Category Archives: community

Cornwall’s new status shows how regionalism is changing nation states everywhere

This blog by Politics Lecturer Dr Joanie Willett first appeared in The Conversation.

By Joanie Willett, University of Exeter

Here’s a question: what do Cornwall, Scotland, Venice and Sardinia have in common? The answer: they all have vocal political movements calling for either independence from their nation states or at least some form of autonomy.

Most people in the UK are aware of the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence; Venice recently voted overwhelmingly for independence in an unofficial referendum, and Sardinian pro-independence parties have recently doubled their vote share. Now Cornwall has, after many years of campaigning, been granted national minority status by the European Framework Convention for the protection of national minorities.

We are seeing an explosion of national or independence movements across Europe. What this means for governance and statehood here in the UK is yet to be seen – but the case of Cornwall can help us find an answer.

It’s easy to see why the people of Cornwall are so proud of their identity. Cornwall is a beautiful place with a lively and vibrant arts scene, a global presence in environmental research, a world class marine sector, and a mining school that produces world-leading graduates. Cornwall also has a proud history as one of the centres of the British industrial revolution, spawning some of Britain’s most important engineers – such as Richard Trevithick, inventor of the first working steam locomotive. More recently, researchers in Cornwall have pioneered geothermal power.

It is also hard to miss the strength and pride in Cornishness in a region where to use the word “county” is deeply political, and where “Cornish not English” t-shirts are readily available. Indeed, even the tourist information organisation “Visit Cornwall” uses “Duchy” instead to avoid offence. Road-signs are often bilingual Cornish/English, the Cornish Nationalist political party Mebyon Kernow contribute a strong voice to the local agenda, and symbolism associated with Cornish nationalism is used to decorate shops, advertise local products, and to form part of the regional brand.

This latter point is crucial for understanding Cornish nationalism’s growing ability to make its voice heard on the broader stage.

Regional powerhouse

Economic development and Cornish cultural heritage are inextricably tied together. Cornwall Council’s latest statement on local development is an Economic and Culture strategy (my italics); this has been the case across economic development plans since at least the 1999 Objective 1 Single Programming Document, which set out what the region was going to do with extra support and funding from the EU. Before this, culture and economy were usually seen as two distinct entities.

They have now become deeply entwined – and this isn’t just a Cornish issue. Michael Keating of the University of Aberdeen has argued this stems from a shift in the global economy, which asks “regions” to compete with other regions. This requires regional differentiation, or “branding” – which of course, appeals to regional identities. Many studies have argued that effective regional brands need to match the identities of ordinary citizens, rather than the criteria of marketing bods in boardrooms.

This is not to overlook the fact that many devolutionist or seccesionist campaigns are framed in terms of economic and political exploitation, where the region in question seeks redress for real or perceived neglect by the “core” of the nation state. Cornwall, Scotland, and Wales are no exceptions; each claim that their own unique circumstances are neglected by Westminster, that their voices are marginalised in the British debate, and that devolution or independence is the only way to ameliorate this.

The minority nations of the UK may well have a point. Certainly in Cornwall’s case, Cornish MP Matthew Taylor’s parliamentary question about the region’s poverty and desperation in the 1990s met with the answer that the region got quite enough support already. At the same time, the European Union was recognising Cornwall as one of the poorest regions of Europe, offering it financial help from Brussels.

Regional differentiation, not only encouraged but required by the global economy, provides a space for disaffection to operate. By becoming a central plank of the Cornish economy, Cornish identity has been woven into the fabric of people’s lives, rather than being the hobby horse of a few crazy activists. Indeed, throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, local campaigners were gripped by the fear that Cornish identity was dying out. Instead, it has grown and grown – and the fundamental role it plays in the economy is directly responsible.

So what does Cornwall’s new recognition mean for the UK? Firstly, expect to hear a lot more about Cornwall and its identity. Expect too that the well-supported campaign for a Cornish Assembly (just like the one in Wales) will continue, grow, and amplify in the coming years. It will become ever more insistent if Scotland does vote for independence in September, something which of course would trigger a vigourous discussion about the constitutional order of the UK as a whole.

Regional identity is not going away, neither in Cornwall, nor elsewhere in the UK or in Europe. We are going to see many more assertions of regional difference in coming years, and we need a solid debate about the relationship between the nation state and the regions. How can the British state incorporate a multiplicity of nations within its borders? Does this require a shift towards a more open and federal system, or does it instead signal the death of the nation state?

As the growth in Cornwall’s identity and national pride shows, these questions will have to be answered.

The Conversation

Joanie Willett does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Read the original article.

Getting children involved in science

Peter Vukusic is a Professor of Biophotonics at the University of Exeter, and helps coordinate science and outreach universities for the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. He discusses how he helps get children involved in science and why it’s important for us all.

Take a minute to think back to your childhood, and some of the moments that stand out in your memory. Peppered amongst the landmark events of birthdays, Christmas and school days, do you recall gazing into a clear night sky and seeing millions of dazzling stars, watching a classic steam locomotive journeying along Brunel’s South Devon railway lines, or searching for the thousands of tiny life forms that make their home in the shrubs and trees of your back garden or nearby countryside?

As children, we are blessed with an instinctive curiosity towards the world around us, and we are encouraged to explore our surroundings and discover the rich diversity that both our natural and manmade environments provide.  Yet somewhere, along the journey into adulthood, many of us lose our fascination with these still mesmerising aspects of our neighbourhoods and surroundings.

You may be asking why I have taken you on this short trip down memory lane. What you have perhaps unwittingly carried out is essentially a potted history of your love affair with science.  Think back again to those memories and think about how many relate to science in some way or another – that steam railway was a marvel of contemporary engineering, trying to calculate how many stars illuminate the skies above us is a fundamental questions for astrophysicists, while even board games such as Top Trumps rely on a embracing statistical analysis.

In short, the influence of science on our everyday lives is evident pretty much wherever you look. We are fortunate to live in a part of the UK blessed with not only a rich biodiversity, but also a varied landscape ranging from the rugged moorland landscapes to the majestic Jurassic coastline. Meanwhile, Britain’s position as a cradle of invention has mean that we take so many incredible innovations and developments, from the railways to television and radio, and even the internet, almost for granted.

Yet if we are to continue to lead the way in innovation and new technology, there needs to be a sea change in our attitudes towards science. The next technological breakthrough won’t be possible without the passion, perseverance and skills of the scientists, mathematicians and engineers of tomorrow. Put simply, it is time to kick-start a quiet revolution to place science at the heart of the next generation.

Friday 14 March marked the start of the National Science and Engineering Week, which aims to give children the confidence to question the environment, develop basic scientific theories, increase their observational skills and, perhaps most importantly, have fun while they do so. A huge number of fascinating events and opportunites have been going on to support this. If we can enhance the skills and attitudes towards science in our children now, it is far more likely to stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Here at the University of Exeter, we are already passionate about sharing our knowledge and enthusiasm for science with the local community. Throughout the course of the year our staff run a series of outreach events designed to encourage children of all ages to think about what science means to them, and what opportunities it can provide as they start their journeys through adulthood. For example, the University of Exeter Medical School hosts the exciting “Men in White”, event, which allows Year 9 students from schools across the region to experience what working in a research laboratory is really like. Meanwhile, colleagues from our Penryn Campus in Cornwall run the hugely successful Science in the Square event, as part of Falmouth Week, where families can come and learn more about insects, space, ocean life and much, much more.

We believe events such as these are the perfect way in which we can give something back to our local community, but just as importantly by allowing children to become scientists for the day, we will sow the seeds to produce the next generation of scientists.

In recent decades the lure of science has perhaps been lost to many. The government has recognised the importance of attracting students into science, and last year announced that science and engineering teaching at UK universities will receive a £400 million boost. It is a welcome decision, but is not a total solution to what has become a longstanding problem. Instead, it is up to all of us to make a difference. If we can rediscover our passion for trying to understand the world around us, to marvel once again at the exceptional feats of engineering and technology that we see and use daily, to nurture our natural desire to observe, question and learn, then we can encourage those around us too – and who knows, perhaps discover the next Brunel, Tim Berners-Lee or Professor Stephen Hawking right here on our doorstep.

Science in the Square

Science in the Square is an annual event which allows scientists to share their knowledge, passion and expertise with the local community.

Dr Caitlin Knight told us more about the event…

Last year’s inaugural Science in the Square happened while I was out of town, so my only knowledge of the event came from the enthusiastic reports delivered by the faculty and volunteers who participated. Luckily, the timing worked out better this year, so I was able to head down to Events Square and check out the outreach extravaganza.

My arrival happened to coincide with the beginning of the “Love Your Trees” talk presented by Dr. Britt Koskella. She used glitter to “infect” children with various diseases and show them how pathogens can spread from one tree to another. Although her entire talk was interesting and educational, I was particularly impressed by how she related the information to real life, explaining how everyone—scientist or not—can keep an eye on tree health and report infected trees to the proper authorities. Dr. Koskella also encouraged all the tree-lovers in her audience to consider a future in science so that they could take an even more hands-on approach to tending and preserving plants.

University scientists at the Tremough Science in the Square event.

University scientists at the Cornwall campus Science in the Square event.

Other talks included Dr. Celine Frere’s “Love Your Oceans,” Dr. Stephan Harrison’s “Love Your Climate,” and Dr. Dave Hodgson’s “Love Your Wildlife.” Audiences for each of the lectures were sizeable, and yet only accounted for a fraction of all the many people at the event; the tent was thronging throughout the afternoon.

Of course, children aren’t generally inclined to sit down and listen to lectures for four hours straight, so Science in the Square also involved many hands-on activities providing information about both bioscience and geography topics. There were several microscopes providing views of soil, rocks, and microorganisms, as well as a crafty area where kids could make animal masks and get their faces painted.

Elsewhere, they could pick up and examine the skulls and pelts of a variety of wildlife, and even see some living specimens in tanks and terraria. Although some of the featured fauna were exotics, there were also several animals—including burying beetles, bees, and many marine species—from right here in Cornwall.

One particularly popular station featured an array of real bird wings; kids were asked to determine which wings were associated with different types of locomotion—hovering, diving, long-distance migration, and so on. Rather than be grossed out by the idea of picking up a dead animal’s body part, the children seemed quite excited to feel the softness of the feathers and to see the morphology up close.

While all the activities were designed to be fun and memorable, they were also intended to provide useful and applicable information. At many of the stations, visitors had the opportunity to learn about the scientific method and employ real scientific techniques—such as taking soil and water samples. They also learned practical skills, such as how to start a garden by growing plants from seedlings. Several of the stations, such as those focusing on glaciers and climate change, had an underlying conservation message.

Although I’d been aware of the lengthy preparations for Science in the Square, I was still surprised by the scale of the event. The huge variety of topics and activities was impressive, as was the professionalism of everyone involved; you could be forgiven for thinking that the afternoon had been orchestrated by outreach professionals or museum staff rather than academic researchers and an army of student volunteers. Hopefully all the attendees were as impressed as I was. More importantly, though, I hope they were bitten by the science bug and took away a new (or renewed) interest in the natural world.

For more information see the Science in the Square site.


Graduating isn’t the end of your time with Exeter – you’re now part of our alumni

Watching everyone graduate this week has brought back loads of great memories of my own Exeter graduation a few years ago, from Floella’s enthusiastic embrace and encouragement and her never-ending smile, to the panic everyone has as their name is read out to go up and see her – will I be the one to trip-up in front of hundreds of people? Should I have worn heels? (I should say that I’ve never actually heard of anyone falling over while meeting Floella!)

There’s always the worries that accompany being seen in public with your family and about how your robe will look. And then there’s the weather to consider – we’re never guaranteed sunshine during the summer in the UK, even if Exeter normally does pretty well for it. It’s been a mix this year, but we’ve had some good sunshine, and even when it’s rained it hasn’t dampened spirits.

But all those worries melt away after Floella’s greeting, and once you’re out of the hall you can relax a bit, enjoy the Pimm’s tent and the College receptions across campus. It’s a wonderful chance to introduce your family to the close friends you made while you were here – and for them a chance to put faces to names at last. Celebrating together is wonderful, even if it can be a little poignant at times, coming to the end of an era.

I loved my time at Exeter so much that I now work here, and seeing the other side of graduation I realise how much effort the University puts in to make it such a special occasion. It’s a time of year that staff love too – watching students who have worked so hard really celebrate and mark their achievements. The atmosphere across the campuses during the whole week is terrific.

In Alumni Relations, where I work, it’s my job to make sure that though you may have graduated you never really leave the University community and the friends you made here behind. We look after a community of over 75,000 people in more than 170 countries. Our alumni include internationally-recognised businesspeople and lawyers, inspirational politicians and teachers, and critically-acclaimed journalists and artists. Every year we run a host of events to keep our alumni in contact with each other, from academic lectures on specific subjects like science and technology, to quiz nights and meet-ups for drinks in London pubs. Our next one is on August 4th – come along if you can make it!

So though you may have graduated this week and be heading off into pastures new, you’re still a big part of the University. If you want to find out more about how to stay in touch, have a look at our website or join us on Facebook, and be sure to let us know what the future holds for you.

Posted by Rachael Magee (English and Film, 2008; Development and Alumni Relations Office)

Food security research at Exeter, by Professor Michael Winter

michaelwinterblogFood security, the availability of food and how accessible it is to populations, is one of the biggest global issues facing research today. Once again the world’s eyes are being turned to Africa as the worst drought there in 60 years threatens 10 million people with famine, whilst at the same time England and Wales together throw away 3.6 million tonnes of “waste” food every year. At Exeter we’re in the early stages of strategising how we research food security. We already have real strength in four important areas: crop health, ecosystem services, food behaviours, and food animals.

Regarding crop health we are strong in Biosciences, particularly around pathogens with world leading research on diseases affecting bananas and rice diseases which affect productivity and yield. We’re also doing work on a soil fungus, trichoderma, which is shown to activate immunity to plant pathogens.

Ecosystem services is coming to the fore with the Environment and Sustainability Institute in Tremough. Professor Kevin Gaston, the inaugural director, is very much focused on the ecosystems services approach and the role of biodiversity, and we have some excellent work going on in Geography around soils and soil erosion. In the social sciences we’re looking at how we can best apply the ecosystems approach to decisions about how to use the land. In the South West, for example, I am looking at how best to adapt land-based systems to deliver economic benefits and sustainability targets.

In the area of food behaviours, Exeter has a long tradition of researching producers of food, agricultural producers in particular. But we also have a history of looking at the food chain and we have some very interesting research in Geography and in Psychology on issues of consumption and consumers. We also have work in Economics, led by Steve McCorriston, on price volatility, one of the big issues facing those concerned about food security.

The final area, food animals, attracts interest from geographers and biologists and wihtin the humanities. And in Psychology we have some fascinating work on dairy cows behaviour and the best way to manage behaviour for maximum welfare and productivity.

Food security research is inherently interdisciplinary, cutting across biosciences, economics, psychology, politics and other social sciences, and beyond. This is why I’m so excited by it – I’m a bit of an interdisciplinary junkie, you might say! As a social scientist I love working with natural scientists, and I think that’s really where the future is for the University, allying our tremendous strength in humanities and the social sciences with the natural science developments we’re making.

Posted by Professor Michael Winter (Co-Director, Centre for Rural Policy Research)

South Sudan independence: what does it mean?


I’m writing to usher in the independence of South Sudan on 9th July 2011, when it will formally be declared a nation-state. This follows a referendum on 9th January 2011, in which 98.8% (against 1.7%) of South Sudanese people opted for secession from the north. What does this mean? For me it is my desired outcome to be free not only from socio-economic marginalisation but also from oppression, marking the end of ingrained inequality and second-class citizenship inflicted by successive northern governments since independence in 1956. Casting my ballot on the referendum day in January was a significant milestone in exercising my democratic rights and having my say on the future of Sudan. I prayed that God may make my dream come true. Now it has come true.

A child soldier in the SPLA
Seeking refuge in Ethiopia, my father brought the whole family to a refugee camp in 1985 when I was ten. My father had been a veteran Anya-Nya 1 fighter until the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, after which he became one of those forcefully retired by the northern government; they were called “left-hands”, meaning that they still held anti-north ideas, and were deemed harmful by the Nimeri regime in Khartoum.

In 1988, I moved to a military camp called “Tharpaam” in Itang Refugee Camp in Ethiopia, where nearly 1500 children between 8 and 13 years of age were being trained in preparation for recruitment into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army’s Jiec El Amer (Red Army). We were told that we were brought there to study, but soon realised this was just a pretext; we were nothing more than child soldiers. It didn’t take long for me to become motivated to be an SPLA soldier, though.

Dr John Garang, the SPLA chairman and commander-in-chief of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement, would lecture on the concept of new Sudan. We stood on parade, dressed in white uniform and cape, singing songs of liberation. We slept in grass-thatched huts, infested with cockroaches and jigger fleas. Diseases like dysentery, malaria, and typhoid were commonplace, with funerals almost every day.

Food was never enough. I was entitled to only 1 kg of white beans and quarter of a litre of oil a month food ration; this lasted only a few days. Many died of hunger and diseases, and the norm was for roommates to bury the dead. I buried seven of my thirty-three roommates, four of whom died of malnutrition and three of dysentery. The army officer reminded us often: “we are starving because of the north. They make us suffer and die…this is the reason why we are fighting them.” Education, the original purpose that brought me to the camp, was never discussed. The priority for the SPLA was to get soldiers to fight. When I asked about school, the officer would say: “you will go to school when we defeat the north.”

This dreadful situation continued until the downfall of the Mengistu Regime in Ethiopia in May 1991, and the subsequent dislodging of SPLA from Ethiopia as well as the splintering of SPLA/M into two. Consequently, all Sudanese refugees fled back into Southern Sudan. Not long after that, I returned to a refugee camp called Dimma in Ethiopia, where I pursued my primary and secondary education until 1996.

My sleepless night in Qadarif
I went to Khartoum in 1997 and enrolled in the University of Juba after completing secondary high school in Ethiopia. Now, with my family scattered by war, my siblings in Ethiopia and parents somewhere in Southern Sudan, hiding from the enemy, I decided to reunite the family. In doing so, I went to Ethiopia in April 2004 to bring my siblings who were living in a refugee camp. Things went well in Ethiopia, but in Sudan my sister was refused a room because sharia law banned hotel accommodation for girls. So my nine-year-old sister and I devastatingly spent the night outside the police station in Al Qadarif, despite hotels having rooms available and the fact that I was carrying enough money to afford a separate room for each of us. No one came to our help. We were like foreigners. Police looked at us with contempt. We lay at the gate, sleepless, until dawn.

Sudan that night became to me a place where the vast majority of citizens had no legal rights while a minority enjoyed unlimited liberty. I hated being Sudanese, preferring living as a refugee in a foreign land to being a second-class citizen without rights and freedoms. That night my sister and I spent outside the gate, chilly like no other, determined the box into which we cast our votes during the referendum early this year. On the voting day, my sister, living in Kenya said: “I can’t forget that sleepless night in Qadarif, brother; so I will vote wisely.”

She confirmed to me afterwards that she had done so; independence is the solution.

My roles in the Government and reason for studying MPA
Before joining the University of Exeter I have, since 2006, been diligently serving in the Government of Southern Sudan. I work in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, which is given clear mandate to build the capacity of legislatures both at national and subnational levels. The ministry is charged with the responsibility of building and nurturing democratic governance in nascent Southern Sudan.

I am involved in planning and implementing capacity-building training programmes for the ten Southern States Legislative assemblies and civil society organisations. The capacity-building programmes offered training in parliamentary principles and practices, and democratic governance.

I also became the Coordinator of government civic voter education programmes, designed and implemented, ahead of general elections in April 2010, to teach the southern populace their citizenship duties, responsibilities, and rights of democratic participation.

In addition, I’ve worked as Assistant editor-in-chief of the government-run newsletter, The Parliamentarian, which is oriented towards educating parliamentarians and government officials on managing legislative affairs and promoting good governance.

However, with prospects of independence and the challenges associated with a new nation-state, I decided to seek opportunities for further studies in Public Administration so that I may contribute even more to the development of an independent South Sudan. Consequently, I gratefully joined the Exeter MPA programme, and must give many thanks to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (CFO) and Chevening Scholarship Programme for sponsoring my postgraduate studies in the UK. The qualifications and knowledge I have attained will help me make significant impact in Southern Sudan, making me professionally competent in discharging my duties and responsibilities in the civil service, particularly in analysing, formulating, and administering public policies.

Finally, eventual separation from the north is, I believe, the best thing that South Sudanese people have ever attained, though lots of formidable challenges lie ahead of us in our nation-building efforts. These include combating corruption, eradicating tribalism, building the economy, making effective policies in all sectors. South Sudan’s new government will need further policy advice and help establishing its own higher education programmes if we are to achieve our goals: perhaps the University of Exeter will be able to help us on our journey into independence even more in future.

Posted by D Deng Gach Pal, MPA Postgraduate student (Chevening Scholar)

Exeter-based start-up is Born Global business winner

A business based at the University of Exeter’s Innovation Centre has won the inaugural Born Global business competition, beating 90 other companies from across the South West in a bid to find the best business idea with global potential.

Fantasy Shopper was crowned GWE Business West’s Born Global Business 2011 in front of an audience of 100 leading international business experts, mentors and investment angels.

Chris Prescott and Daniel Noz from Fantasy Shopper won over the competition judges at the grand final with their innovative multi-platform social shopping game. They received a prize of £20,000 in cash plus a range of bespoke PR, investment readiness and export business services.

The duo have been based at Exeter’s Innovation Centre for the past six months and although they are still at pre-launch stage, winning the competition will give a real boost to their ambitions.

“The judges thought that their business idea was extremely innovative with huge global potential,” said Robin Jackson, Exeter’s Innovation Centre Director.

“They were up against some strong competition but were able to demonstrate a strong business plan which is both ambitious and achievable. We are happy to be supporting them on their business journey.”

Born Global 2011 was launched by GWE Business West to find the best new business idea in the South West with the potential to go global. More than 90 applicants pitched propositions in the early stages of the competition at auditions in Bristol, Bath, Exeter and Gloucestershire. 30 applicants were shortlisted from auditions and this number was whittled down to 15 who were invited to re-present at the Grand Final on March 1st.

Posted by Robin Jackson, Director of the Innovation Centre

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

I spent yesterday afternoon (Saturday 5 February) taking in the Chinese New Year celebrations across the city as the year of the rabbit began.

Starting at the Buffet City restaurant at the top of Fore Street, a procession featuring a giant traditional Chinese Dragon and an energetic traditional Chinese Lion, plus dozens of dancers and musicians, worked its way up to Bedford Square in Princesshay, before heading for the recently-completed new Business School building.

At the new Business School building there was an even grander Dragon and Lion dance, plus a wealth of indoor activities (this is the South West, after all, and one needs to plan for inclement weather – which we luckily avoided for the most part!), from Chinese food to face-painting (allegedly for the kids, but I saw some suspiciously older-looking painted faces), plus origami, Tai Chi, Chinese knots, Chinese tea-making, and much, much more. The day was rounded off with a spectacular fireworks display and a Chinese variety performance at the Northcott Theatre.

Professor Neil Armstrong, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International), gave a short address highlighting the increasing importance of Exeter’s Chinese community to both the city and the University. It’s worth noting that the entire event was presented by the Chinese Student Scholars Associations (CSSA), whose volunteers did everything from the impressive Dragon and Lion dancing to manning stalls, ushering the audience, painting faces, and, well, everything else.

A big audience in the city centre swelled through the afternoon to become several hundred strong by the main procession outside the new Business School building (the whole of the new plaza area between Streatham Court and XFI was thronged with people, and the inside activities were very busy at the same time), and included students both international and domestic, and University staff and their families. People directly connected with the University through work or study were far outnumbered, though, by members of the local community; a heartening sight which really reinforced the things Professor Armstrong had said about the value our Chinese students bring to the wider city as well as the University itself.

I can’t praise the enthusiasm, friendliness, and energy of our Chinese student community enough. My friends and I had a great day, thanks entirely to their efforts, and I’d thoroughly recommend going along next year if you can; I know I will be (for the pork dumplings as much as the Dragon and Lion dancing!).

Check out pictures from the day in this Flickr group that anyone can add to.

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Posted by Nick Southall (Web Team)