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Money for measuring the richness of international knowledge exchange for students


A pioneering new project led by Brunel University London will examine the benefits of student knowledge exchange programmes thanks to new joint funding of £326,000 from the UK’s Office for Students and Research England – in this instance, where students from different countries share experiences and work together on projects designed with communities.

The two-year Evaluating Student Knowledge Exchanges (ESKE) project, starting this September, will see Brunel students learn and work in partnership with those from the University of Zambia and from Copperbelt University in a series of immersive exchange programmes between the UK and the Southern African country.

The aim of the exchanges is for the UK- and Zambia-based students to share skills, knowledge and cultural appreciation while working with communities to address particular challenges faced in each country. And, in a first, the project will capture, measure and disseminate what works well and why, to improve international knowledge exchanges as a method of learning and collaborating.

The project builds on last year’s successful field trip that took seven of Brunel’s Global Challenges BASc undergraduate students to Zambia for four weeks to see how the country improves the livelihoods of refugees and their host communities. The students learnt how the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Zambia’s Department of Resettlement work together to integrate recently arrived and long-term refugees alongside locals. They listened to the communities’ agricultural challenges and proposed ideas such as linking greenhouses with aquaponic systems, and setting up better management structures to improve food supply chains.

Dr Mary Richards, ESKE project lead and Brunel’s Global Challenges Programme Director, said that partnerships with leading organisations such as the UNDP and the Department of Resettlement will give students more cultural and social capital, and will enhance their interdisciplinary thinking. “This will inspire them to think of themselves as being part of the cohort of people at the forefront of thinking about and responding to contemporary challenges, informing policy development and being part of inclusive approaches,” she said.

“The current coronavirus pandemic emphasises the need for global action, global connection and global thinking. Issues and problems aren't going to be respecting geopolitical borders, and health and environmental challenges will continue to expand in the coming decades.

“Students at Brunel, the University of Zambia and Copperbelt University are part of a new generation who, with the experiences and softer skills this project will provide, will engage in radical listening and critical thinking and take part in action-led change and responsible global citizenship.”

ESKE’s international team will co-develop a new model of practice along with a range of indicators to show how effective the immersive knowledge exchanges are, and a new tool to visualise these results. By sharing the results and recommendations with the higher education sector through reports, publications and a conference, this project will enable other universities to benefit from lessons learned – aspiring to ensure an inclusive and equitable quality education, one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 4). 

The knowledge exchanges will benefit around 100 UK- and Zambia-based students over the course of five visits, with the first taking place in summer 2021 after preparatory activity. Brunel’s students will be selected from the second year of the Global Challenges undergraduate degree, with 75% coming from underrepresented groups such as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students and care leavers.

For the Zambian students, Dr Richards explained that they will explore how the UK isn’t all about Windsor Castle and colonial advantage. “They will have opportunities to learn about permaculture practices in the UK as an alternative to mainstream agricultural practices, and also about agroforestry,” she said. “But they will also explore the sense in which life in the UK isn’t all rosy, working with homelessness organisations and the Refugee Community Kitchen and listening to the challenges faced by those on the margins here.

“For all the students involved, the project’s about understanding their own capacity to lead on change, making them more confident, capable, and more understanding of their potential role in designing for and advocating for change.”

Brunel’s Dr Shona Paterson, a Global Challenges Research Fellow on the ESKE project team, added: “Given the scale and importance of the challenges we as a global society are facing, education is a critical catalyst for change – and not just a driver of the economy or a transmitter of cultural values. Knowledge exchanges that bring students from diverse geographies and social contexts together is at the very heart of education as a driver for sustainability.”

The project is one of 20 winners of the Office for Students’ funding competition for projects on student engagement in knowledge exchange, announced today.

Brunel University London is a member of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), which highlights our commitment to supporting and contributing (through research and education) to the realisation of the United Nations General Assembly’s goals.


Find out more about studying Global Challenges at Brunel University London.

Reported by:

Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268821