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Educating future generations for a better political and civic culture


Mon 6th November, 2017

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire in his latest annual lecture set out his vision for a revitalised civic role for his university through preparing students to be active and politically engaged citizens.

Bill Rammell, Vice Chancellor of the University, and a former Higher Education Minister took the opportunity to examine current political culture characterised by populist rhetoric, alienation and voter apathy and to look at how universities could ‘help young people to find their purpose in life and sharpen their ability to be an agent of change’.

In his annual lecture ‘How can we educate future generations for a better political and civic culture in the UK?’ Mr Rammell commented: “If we are to continue to serve our diverse student body at a time of profound change for the sector we will need to have a more robust understanding of how we embed the values and practices of citizenship across all our work, and how we tie our understanding to the wider policy context for young people’s development as citizens.”

The Vice Chancellor explained that it was not as simple as providing volunteering opportunities for young people to become engaged citizens.

“Volunteering at a food bank is a positive community contribution, but to meet the conditions for citizenship it must go hand in hand with the political analysis to take a view about whether it is just that we should require food banks in our society, and the skills to influence for local and national public policy change.”

VC annual lecture

He explained this was where universities could help young people to create a better political and civic culture. He said: “If we are to prepare our students to be active, politically efficacious citizens, we must do three things.”

  • Champion the practices of democracy, free speech and public policy debate
  • Concern ourselves with the challenges our communities are facing and be committed to using the knowledge and resource we have for constructive and ethical ends
  • Foster the competencies and practices of citizenship in our interactions with students, through our curriculum, our co- and extra-curriculum and our service provision

Mr Rammell explained how the University of Bedfordshire was championing civic engagement through key commitments set out in the University’s new Strategic Plan.

This included: ensuring student voter registration; launching  a new series of public engagement events called Beds Talks; enhancing the student voice and encouraging the growth of student academic partnerships; building public policy challenges into the curriculum; enhancing engagement with external stakeholders and to work together to address shared challenges; and finally to evidence good citizenship, especially through the championship of the principles  of sustainability, equality and diversity.

The Vice Chancellor finished his lecture with a rallying call: “We need everyone in the university – staff, students and stakeholders – to commit to the principles I have set out here today.

“Because like any great transformation agenda, it is only through our concerted collective effort that we will empower our students to be citizens – active, political agents of real change.”

Bedfordshire University

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