Glasgow Caledonian University is forging ahead with its mission to produce progressive leaders who are unafraid to challenge the status quo, say professors John Wilson and Simon Teasdale
WHEN Nobel Peace Prize winner and world-leading social entrepreneur professor Muhammad Yunus took up the role of chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) in 2012, the university welcomed a global social activist who has earned the respect of governments, academics and thought leaders – and, most importantly, the people he seeks to lift out of poverty.
His 40 years of action, which includes the founding of the Grameen Bank in 1983, chimed with, and inspired further, the university’s well-established social mission, “For the Common Good”. It is a commitment that underpins research and teaching initiatives and is championed by students and staff, contributing to the university’s efforts to transform society at home and overseas.
That commitment has now been recognised by Ashoka U, a worldwide network of universities, colleges and likeminded individuals, who are using the transformative power of education to drive social change and help to develop the next generation of international social entrepreneurs.
GCU is the first university in Scotland to be awarded Ashoka U changemaker campus status, which provides students and staff with a platform to connect with leading universities across the world, including Brown, Cornell, Duke and Johns Hopkins. GCU has joined an influential community that shares ideas and resources to help towards the development of a more socially just society.
We need to encourage a social consciousness in our students that inspires them to question why inequalities exist in our communities, then motivates them to look at how best to address the issues. We know that students with a socially entrepreneurial mindset are able to use resources creatively to achieve positive change so, as a university, we must be bold in our thinking and entrepreneurial in our outlook. We need to ask more of ourselves and of our graduates. In all disciplines, at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, we have a responsibility to develop the best graduates and the best leaders. Our engineers, our healthcare professionals and our business leaders must have the skills and confidence to excel, while possessing the courage to challenge society’s status quo.
This university’s determination to be socially entrepreneurial in its thinking, in the work it undertakes, and in its teaching practices, is informed and supported by research. This has led to the establishment of initiatives such as the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health, which was recently awarded nearly £2 million from the UK’s Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) to explore how social enterprise might reduce health inequalities.
Internationally, the Grameen Caledonian College of Nursing in Bangladesh, established as a social business in 2010 and winner of the 2014 Unilever Global Development Award supported by Business Fights Poverty, trains women healthcare professionals to an international standard, and is another example of how GCU is harnessing the power of education and social business to fight poverty.
The Caledonian Club, GCU’s flagship widening participation programme, raises the educational aspirations of schoolchildren, their parents and guardians in the communities we serve. To date, it has engaged with more than 9,000 children and 2,500 parents. GCU is proud of the fact that 97 per cent of our students come from state school or college, compared to 87 per cent for the Scottish sector as a whole, and more than one-third of our undergraduate students come from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds, again, above the sector average.
We already have a large student population carrying out volunteer work and it is our ambition to provide further opportunities for them to contribute to the wellbeing of the city through involvement with social enterprises, supported by the Ashoka U network, and with mentoring from socially minded entrepreneurs.
Having recognised that there is an appetite for social entrepreneurship, we have developed a master’s degree programme in social business and microfinance. Launched earlier this year, it has attracted students from countries including South Africa, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Canada who are keen to learn how change can be delivered in their communities through the tools of social business and microfinance.
GCU shares Ashoka U’s belief that everybody has the potential to be a changemaker. By remaining committed to our social mission, we will continue to drive change in education and develop graduates equipped and determined to tackle social injustice at both a local and global level.
• Professor John Wilson is vice-principal and pro vice-chancellor (learning and student experience) and Professor Simon Teasdale is a professor of public policy and organisations at Glasgow Caledonian University, www.gcu.ac.uk