Summer School 2008

The University of Birmingham was pleased to host the U21 Summer School 2008 which took place between 30 June and 11 July 2008. The theme of the school was ‘Embracing diversity through creativity, culture and innovation’ and 47 students and four faculty members from twelve U21 institutions came to discuss and investigate this topic.

Throughout the fortnight, the students were kept busy with a wide range of academic, creative, cultural and social activities. The launch event, held at the Media Centre was a ‘Question Time’ live event presented by the former Sky broadcaster Hazel Westwood. The primary topic of discussion was diversity and the students put challenging and thought-provoking questions to an expert panel. The panellists, leaders in the field of diversity included Elonka Seros (Diversity Editor – BBC), Ian Danby (Arts Council), Kamal Ahmed (Equality & Human Rights Commission) and Michael Ryan (Learning & Skills Council).

The students were then formally welcomed to Birmingham by the Lord Mayor, Chauhdry Abdul Rashid, at Highbury Hall, the former home of Joseph Chamberlain. They visited the Eastside re-development area of Birmingham, the city’s cultural quarter which was followed by a round table discussion on urban development and regeneration. Speakers included, Terry Grimley, Arts Editor at the Birmingham Post, Tasawar Bashir, a local artist and Clare Edwards, founder of Gigbeth Music Festival.

Along with a number of lectures on aspects of diversity by experts, the group also visited Stratford-upon-Avon, taking part in a theatre workshop at the Shakespeare Institute, and Ironbridge, one of the birth-places of the industrial revolution in Britain.

Part of the practical work the students had to undertake was to produce a blog which was envisaged as an ongoing resource and record of the students’ time in Birmingham. Each participant had their own individual blog which was linked to all the other participants online. Max Harris, a student participant from Auckland, writes: “The business of the last few days has left little time for blogging. The digi-essay work has proved pretty intensive. It’s been very enjoyable, though: it’s nice to put together a proper thesis in response to what we’ve seen and heard, and I think one of the best parts of the process for me has been trying to dissect just how each component of our digi-essay can be traced back to something that has been mentioned (in passing or in lecture). The whole exercise acts as an effective reminder of what we have learned at the Summer School. Some of the lectures and workshops that have been squeezed in between the digi-essay work have been more interesting than others, but all have provoked some new thoughts in the sense, that they have diverged from the style of lecture that we were presented with in the first week.”

The students were also required to provide a DigiEssay which is a short film used to communicate ideas around a particular topic or theme. Students worked in cross-disciplinary, multicultural groups to create a film that encapsulated that groups’ response to the Summer School’s overall theme.

The first week of the School was focussed on creating content, learning skills and developing ideas for the DigiEssay. This was done through practical photography, visual art and writing workshops along with lectures, discussions and visits relating to creativity, culture and innovation. At the closing event hosted by Michael Clarke, Principal and U21 Manager, the DigiEssays were presented to invited guests and participants.

The experiences of the Summer School enabled the students to develop their own unique, intrinsic creativity through: - Knowledge of the significance, impact and potential of diversity in modern multicultural environments - A new willingness to be actively creative and the ability to apply a creative outlook to future tasks and colleagues - Empathy for diversity from interacting with people from varied backgrounds, experiences and skills - Knowledge of the relation between diversity and creativity, culture and innovation - Transferable skills in aspects of photography, writing, visual art, theatre and film-making - An understanding of how to work in an international, multi-cultural environment Students’ feelings on the Summer School were captured in VoxPops, filmed by the Media Centre with Hazel Westwood posing the questions at the closing event and an online questionnaire has also been circulated to the students so they can provide more specific feedback.

The U21 Summer School was a success because of the student participants, the speakers, the contributors, the student mentors and ambassadors, the project team and our sponsors Tindall Street Press and ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).