The DMU Global team organises and coordinates international experiences for DMU students, and have developed a number of initiatives over recent years to link their work to sustainable development issues. Through the Q&A below, Owen Sheridan (DMU’s Deputy Head of Global Mobility) discusses the range of action underway.
1: Firstly, what are the benefits for students of DMU having a global mobility programme – what is it there to achieve in terms of learning and competencies that can be developed?
Through DMU Global, students have the opportunity to participate in a range of overseas, on-campus and online international experiences. The programme aims to widen access to international opportunities, by providing supported, subsidised and accessible activities that enrich studies, broaden cultural horizons and help our students develop a range of key skills. By giving students the opportunity to cooperate, learn and exchange ideas with peers globally through meaningful international engagements, there is a positive impact on the individuals, and in turn society as a whole. The stated mission of DMU Global is to:
- Embed internationalisation at DMU
- Enhance academic study through overseas experiential learning
- Collaborate with universities globally to support student exchange
- Raise the cultural awareness and language skills of our students.
Feedback from students who have participated in international experiences, demonstrate the wide-ranging benefits and competency development. DMU Global data shows 94% student satisfaction, 91% felt it enriched their studies, 87% felt it enhanced intercultural awareness, and 88% felt it improved their confidence. Despite these positive student outcomes which span across academic knowledge, transferable skills and employability prospects, we recognise that all of us have a responsibility to minimise the impact our activity has on the environment.
A recent Universities UK International research project on the value and impact of short-term mobility showed that as a result of participating in an overseas opportunity, DMU students developed academically with 81% of participants reporting that their experience added an international dimension to their degree and 75% saying it broadened their understanding of their degree. The research also pointed to the development of key skills with 91% reporting they were more adaptable as a result of an overseas experience and 89% stating that they have improved their communication skills. Finally, DMU respondents demonstrated intercultural competency development with 93% of students now being more eager to learn about other cultures and 92% reporting an increased understanding of another culture.
2: How are issues highlighted by sustainable development, such as climate change or gender inequalities, relevant for DMU Global activities? How does engagement with them enhance the activities you offer?
We encourage DMU staff designing international opportunities to consider how they embed topics such as sustainability and the UN SDGs in their activities. Recurring themes across different academic areas include: sustainable fashion; social entrepreneurship and sustainable engineering and architectural practices. There is also a growing interest from students to participate in overseas experiences that have objectives that are aligned with the UN SDGs. To respond to these changes and the DMU commitment to sustainability and/or the UN SDGs, all overseas opportunity proposers are asked to consider how they can make travel greener and more sustainability. As part of our scoring matrix for assessing proposals, additional weighting is given to proposals that demonstrate a commitment to the sustainability and the UN SDGs more broadly.
3: What specific examples of activities can you highlight from trips or experiences that have successfully engaged students with sustainability issues?
Over the years, we have supported a number of DMU Global trips that have positively impacted communities and engaged students with sustainability issues. Noteworthy opportunities included:
- Engineering students participating in a sustainable housing project in Nigeria where up-cycled materials, such as plastic bottles filled with water, were used to build inexpensive homes
- In collaboration with DMU Local, Architecture students designed and built housing for the Loving Community in Ahmedabad, a home for former leprosy sufferers. Working with local architects’ homes were modified to raise them and prevent flooding in the rainy season.
- De Montfort Students’ Union led a Sustainable Activism in Amsterdam trip where students were encouraged to discover the impact that their voice can have and how they can drive change for sustainability issues.
During the pandemic, through virtual opportunities, students have engaged in a range of sustainability, global citizenship and UN SDG focused activities. This has included 16 students completing an online course delivered by DMU Global titled ‘The World We Live In – Responding to Global Issues ’ that engaged students in conversations about current global issues through the lens of the UN SDGs including Goal 13: Climate action. Another example is our collaboration with Think Pacific, where DMU students have completed 12-week virtual internships supporting the Fijian Government, NGO’s and business in achieving ethical, responsible and sustainable development.
4: The Covid-19 pandemic has put a stop to international travel this year and put much more focus on online experiences. How have you used this as an opportunity to devise new ways of online learning, and what will this mean for the future of DMU Global?
Before the Pandemic, the majority of DMU Global opportunities were short-term overseas trips, therefore there was a need to refocus the programme, embracing the idea of online international experiences. Through research, observing good practice and engaging with a experienced practitioners globally we have been able to develop a range of diverse virtual opportunities for DMU students. Since September 2020 more than 600 students have participated in over 50 unique online experiences. These opportunities are a mix of academic, employability focused and cultural experiences – with the aims, objectives and outcomes showcased in our DMU Global Online Learning promotional video.
By developing DMU Global Online Learning we have seen the possibilities to create a more inclusive, accessible and sustainable programme of activity. Looking ahead, our plan is that online international opportunities should be a permanent feature of our activity, complementing our existing overseas and on-campus offer. The Pandemic has reframed how we see international opportunities at DMU, recognising that students can have meaningful intercultural experiences without travelling. When travel returns, continuing to offer virtual opportunities for our students will allow us to continue to grow the number of participants and students that we engage with, without additional flights and the associated environmental impact that overseas travel can have.
5: International trips bring the huge benefit of inter-cultural learning and potentially life-changing experiences, but have the significant downside of high carbon emissions from aviation. What are the Global team doing to address this challenge?
We’re very conscious of the fact that our overseas activity contributes towards carbon emissions, so we ensure that sustainability is at the forefront of planning and delivery. Ensuring that each and every one of our overseas trips is a high quality and impactful experience is fundamental to us ensuring that we are not unnecessarily increasing carbon emissions
One way in which we making DMU Global more sustainable is through educating our students on how to be sustainable travellers. Launched this year, we have created a bespoke online learning module for all DMU Global overseas participants to complete as part of their pre-departure preparation. This training (30 minutes in duration) includes facts about travel and it’s impact on the environment, tips and recommendations for more sustainable travel and questions to assess learning – all with the aim of making our participants ‘greener travellers’ when participating in our opportunities, but also when planning their future personal travel.
We’re also encouraging DMU staff to consider sustainability and as part of the proposal process, colleagues are provided with sustainable travel resources and are asked to outline the actions that they will take to minimise the environmental impact of their trip. Finally, we work collaboratively with our student travel provider, Key Travel, to ensure that they always propose a greener package and encourage staff to make more sustainable choices when booking travel.
6: Anything else to add?
We have made a number of positive changes to help our activity more sustainable and are pleased with the progress that we have made. However, we know that there is still work to be done and alongside colleagues at DMU we aim to continue to make our programme greener! Projects on the horizon include working with DMU’s sustainability team to investigate opportunities for sustainability and climate change awareness raising activities. We will look to support the development of sessions, activities and recognition in the form of digital badges that all DMU students and staff can benefit from.
Furthermore, our mandatory student post-trip evaluations will now include questions about sustainability and students’ understanding of climate action. This will help us assess the impact of actions such as our sustainability and travel online module, and understand how to adapt or develop our initiatives further. Finally, working alongside our student travel provider, we continue to investigate how we can offset or inset our carbon emissions where students could be offered the chance make an optional contribution towards sustainability projects before the travel.
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