Active citizens: student-led initiatives

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Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on how our Abertay Attributes define our values and distinctiveness. Abertay Attributes are again the focus of this post, prompted by the current critical international negotiations in Paris around climate change and a talk by NUS on “active citizenship” in the context of student personal development at this week’s Centre for Recording Achievement’s annual residential in Sheffield which Carol Maxwell and I attended.

NUS have just published a personal development benchmarking tool and Kate Little presented this new resource which is founded upon five principles, one of which is “that students should be enabled to engage with the wider-world beyond their direct studies, and that personal development is about creating modern citizens”. Kate was particularly keen to emphasise the importance of students as active citizens and this was reinforced later on in the day when a group of students from the University of Sheffield described their institution’s initiative to create a network of faculty-based Student Ambassadors for Learning and Teaching (SALT) which is a partnership between the University and the Student Association. The students were inspirational and obviously committed to making a difference.

There is also important synergy with “active citizens” and QAA’s guidance on Education for Sustainable Development for higher education published last year which covers the following core concepts: global citizenship, environmental stewardship and issues of social justice, ethics and wellbeing.

At Abertay, our new Abertay Attributes are composed of four dimensions, one of which is “Active Citizen” which states that we will foster individuals to:

  • Deploy their skills and learning to make a real contribution to society locally, nationally and internationally;
  • Be inclusive, globally conscientious, socially respectful, and self-reflective;
  • Maintain and continuously develop awareness of their civic, ethical and environmental responsibilities.

This links with our Employability and International strategies to promote inter-cultural awareness and internationalising the curriculum for all our students. Further, several of our new interdisciplinary electives, which are being implemented for stage one students this year,  have an active citizenship-related slant to them e.g. “Thinking globally, acting locally”, “People, planet, profit: sustainable business futures” and “live well and prosper”. Our latest TLE seminar was on “Inclusive teaching” and covered equality and diversity issues related to race, gender, disability and sexual orientation which promoted much debate and discussion amongst participants. It was clear, however, that this is an important and complex agenda to which the University is committed to supporting through various actions.

In terms of future developments, one of our current ATLEF-funded teaching and learning projects, led by Eddie Simpson in SET, is focussed on evaluating the implementation of our new Attributes so far, and developing a toolkit to aid students’ self-reflection and personal development. The next ATLEF call in the early new year will be focussed on student-led project ideas run in conjunction with the Student Association. This represents an excellent opportunity for our students to get involved as active citizens and make a positive difference to the Abertay student learning experience. Watch this space for further details!

Alastair Robertson,

Director of Teaching and Learning Enhancement



I finished this blog from a hotel room in Carlisle following an unscheduled overnight stay courtesy of storm Desmond. The impact of climate change has been evident and disastrous for the poor people of Cumbria the last couple of days!



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