Tag Archives: Open University

A busy few weeks

Over the last few weeks I feel I have hardly had a chance to draw breath and though at various times I’ve thought “I’ll blog about that”, events always passed me by. I’ve got a bit of time now at the end of the last day before I head off on a couple of weeks leave, so I’ll try to remember some of the points I was going to make.

I was in Brussels for a few days at the start of what will be known as the March Marathon, and one of the reasons was to do a workshop (well, 2, but they were the same) on using social media for Europe Direct Information Centres. While they receive some funding from the Commission for their information activities, they are  individual organisations, and their form ranges from NGOs or Community interest companies, to library services or regional government. So their needs vary and their flexibility to act independently does too. I did a presentation, then asked Europe Direct Leeds to show what they do, then gave them some time to discuss in small groups, share their own experiences, then a few of those in the room showed what they were doing. It was interesting to see how differently they were using the same tools, but there were enough ideas to share, and I’ve already nicked one from Europe Direct Ulm, using the Timeline feature on Facebook to show EU milestones. I was a bit worried about the pedagogical side of running a workshop, but the feedback has been good, so I think I got away with it :)

I then headed back to the UK to do a careers talk at Leicester University. This was a repeat invite (always a compliment to be asked back) and this time instead of just the Modern Languages Department, it was advertised across the university. There were about 60 students there I think and after my presentation, there were lots of lively questions. I’m always slightly perplexed at these events by the weight of interest among the students on internships, rather than the full-time, long-term career prospects offered by applying for the concours. I wonder why that is. It could be that they aren’t interested in the EU as a long-term career, but see EU knowledge as important for other things. Or it could be that they are so fixated on internships as a route into work they miss the turning for the work itself. Frankly it feels a bit more like the latter, though I’d be happy to be corrected on that.

The next day was a Saturday and just to add to the madness of those few weeks, it was the second of my two Open University tutorials. I’ve enjoyed the creative writing course, but I don’t think you’ll be reading my name in the Booker Prize longlist any time soon…

Then on the Sunday it was off to Manchester for the Apeldoorn conference, which brings together Dutch and UK people from across business and society. The theme this time was Higher Education at the Heart of Growth and we had some excellent speakers, including the Universities Minister, David Willetts. Apeldoorn is really great for the people you meet, on your own “side” as much as from over the North Sea, with some really useful contacts made for the future. I also had a #technologywin: with the purchase of one little VGA adaptor I was able to present the conclusions of the workshop for which I was rapporteur direct from my iPad. Just a further example of how my iPad has become the kernel of a mobile office as far as I’m concerned.

The day after I got back from Manchester it was off to Birmingham for the Education Show. Our stall was pretty mobbed, with the Passport to the European Union and Languages Take You Further publications particularly popular. Thousands of people passed through our stall over the three days, and not one was critical or hostile in any way, in fact they were on the whole delighted with the support, particularly for the languages. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the introduction of languages in primary schools, it seems pretty clear that there are many teachers who feel a bit lost and are glad to have ideas of what to do. Obviously we provide pretty bland material, click the links to see them for yourself, and it’s completely up to teachers how they want to use them in their classrooms.

I’ve been back in London since then, but out at some really interesting events. I Storified the Westminster Media Forum event on press regulation. I chaired a fascinating afternoon linked to the European Year of Active Ageing, in which the Greater London Forum for Older People got about 120 of their members together to hear about the cooperation that Enfield over-50s Forum has been doing with twin towns in France and Germany. I was roped in the afternoon before to chair the event as the chair dropped out, and I’m very glad I did, as it was fascinating. One thing that came out very clearly was the strength of attachment to the Freedom Pass. Many older people see it as a lifeline, getting them out of the house and allowing them to have a social life, thereby keeping them healthy both physically and mentally. Mess with it at your peril, Mayor of London, whoever you end up being.

The final noteworthy events took place on the same day. I was representing the office at the British Academy event on the value of a year abroad, and you can read my tweets about it by searching the #yrabroad hashtag. There was a lot of talk about the usefulness of social media in getting students interested in a year abroad, but precious little social media going on at the event. Lizzie Fane at Third Year Abroad is an honourable exception in terms of her use of social media, but I have to admit that there was probably an age thing going on, which is as worrying in its own way. 100% of the students that took part in Lizzie’s graduate survey said their time spent abroad during their degree had been worth it, but the average age in the room of people talking about the policy aspects must have been pushing 50 plus.

While I was at the British Academy, and mainly during the lunch break, I took part in a Q&A on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network about how charities can access EU funding. The Q&A is here and the best bits summed up here. The Guardian does these Q&As very well; I’ve previously done one on languages for careers and there was another on a similar theme this week.

Anyway, after all that and judging the UACES/ThomsonReuters Reporting Europe Prize, I think I’ve earned my two weeks away. So I’m off. Have a great Easter, everyone.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

It’s been tough watching the news over the last few days. What with the horrific Baby P story, those two boys in Manchester and the Shannon Matthews trial, it does make you wonder what the hell is going on with the world. As Keanu Reeves memorably says in Parenthood: “You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.” Or, indeed, mother.

What I don’t understand though, is this obsession with apologies. From some time yesterday afternoon the focus of the Baby P story was that “Haringey hadn’t said sorry”. Now that someone has, that’s what’s being reported. Will them saying so make a difference to the families? The question is a genuine one, by the way. We’ve seen this in quite a lot of cases recently, and it goes from the cases where individuals are the victims, like Baby P, or the David Norris/Luke McCormick incident, to apologies for slavery or abusive priests, where thousands or even millions were affected. Put “apology” into Google News and you get reams of results, just in the last day or two. I guess I feel that actions are louder than words, and if I had been affected by something like this, my priority would be to see that something was actually being done about it not happening again. As I say, this is a genuine question and I’d be interested if anyone has any first-hand experience of this to share with me.

I’ve been asked to be on the national jury of the For Diversity Against Discrimination journalism award. Our jury meeting is next week, so I went through the articles today. There were quite a few entries, of varying quality, but I think there are a few potential winners in there.

We’re also gearing up for the EU Mock Council event, where schools will take on the roles of the different Member States to debate various issues. I’ve offered to help the schools that will take the roles of the Council Secretariat and European Commission, as I seem to be the only person in the office with much experience of going to Council of Ministers’ meetings (a somewhat dubious honour…!)

I missed my first OU tutorial last night to go to the BBC News channel for a live piece on the fruit and veg standards. It’s a real shame about missing the tutorial – when you’re learning a language, it’s important to talk it to people I think, and that’s not something I’m doing at the moment. Not that I can say very much yet!

Oye como va

Pretty busy day today. It started with heading out to my old stamping ground of Notting Hill Gate (I lived there in my second year at LSE, which is not as glamorous as it sounds – there were four of us in a two-bedroomed flat, with no central heating and directly over the tube, so the whole place rattled loudly every time a train went by…). We were at the Spanish Consejeria de Educacion, to select the schools that are going to take part in the Double Club trip to Brussels in a few weeks. There were loads of applications and it was really encouraging to read how the project has taken root in schools and is fostering a real interest in languages, especially among boys, who traditionally don’t go for those subjects. If you don’t know what the Double Club is, you can click the tag to go to previous posts which explain it.

I also did an interview for the Food Programme on the labelling of ingredients in alcoholic drinks. Keeps you on your toes, this hopping from one subject to another.

I’ve ordered all the books for my Open University Spanish course, which starts on 1 November. I’m also doing a short course on the science side, so I hope I haven’t taken too much on. But the Spanish is a work thing really – sounds strange to say that it would help to learn Spanish now that I’ve moved to London, but we do a lot of work on languages here, and the Spanish are real movers in that area. Anyway, I feel you shouldn’t have to search too far to justify learning something new. As I found out with the science course last year. Maybe Barcelona (my dream city) will need a press officer in a few years time!