As the University of Strathclyde endeavours to be a place of useful learning for students from all backgrounds, the needs of an increasingly diverse student body at Strathclyde must be taken into consideration in order to ensure an equitable experience for all. While aiming to ensure all our graduates are international in outlook, the opportunity for an international experience at university is not easily accessible to all students. Family commitments, additional support needs, language skills, confidence and finance can all create barriers. The Strathclyde students involved in this project cited the length of time abroad, the expense of living abroad and having to take time off work as barriers to traditional exchange opportunities like Erasmus.
The success of a range of projects in the School of Education where students are supported to be leaders of learning assured us of our students’ ability to take on challenges and to see these through to successful completion. But was it possible for Education students to plan, organise and manage their own student exchange? It was proposed that taking an approach that was completely student-led would allow students to define the parameters of their trip. They would be able to make decisions about timing, cost and content while negotiating that space between their own levels of confidence and being beyond their comfort zone.
After an initial meeting to introduce the challenge to a group of students who had responded to an e-mail advertising the opportunity, a group of twelve was charged with organising an exchange opportunity to Maynooth in collaboration with a group of Education students studying there. One requirement was that students would create a committee to organise and manage the exchange which would be sustained after the first trip took place to ensure similar experiences for students in the future. Staff involvement beyond this was minimal and mainly related to ensuring health and safety requirements were met.
Students from the School of Education at the University of Strathclyde and the Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education at Maynooth University successfully ran their own week-long exchange in March 2017. The Irish students spent the first part of the exchange in Glasgow with the whole group travelling to Maynooth together for the remainder of the week. Both groups of students had organised on-campus activities, visits to local schools and cultural events, while time was also allocated for each group to explore the city on their own. Students ate together, visited schools together, shared experiences of their own education and attended on-campus events together. At Strathclyde, the Irish students got to work with students from Scotland, China, Belgium and the USA offering new international perspectives for all involved. Minimal support was required from university staff and there were no costs involved for the School of Education.
This type of project could be run in any degree programme where academic staff can help the students make connections and where students have the vision to take full responsibility for the challenge they will be set.
Having an established working relationship with the other university was useful.
NB. Students in the School of Education often have very good experience of taking full responsibility for extra-curricular, non-credit bearing activity which may help with the skills base required to ensure success on a project like this.
This kind of project could be adapted by any discipline in the university and across universities.