Belfast Telegraph

Prof Richard English: Projects show university's vital role in modern society

By Prof Richard English

Increasingly there has been a public debate regarding the role of universities in society, and a growing interest in how they affect people's everyday lives and experience.

Part of this has involved the perfectly reasonable question: "Are universities still relevant?" It's an issue of real importance, and it is one on which we are certainly focused at Queen's University, Belfast.

Friday, November 17, is a significant day at Queen's as it marks the launch of our social charter, an initiative that reflects the positive contribution to society made by our students and our staff.

We have chosen 19 signature projects which embody the principles of the social charter, and which highlight the breadth and depth of Queen's University's impact.

Ground-breaking research and global collaborations come with the territory in a world-leading university. But the work of students and staff at Queen's is genuinely having an impact, locally and globally.

Take, for example, research on addressing cancer inequalities in Europe. Spearheaded by Professor Mark Lawler, this research has led to the development of a European Cancer Patient's Bill of Rights.

This work also has a decisive local effect, Belfast being home to the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, which is transforming cancer care for local patients.

Again, the ground-breaking research on levels of inorganic arsenic in rice, carried out by Queen's University's Institute for Global Food Security, has led to work on effective mitigation and collaborations with universities in Bangladesh and China.

And Point of Care Diagnostic Tests - which began as a research project at Queen's - are now saving lives, as they allow rapid, accurate diagnosis of serious bacterial infection in children.

But it's not only in research that we are showing our relevance.

Closer to home, students and staff are working extensively with local communities.

Homework clubs have proved highly successful, and dozens of our students sit down on a weekly basis with children from inner-city Belfast, acting as mentors and providing regular and sustained assistance.

This improves children's study skills, builds confidence and raises aspirations. I've heard many uplifting stories of children's schoolwork being improved through this ongoing and inspiring project.

There is also The Pathway Opportunity Programme. Designed for young people who possess the ability to progress to university but who have significant barriers to overcome, this programme has been an important gateway for widening participation and raising aspirations.

The social charter recommits Queen's to providing leadership, to promoting a positive impact on society through our research and education, and to supporting equality and social justice.

For almost two centuries we have been tackling global issues and we are committed to continuing this legacy. Our impact is wide and deep. It's spanning continents and, vitally, it is also positively contributing to our local society in very many important ways.

Belfast Telegraph

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