Over the last several years I have been involved in a number of Public Engagement/Widening Participation projects, all of which have had a specific focus on how music can assist the University of South Wales (Previously the University of Glamorgan) widen its customer demographic – in particular for those individuals who would otherwise potentially feel disenfranchised from considering university as an option. This short post hopes to articulate these initiatives, with a particular focus on their interrelation to each other, in addition to their relationship with more traditional research – in particular the Impact agenda.
Although I have always had a personal interest in the concept of Higher Education being available to everyone, regardless of their social background, age, employment status or location, the first opportunity I had to officially engage with ‘Public Engagement’ was via a successful funding bid to the ‘Beacons For Public Engagement’ in 2008. This project enabled me to more formally engage with the communities that, according to enrolment evidence, were simply not entering the University of South Wales’ undergraduate music courses. In 2008, music provision at the university had moved from its ‘valley’ based campus in Treforest, to the centre of Cardiff, in the newly acquired ATRiuM campus. This move coincided with a substantial increase in the faculty’s UCAS tariff, in addition to an application rate that almost tripled. Although happily embracing the increased popularity and wider student demographic our new Cardiff campus afforded, my concern was the potential to isolate the very communities that had attended the university up to this point in time: mainly the conurbation collectively entitled ‘the Valleys’, but also the more socially deprived areas surrounding Cardiff. My successful Beacons for Public Engagement project aimed to enable myself and a small team of undergraduate students to enter several schools in South Wales to investigate the means through which the 11 – 19 age group learn in the school environment, with the ultimate objective of devising a Saturday school that bridges the gap between school and university. The visits included workshops from myself, a number of performances from my undergraduate students, case study interviews with both teachers and pupils, in addition to a reciprocal visit, in which all school pupils came to the university campus to record a ‘single’. These visits enabled me to better understand the links between the school and university environments – in particular the ways in which our music team could improve perceptions and understandings of school teachers, parents and pupils. A short documentary of this project can be found at the following link – which includes interviews with pupils, school teachers and undergraduate students, in addition to footage of the pupils’ visit to The ATRiuM.
This project was closely followed by an initiative entitled Junior Rock Music Academy – funded by The Millennium Stadium Charitable Trust: essentially enabling me to put what was learnt in the Beacons’ project into practice. As opposed to visiting schools, this project aimed to attract young musicians, between the ages of 13-18, to visit the ATriuM on a Saturday over a six week period, in order to receive a programme of instrumental, ensemble and music technology tuition – cumulating in a performance at a professional venue – Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff. The progress of this initiative was captured in a three part ‘documentary’ which can be accessed at the following link
In addition to offering free opportunities to our young student demographic, the other dimension to this project, like its predecessor was to afford undergraduate music students studying at the ATriuM a pedagogical environment through which they could plan and deliver the teaching programme (with my guidance), alongside more experienced music practitioners. Although I did not pursue additional funding to run the course beyond the six week duration, it is gratifying to point out that the programme is now running independently, funded by First Campus, with some of my original students still teaching on it (see http://www.firstcampus.org/programmes/cci-creative-and-cultural-industries/junior-rock-music-academy).
It is important to point out that both of the aforementioned projects were considered as two distinct parts of a larger unified initiative, which continues to have an impact on the targeted demographic. While these projects were taking place, I had also begun becoming interested in engaging with collaborative research with industry – specifically the Japanese based Roland Corporation. Initially commencing with an academic paper which examined the ways in which universities could potentially work more strategically with industry (See http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=1905821),
The final project this article would like to discuss is a European Social Fund financed Foundation Degree, which focused on enabling self employed music practitioners in the Convergence Areas of Wales, to receive free tuition via a mainly distance learning based award – the Foundation Degree in Popular Music Entrepreneurship (see http://www.southwales.ac.uk/musicindustry/). Most importantly, the degree specifically focused on ‘Accreditation for Prior Learning’ mechanisms, through which students can transfer their experience into university credit. Examples of this work can be found here
As far as I am aware, the pedagogical structure of this award was the first of its kind in the UK, and is now in its third year of delivery – having assisted many self employed musicians to access higher education. Students have used the qualification to make the business more competitive, simply gain the qualification, or in some cases continue into a final 3rd year in order to obtain an honours degree.
It is apparent that Public Engagement/Widening Participation initiatives such as these offer a number of opportunities to the academic that are not traditionally part of ‘First’ or ‘Second Mission’ activities. More pertinently, these projects have assisted the development of a range of ongoing professional contacts and competencies that have great relevance both to the university and the extended communities we serve. It is interesting to note that despite the government introducing the importance of Third Mission Funding in 1998, it is still often undervalued in the academic sector, a factor that is not surprising considering the emphasis of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) on more traditional research, in addition to Impact. The final point I would like to make is the distinction between what the REF considers to be Impact and the main focus of this short post – Public Engagement. As many of us will know, in order for an academic activity to be considered as having Impact, it needs to result to changes to factors such as public policy, working methods, economic and commercial factors, environmental changes etc. Although the three short case studies outlined here do not fit the paradigm of ‘traditional research’ with traditional impacts (they did not make the REF), they have had an important consequence on the potential and actual student demographics we attempted to target. Not only have both myself, other members of staff and undergraduate students had the opportunity to engage with a range of stakeholders we would not normally engage with, but more importantly, many students, teachers, parents and local music businesses have had the opportunity to engage with university on some level. I propose that encounters such as these have the potential to change lives, so it is absolutely essential that Public Engagement, for the sake of Public Engagement is given greater credence in our academic community. I hope that in some small way, these projects have assisted in this ongoing discourse.