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"Education is about dismantling barriers, not building them"

1 February 2017
Photo credit: DMU

By James Gardner, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Strategic and International Partnerships, De Montfort University

After a year in which it seemed the world’s borders were being closed off, we wanted to start the new one with the biggest effort we could make to keep them open wide.

The past 12 months have seen huge political decisions made on both sides of the Atlantic which signalled a seismic shift in the mindset of voters: those wanting to see Britain leave the EU and those wanting to put Donald Trump in the White House.

These two results, unthinkable at first, both came to pass.

But I do not believe these decisions can be the end of the story. Brexit, after all, was rejected by nearly half of those who voted, and we should always remember that a very significant majority of our young people voted to remain in the EU, saying in effect: “We will not close our doors - the world belongs to us all.”

It was our students who came to us after the Brexit referendum result and as the US presidential election became more and more vituperative to say that they wanted to make a clear and unequivocal statement about their commitment to internationalism.

So the idea was born that 2017 would begin with the clearest statement possible: a #DMUglobal trip by 1,000 of our students and staff from some 45 nationalities to the very heart of Trump’s empire, New York, to declare that they are what Theresa May derided in October – citizens of the world.

There are few cities which can rival New York’s prestige, history or global profile. So what better place to show our students what the world has to offer, where their talents and hard work can take them?

And what better city for our students to make the boldest assertion yet of DMU’s guiding principles of tolerance, diversity and respect?

Earlier this month, in Times Square, our students proudly declared themselves Citizens of the World. They seized the opportunities to immerse themselves in this fast-paced, exciting and energising city. Their itineraries were filled with activities from 17 different academic strands which deepened their understanding of their subject areas and enhanced their employability.

Journalism students met New York Times reporters, Architecture students got a masterclass in design from the creator of the High Line park while Engineering students discovered first-hand how the world’s largest railway station is re-designing itself following devastating floods.

The trip has been such a success and been so well-received by students that we’re planning another on an even bigger scale; this time to Berlin later in the year.

They say travel broadens the mind. If there’s one message that our students heard in New York, it was that education is about dismantling barriers, not building them.

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