We are living in extra-ordinary times. Never has this phrase rung truer than today, in 2020, as we witness the global population come together in an unprecedented way, while staying apart in an equally unprecedented way.
I am delighted to be the newest member of the Politics team. Prior to joining CCCU, I was a Senior Lecturer at Baze University, Abuja, Nigeria. I also taught at University of Kent in Canterbury, UK.
My research focuses on federalism, political economy, ethnicity, democracy and elections, and terrorism in Nigeria. I will be teaching modules at undergraduate and postgraduate levels on the Politics and International Relations programme.
As the final teaching week of this academic year draws to a close, it has certainly been one to remember. Following Laura’s blog about teaching ‘from a distance’ last week, the Politics and IR team have been reflecting on their experiences of working from home. We had such a packed calendar in semester 1 that the abrupt changes took time to get used to. Here we share some images of our improvised work spaces and our thoughts on how life is going. We would love students and graduates to share their own images and comments in our social media channels. We miss you!
This week the Pol IR team joined more than 300 educators around the UK who pledged to teach about the Sustainable Development Goals as part of the third annual #SDGTeachIN.
On Monday, second years in Dr Susan Kenyon’s Politics of Transport class examined the causes of transport-related social exclusion. The issues debated in class related to SDG 1 No Poverty, SDG 3 Good Health and Wellbeing, SDG 5 Gender Equality, SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities and SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities.
On Tuesday, first year students in Dr Laura Cashman’s Contemporary Global Politics class focused on SDG 2 Zero Hunger for the whole session. They examined the political and ecological challenges to ensuring food security for all. The class debated whether the goal was realistic and what kinds of structural changes would be required to see success in the next ten years.
Also on Tuesday, our third year Radical Political Thought module had a session led by Professor David Bates and Tom Sharkey on the theme “Refusing Capitalism: art, politics and resistance”. This was linked to SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production and SDG 16 Peace and Justice and featured research from their work linked to their Tate Exchange project.
Finally, tomorrow, Friday, our third-year module Political Ideologies in Action will focus on Social Ecology. Led again by Tom Sharkey, this is an ideal theme to approach the SDGs from a critical angle. It encompasses almost all the SDGs in a holistic manner using the ideas of Murray Bookchin to develop a different approach to resolve the ecological and political challenges facing our world.
The academic year 2019/20 has been incredibly busy thus far. As Semester 2 begins we are taking a moment to take stock of the highlights of semester 1.
At the beginning of the academic year the teaching team all blogged on how stimulating and sometimes daunting it can be to teach politics in times of upheaval. We were right. The semester was dominated by the concerns of a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, which did not transpire, the snap General Election on 12 December and the increased urgency of calls to deal with the climate crisis. These events (and non-events) shaped the teaching in our British, EU and global politics modules in different ways. We had plenty to debate in our classes and we were kept on our toes rewriting lectures, minutes before class began some weeks! Dr Sarah Lieberman featured regularly in local and national news coverage explaining what on earth was happening.
We continued with the learning and teaching innovations which were praised in recent external examiner reports. Students on the Contemporary Political Thought module were involved with running MOVEMENT² a very successful outreach event sponsored by the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences. Students really enjoyed the simulated election hustings assessment as part of the second year British Politics module and the innovative Shut Up and Write Sessions for the Individual Study module which are running for a second year.
Guests also came to speak to our students during timetabled teaching sessions. Stephen Fiddler, UK and Brexit editor of the Wall Street Journal came to speak to students in Dr Soeren Keil’s Jean Monnet EU modules. The Parliamentary Studies class had a special session with Professor John Curtice when he visited the university as part of the Vice Chancellor’s Public Lecture series.
Students also had opportunities to engage with wider extra-curricular activities. Our MPM series had a busy schedule. The highlight was the Hustings for the General Election, where the prospective candidates for the Canterbury seat faced a packed Augustine Hall and set out their case for election.
Our Careers Conference on 4 December had extremely positive feedback from students. We are always thankful to our graduate community for their willingness to give up their time and be such positive role models to current students.
Our PhD students had a busy semester too. Dr Paul Anderson and Dr Amina M’Lili graduated in September. Razia Shariff and Max Stafford both had successful vivas in December.
Finally, just before the Christmas break students on our Jean Monnet accredited EU modules went on a whirlwind trip to Brussels. They packed a great deal into a short trip, meeting representatives from the Commission dealing with space policy, enlargement and neighbourhood policy and the Integrated Crisis Response Team. Students were very enthusiastic about how the trip helped them to link the ideas discussed in the classroom to practical realities of policy implementation.
After such a busy first semester some may wonder what will sustain us in semester 2. We were sad to say goodbye to Dr Lucas Van Milders at the end of December but we will have a new lecturer in post in the next couple of months. However, if there is one thing that the CCCU Politics and IR team are renowned for it is our boundless enthusiasm and energy. We are ready and raring to go for another action backed semester!
People craned out of windows and gathered on corners to watch as nearly a hundred young people chanted, danced and demanded their right to freedom from fear. On Tuesday 6th of November, a project by the Politics and International Relations department at Canterbury Christ Church University gave life to the political ambitions of 16-18 year olds from across Kent; proving that joy really can be an act of resistance. Consensus decision making and the impact we can all have on those close to us were key messages that participants were left with, as they were encouraged to devise their own political movement. After developing their ideas with the department’s academics, the students created a political carnival of banners, chants and music.
The carnival occupied the University’s main campus, demanding safer streets and letting the watching crowds know that responses to street crime and the lack of street lighting in their areas would no longer be tolerated. This was the culmination of work developed as part of the Tate Exchange programme with Prof. David Bates and Tom Sharkey along with second year Politics students who helped to organise the day as part of their module on Contemporary Political Theory. The day formed part of the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences organised by Dr Paul Anderson. Although the messages were serious there was a real sense of fun and excitement across the campus and all of those involved left emboldened and joyful. Prof Bates reflected that: ‘Too often we hear about the political apathy of young people. Today we have witnessed quite the opposite’.
Our Careers Conference, held jointly with the sociology programme, on 4 December had extremely positive feedback from students once again.
Using a ‘speed dating’ format, students moved between tables hosted by employers from a wide variety of NGOs and public sector organisations. Many said they were surprised and impressed to realise that there was such a variety of opportunities out there for graduates with their skills and knowledge.
It was also lovely to have three politics graduates in attendance. We are always thankful to our graduate community for their willingness to give up their time and be such positive role models to current students.
One of the highlights of semester one was the visit of Professor Sir John Curtice to our Level 6 Parliamentary Studies module. As Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde and Senior Research Fellow at the National Centre for Social Research, he is widely regarded as the country’s best known polling expert.
Ahead of a public lecture as part of the Vice Chancellor Series, Professor Curtice took part in a Q and A session with our politics staff and Parliamentary Studies students. He covered a wide range of topics including the 2019 general election, Brexit, Scottish independence and the reliability of polls. On the day (12 November 2019), Professor Curtice declared the election too close to call. Nevertheless, his predictions that the Conservatives would win, Corbyn would go, the Brexit Party would fail to gain a seat and the SNP would secure a large number of seats in Scotland, all proved correct despite the volatile voting patterns of the British public.
Students relished the opportunity to engage with Professor Curtice, and we’d like to thank him once again for his generosity with his time and expertise.
On the 9th and 10th of December 2019, 35 students from our 2nd and 3rd year, together with our MSc students, went to Brussels to speak to representatives from the UK Representation in Brussels, EU institutions and to see how the EU works in practice.
On the first day we visited the Welsh Office in Brussels, where representatives from the UK Representation welcomed us. We had further speakers from the European Commission, including DG Grow and DG Near dealing with EU space policy and the EU’s enlargement and neighbourhood policy. Each speaker presented the area they work in briefly, and what the EU is doing in terms of policies and activities.
The day concluded with a city tour, starting at the Grand Place in the centre of Brussels, where we learnt more about the history of Brussels and how it has changed over time, not least as a result of being the capital of the European Union.
On the second day we welcomed Dr Tarik Meziani from the Council of the EU’s Integrated Political Crisis Response team. He briefed the students on how the EU’s crisis response works and what lessons have been learnt in recent years. After his talk, we went to the European Parliament, where we visited the Parliamentarium, which is the documentation centre of the EP. We saw the original copy of the Schuman Declaration as well as other key documents of the EU.
The trip was funded by our Jean Monnet Chair in European Foreign Policy, which is part of the Erasmus+ funding we have been awarded for 2017-2020.
We would like to thank the UK Representation to the EU, the Wales Office in Brussels, all of our speakers, and particularly John Maas for their contribution to the success of this study trip.
To say that this has been a busy year with regards to public events and extra-curricular activities would be an understatement. Over the last semester, Politics and International Relations in collaboration with students have successfully organised several public lectures, featuring high-profile political practitioners, activists, journalists and political analysts on a range of pressing contemporary social and political problems. Some of the events were the following:
- ‘Brexit Roundtable’, with Dr Sarah Lieberman (Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University) and Professor John Macgregor (former British diplomat; visiting Professor at Canterbury Christ Church University). The event was chaired by Stephen Fidler (Brexit editor of Wall Street Journal; visiting Professor at Canterbury Christ Church University).
- ‘The Privatization of Warfare’, with Nicolai Due-Gundersen (political commentator, analyst and former adviser to the Arab Institute for Security Studies)
- ‘Socialism: A world of common ownership and free access’ with members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
- ‘Meet the Candidates: 2019 Parliamentary Hustings for the Canterbury Constituency’. The event, which was held in collaboration with the Centre for European Studies (CEFEUS) at CCCU, the Canterbury and District Inter-Faith Action (CANDIFA), the Ethnic Minority and Independent Council, and Canterbury Society, featured candidates from the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, and independent candidates, who made their case to the audience as to why they should be elected to represent Canterbury as Member of Parliament. The event was attended by more than 470 University students, members of staff and the public, as well as students from Canterbury Academy and St Anselm’s, and was covered by Reuters, BBC Kent, and Kent Online.
These events, which serve as an important networking opportunity for students, embody and reflect the ethos of our Programme – our conviction that effective teaching and learning should also occur beyond the rather narrow confines of the classroom, and our endeavour to engage students and members of the general public in thought-provoking, and current political issues and problems on the one hand, and to deliberate on these issues and problems together, on the other.