Reflecting on 3 Years of Collective Research Endeavour: Message from Centre Director Prof Michalis Kontopodis

Dear colleagues,

As we are approaching the summer break, and given that this has been a particularly challenging year for all of us, I would like to thank you all for your hard work and commitment to our research activities. I am ever so grateful for all your great engagement, creative energy and optimism which have kept me going in my role as Research Centre Director in this very difficult year. It will soon be three years since I undertook the Centre Director position and the plan is that another colleague will take the lead beginning from the next term. A separate announcement about follow-up arrangements will be circulated by the HoS and DoRI in due course.

As you know, the ICY/CPP Centre(s) – broadly speaking, including all the various teams – bring together diverse scholars conducting research on learning and human development, inclusive and equitable quality education, children’s rights and sustainable development in rapidly evolving knowledge societies. Our work is informed by a broad understanding of inclusion referring to the intersection of specific resources and needs, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, mental health and wellbeing, dis-/ability, socio-economics as well as digital, cultural, religious and geographical aspects.

There are strong links between our teaching practice and our research on inclusion and, while this is very much a team effort, including work by our student education service team and our highly esteemed colleagues from CLER, CRDE & other University Centres, I would like to warmly congratulate Indira Banner, Haley Davies, Katie Gathercole, Judith Hebron, Anne Luke and Jackie Salter – among many other colleagues – for the excellent achievements in recent evaluations: The Complete University Guide has placed the University of Leeds at number 18 in the UK for Education. This success follows Education subjects at Leeds being very highly ranked in the UK – and top 100 in the world – in the Times Higher Education (THE) Subject Rankings 2021.

Without getting ahead of ourselves, I believe that we can also be very proud of our REF entry, which made explicit how we all come together so that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Excellent colleagues, such as Paula Clarke, Peter Hart, Judith Hanks, Lou Harvey, Matt Homer, Gill Main, Rachel Mathieson, Judy Sayers, James Simpson, Ruth Swanwick, Aisha Walker and Lucy Taylor (to mention only a few) have been involved in outstanding projects & impact case studies, as you can read, for example, HERE and HERE.

We have achieved significant impact through our established collaboration with colleagues from across disciplines and sectors, including several other Research Centres at the University of Leeds – most importantly the Centre for Research in Digital Education, Centre for Disability Studies, Centre for Applied Education Research (i.e., Born-in-Bradford cohort study team), Centre for Immersive Technologies and Centre for Global Development. The recent podcast episodes presenting work by Bridgette Bewick on student mental health; by Fereshte Goshtasbpour & Bronwen Swinnerton on online learning, and by Miro Griffiths on disability activism can be seen as excellent examples of this very fruitful ongoing collaboration. Even though our podcast series was only recently launched, we have already had around 200 listeners on various platforms, including Anchor, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Updates on Inclusion & Education on Weibo

I am immensely grateful to Luke McFarline for his excellent work on this front. Let me also mention that there are more than 250 scholars and partners who regularly engage with our posts on Twitter. Most importantly: I am particularly proud of the Chinese postgraduate researchers leading our Weibo account on inclusion & education, which is accessible to all students and PGRs who reside outside of Europe and may not be able to access our “Western” social media: LeedsUni教育研究中心. The leading postgraduate researchers, whom I would like to especially thank for their outstanding social media engagement are: Zhongyan Zhang, Shichong Li, Xiaowen Liu and Shouqiang Wang. We are receiving excellent applications by prospective PhD candidates from all over the world as a result of our media work and we have been highly efficient in attracting outstanding researchers from diverse geographical areas and backgrounds.

Education for the Future conference attendees

Education for the Future Conference, July 2019, Leeds

Our events have been very well attended by staff and postgraduate researchers. These include:

  • Two major externally-facing events with external stakeholders (#EDU4FUTURE in 2019 and #LINKS in 2021)
  • Reading group meetings every two months on “Current Debates on Inclusion, Childhood and Youth”
  • About two internally-facing “thinking aloud/allowed” workshops per year which provide an informal space to meet new colleagues, share research ideas, discuss raw empirical data, brainstorm on future projects and present unfinished work.

Obviously, all this is not one person’s task. I feel indebted to our Business Support & Faculty Research Office teams, who have always been so patient in dealing with all our requests: Fiona Middlebrook, Louise Williams, Sabahi Juma, Marie Fordham, Harsharan Virdee, Aleksandra Szweda, Denise Nicholas, Alison Lundbeck, and most importantly, to Jouna Ukkonen the colleague coordinating all our web platforms and research processes at the School of Education. I am also very thankful to our dear colleagues from other Centres/Schools, most importantly: Angharad Beckett, Caroline Dyer, Maggie Kubanyiova, Mark Mon-Williams, Bronwen Swinnerton, Amanda Waterman and our DVC Neil Morris, who have always been greatly supportive and keen to collaborate with us.

Since my very first days at the University of Leeds I have worked closely with Ruth Swanwick, who has until recently been working incredibly hard to support all of us in her role as Director of Research & Innovation. I am grateful to Ruth Swanwick for her kindness, wisdom and supportive leadership. Having worked with very different Heads of Schools at different universities, I would also like to express my gratitude to our Head of School, Alice Deignan, who has been working day and night leading the School of Education, supporting our staff and students, and ensuring that everything has functioned so smoothly over the years – and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most importantly: thank you everyone who has offered so much support and encouragement in this difficult year. Please do forgive me, if at any moment I have unintentionally created any difficult feelings for any of you (which I hope I haven’t).

As a first-generation student and an immigrant to the UK, it is vital to me that this collective research endeavour continues and I will do my best to help the next Centre Director take these activities forward. I could see myself coming back to a relevant leading role after a little break, if necessary. Thinking especially of the challenges which today’s children and young people – the so-called “Generation Covid-19” – will be faced with in the near future, I believe that powerful possibilities for public good can emerge if we combine research on inequalities with innovative approaches to learning in knowledge societies, as I explain in this brief video on our recently launched YouTube channel:

 There is always hope as we know from… Banksy.

Have a very nice summer everybody – καλό καλοκαίρι – 寒假快乐!

Prof Michalis Kontopodis, Chair in Global Childhood & Youth Studies, School of Education, University of Leeds.