Alumni Weekend Panel Discussion – An Oxford Education

On 21st September, Student Ambassadors Jennifer Brennan and Priscilla Santos were invited to speak at the Alumni Weekend Q&A Panel Discussion led by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andy Hamilton, at the Said Business School. Here, Priscilla tells us about her experience on the Panel:

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The Panel Discussion was a fast but very interesting debate. The theme was about different perspectives of ‘an Oxford education’ (in my case, a graduate student perspective). We talked about subjects related to funding, different social and ethnic background and other themes such as the tutorial system for undergraduates. In this sense, I could contribute to the discussion telling a little about my personal experience as a student who comes from the Brazilian Amazon who would never have the opportunity to study in Oxford if it wasn’t for the University’s scheme for funding.

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I really enjoyed being part of the debate and found it enjoyable answering the VC’s questions. I thought it was particularly interesting his provocations to all panel members about how the University could improve. I thought it was so brave of him that he recognised that although the University is seen as one of the most respected academic institutions in the world, there is also an opportunity to reflect on how we can get things even better. To answer that, I decided to express my opinion on how Oxford would benefit from paying more careful attention to the developing countries in the world. Countries part of the BRIC alliance (formed by Brazil, Russia, India and China), for example, are growing at such a fast speed and face great challenges related to social and environmental issues. The University could really make a difference in understanding this process in detail and embracing applied research in this area. It is also important to count on students and researchers who are from these countries and to accommodate them in a way that they feel comfortable and part of a truly international community to which they can contribute with their local and empirical knowledge.

To illustrate how Oxford still has room to grow towards a more international approach in its teaching system, I gave the example of my course as one which is more about European environmental policy only. In this case, having a better understanding about how environmental policy is understood outside of Europe is very important considering the major challenges developing countries face when committed to follow a sustainable development path.

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The VC also provoked the guest speakers to have comments about the role of online education and how Oxford could benefit from it. He explained the meaning of MOOC and how this acronym has been recently added in the Oxford dictionary (For more information about the term, see here: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/MOOC) and the discussion about the role of online tools in education.

Following the discussion about MOOC, I recognised that the University of Oxford (or a specific department in the University) can’t have specialists in every subject coming from all countries in the world. But in one specific subject, the course should find ways to fill this gap. I suggested one of these ways could be having an international network of researchers, with which we could be encouraged to engage and be co-supervised by experts in our fields/countries online to complement our supervision and to make sure that our research is according to ‘Oxford standards’. Sometimes students cannot find the help they need in their department to develop their research topic, since there is not always a specialist in the department who is dealing directly with a specific subject or country. Therefore, Oxford doesn’t have to necessarily have a specialist on every single subject and country, but it should provide students ways to engage with them through a network of research to make sure we have the sufficient resources to conduct valuable research and to meet our expectations as international students. As the VC himself used as an example, making the best use of online and distance learning tools, I could ”conduct my research about indigenous peoples in the Amazon and at the same time be connected with Oxford!”.

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As a final comment, I said that often we (students) are asked questions such as ‘Are you ready for Oxford?’. In fact, sometimes I would like to ask the same, but in a different way: ‘Is Oxford ready for us?’ Certainly, the University and the students are part of an ongoing relationship in which both need to communicate and to update themselves. At the end, this is what makes Oxford such an interesting place to me.

Photographs courtesy of Rob Judges.

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