GCU’s MSc in Citizenship & Human Rights is an unusual mix of academic teaching, third sector partnerships and experiential, work-based learning. Offered in partnership with SCVO (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations) and part-funded by Highlands & Islands European Social Fund it offers a unique part-time postgraduate qualification to students interested in “promoting the principles of human rights including anti-discrimination, participative democracy, accountability and social responsibility”.
Established four years ago, the three year work-based programme saw its first batch of Masters students graduate in the summer of 2014. “It was set up following a conversation with SCVO, who were looking for something pretty bespoke in relation to their needs,” recalls Prof Hughes.
The course is designed to be highly flexible with exit points at years 1 and 2 for postgraduate certificate (PgCert) and postgraduate diploma (PgDip) qualifications and, as Prof Hughes emphasises, has a very open admissions policy that recognises the skills and experiences gained out with traditional education. “A lot of the students we’ve got have come through the prior learning route; some of them have very little in the way of academic qualifications but have a huge amount of practical experience.” He highlights the academic support provided through GSBS and GCU Learning and Development as having been key to this ‘recognition of prior learning’ process.
The part-time and largely online nature of this postgraduate qualification makes it ideal for professionals looking to study for academic qualifications whilst working at the same time. This was the remit and target audience intended by SCVO in the developmental stages of the degree programme and the current mix of students reflects this.
“They [the students] are very highly motivated; a lot of them are quite senior…people in organisations that maybe don’t have a lot of traditional academic baggage to carry around with them but choose to get it [the Masters qualification] to move further up the ladder.”
He highlights that, whilst it is difficult to evaluate the long term impact the course may have on the student’s professional life, the feedback from recent graduates has highlighted how enhancing the programme has been in terms of personal development. The flexible nature of the course alongside its highly engaged students is what, he feels, lies at the heart of this positive feedback from alumni.
“I had 12 lectures prepared [on how to go about writing a dissertation] but it quickly became a discussion between me and the students, mutually trying to figure out which direction to take their projects….it was completely a matter of osmosis.”
This student-led problem solving and informal learning environment are integral to the underpinning ethos of this Masters programme and form part of the reason why Prof Hughes is justifiably proud about the course that they have developed throughout the past four years: “It’s fantastic to teach. How much, as a member of staff, you learn from the students – it’s quite considerable.”
It also appears particularly relevant in the current political climate. The concepts of participative democracy and social responsibility, at the core of this Masters programme, seem particularly pertinent to politically engaged, post-Referendum Scotland. The Scottish environment is one that, he feels, is particularly important for the success of this programme.
“Scotland, and the Scottish Third Sector, is such a dynamic place at the moment. That, I think, has been evident in the past year or so in this course because we’ve talked about nothing else but the Scottish Referendum and what this means for the Third Sector [and] … issues of activism and issues of campaigning which are so central to this course.”
It is in this environment that bespoke, accessible learning such as that offered through this postgraduate qualification become particularly important and he hopes that this course will continue to engage with highly motivated and passionate students for years to come.
Many thanks to Prof Bill Hughes for taking the time to speak with us.
If you have any questions about this course, or for informal enquiries, contact Prof Bill Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0141 331 3330.