Dilly Fung: CIVICA Engage is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others
LSE’s Pro-Director for Education explains how the CIVICA Engage Track connects civic responsibility with learning and inspires students to create societal change.
You are an education expert: What did you first think when you were told about CIVICA as an opportunity for LSE’s students?
Dilly Fung: I was genuinely excited as I saw a synergy between CIVICA and my vision of a Connected Curriculum, which brings together research-based education, internationalisation, the global classroom, interdisciplinarity and public engagement. The range of opportunities offered within CIVICA was also very appealing; LSE students could benefit from access to a broad range of student exchanges, online courses, short visits, workshops, opportunities for joint research and civic outreach activities, so I was confident that the alliance would really expand our students’ horizons.
What did you think the big challenges would be in establishing the CIVICA alliance, and have you been surprised by any developments so far?
Big projects are often based on getting the small details right, so we knew we would have to spend time planning things carefully over the first year to ensure that we could work together as seamlessly as possible in the longer term.
Apart from the UK, CIVICA includes partners in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania and Sweden, and as you might imagine, we all have slightly different ways of doing things. However, what has been fantastic is how collaboratively every partner has approached discussions and how committed every partner has been to finding shared solutions and innovations. It’s clear that we share a common goal of wanting our students to have the best possible experiences and CIVICA is a great vehicle for this.
In terms of surprises, I was delighted by how ambitious the CIVICA project is and how quickly we were able to open online courses and seminars to PhD students across the alliance. We’re now turning our attention towards undergraduates and master’s students, so there are more exciting projects to follow!
What do you think is most unique about the CIVICA Engage experience?
The CIVICA Engage Track provides a lot of flexibility for students to decide how best to embed civic engagement within their own learning plans, and supports students to combine local and international approaches and see their work have a real, on-the-ground impact.
LSE students who are accepted onto the CIVICA Engage bachelor experience will be able to (i) take a CIVICA Engage course at LSE (this means taking one of a specific range of LSE courses which features direct contact with the community), (ii) attend a ‘European Week’ hosted by a CIVICA partner to work on a research project with societal partners with other students from across the alliance or participate in a student exchange with one of our CIVICA partners, and (iii) undertake a final Showcase Assignment which will use features of the Connected Curriculum Showcase Portfolio concept, empowering students to present an analysis of their transformational learning through the CIVICA Engage Track to external audiences and stakeholders.
When students complete all three sets of activities, they will be awarded a CIVICA Engage certificate in addition to their degree certificates in acknowledgement of the range of activities completed. This will be an added string to our students’ bows!
How has the last year changed your thinking of how programmes like CIVICA Engage will work? How important is travel in the new world of Zoom?
COVID-19 has changed our world in many ways and the educational landscape looks very different now. This has made us consider different ways of doing things and served as a catalyst for introducing technological innovations at a much faster pace than we previously anticipated.
For example, some of our exchanges are currently using blended or remote learning so that students do not necessarily have to travel overseas and we know this has environmental benefits too. Although these virtual exchanges were necessary during the pandemic, we now have proof that digital mobility can work well and there are great opportunities to engage beyond national boundaries for those who can’t, or don’t want to, travel overseas.
Looking ahead, LSE’s new strategic action plan for global academic engagement will include opportunities for both physical and digital exchanges.
How would you like to see CIVICA Engage develop over the next few years? What are the biggest challenges?
I would like to see an increase in the number of CIVICA Engage courses offered at LSE so that more of our students have practical elements built into courses that use the deep knowledge and real-world expertise of practitioners.
Dr Paul Apostolidis is taking the academic lead on this for the School as part of LSE Student Futures, so I would encourage LSE colleagues interested in developing civic engagement opportunities for students to contact Paul or our excellent colleagues in Global Academic Engagement through global(at)lse.ac.uk. I would also like students to feel empowered to embed civic responsibility into their learning and research at LSE, and for our students to see how they can directly and positively impact societal change.
What new skills will LSE students taking the CIVICA Engage Track develop, and how can they be translated in the real world?
LSE students on the CIVICA Engage Track will develop an interdisciplinary skillset that will help them investigate, and propose solutions for, current issues and challenges in society. They will also work with students from other subject backgrounds to address real-world problems in areas that may be entirely new to them.
This kind of experience will be great preparation for work and life in general after LSE, as students will learn how to apply their critical research skills in a variety of contexts. They’ll be able to demonstrate how they are able to have a tangible effect on the world by working with diverse organisations. Our students will also realise that the skills they have learned can be transferred into many different settings.
Looking forward five years, where do you see students who have taken the CIVICA Engage Track? What opportunities does it open up to them?
I see our future CIVICA Engage alumni/ae contributing to society in all kinds of ways – some will continue to be directly involved in grass roots activities to improve the lives of other citizens, some will be undertaking research that critically analyses issues of concern, and some will be developing policies to ensure that our structures best serve society.
All of our students will be benefitting from the increased networking and career opportunities offered throughout the CIVICA alliance and taking with them the unique lessons learned throughout their CIVICA experiences.
If you were taking the CIVICA Engage Track, what areas would you want to focus on and why?
This is a hard question as there are many areas I would like to focus on! If I had to choose though, perhaps it would be about reducing intergenerational inequality as that would encompass a number of issues that I am concerned about, including social mobility, economic disparity, and sustainable development. If we could get these things right, I think the world would be a much happier and a much fairer place, and that’s the kind of legacy that I would be proud to leave. Whatever areas our students choose, I’m certain that they would also benefit from the satisfaction of having made a difference in the lives of others.
Interview conducted by Greg Taylor (LSE)