each year. Getting these young people ready for the workplace through a renewed focus on employability is critical. Equally so is that which we are seeking to teach to meet the needs of the individual and the society beyond.

Middlesex University students
Middlesex University has a diverse student body, with more than 140 nationalities represented.

A need for vision

Putting equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of a philosophy of education requires a vision and a method. A vision that means it becomes not just empty rhetoric and a method to demonstrate that this is an effective way of shaping the norms and values of a new generation of citizens.

Through decades of legal reform, Britain has striven to establish a level playing field for people from all faiths, ethnicities and social backgrounds to aspire to improve their lives. Universities have important work to do to make a reality of this for those who coming from less privileged backgrounds want to use higher education to improve their lot. We should not forget that the financial commitments made by these new students are also significant and this places new priorities on universities.

Data from the universities regulator in 2013 suggest that 23 per cent of students were from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background – that’s around 356,000. The largest increase in entry rates to university in the period 2006-14 is shown to be black school leavers (Caribbean and African descent), from 21 per cent to 34 per cent.  This is big news. Middlesex is ahead of the curve on this demographic change.

The leaders of tomorrow

But despite this success there is no room for complacency. In April 2016 an analysis of workforce data by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) revealed there are still significant barriers to progress for BME graduates. The unemployment rate for white workers with degrees is 2.3 per cent, while that for BME graduates rises to 5.9 per cent.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Whether they have PhDs or GCSEs, BME workers have a much tougher time in the jobs market. Not only is this wrong, but it is a huge waste of talent. Companies that only recruit from a narrow base are missing out on the wide range of experiences on offer from Britain’s many different communities.”

This reflects our task for our graduates. We are creating the leaders of tomorrow and we must not only help them negotiate difference but to have the moral courage to challenge how future generations view difference in the first place. At Middlesex we must aspire to deliver on the insight of Jesse Jackson that this is a place that transforms the leadership of tomorrow by giving them the tools to understand how to live together today. It is our duty to rekindle hope in each generation and an honourable mission to keep it that way.

On 19 May 2016, Middlesex University’s Centre for Ideas will be hosting its annual conference on the subject of ‘Diversity’. The event will feature a discussion on racism and race between Professor Barling and prominent journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, and Baroness Young of Hornsey will deliver the keynote speech.