Leicester academics leading debate

We’ve created Leicester Exchanges because we believe a university should be about empowering people to explore what they don’t know, as well as what they do know.

A University website devoted to online academic debate is proving something of a worldwide hit. Over 25,000 visitors from more than 250 countries around the world, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, have visited the Leicester Exchanges website, which was created in February 2011 to provide a forum for leading Leicester academics to engage with the wider public on key issues shaping society.

More than 30 Leicester academics have joined the debate so far, covering topics from arts funding cuts to rural racism. Among those who have contributed ‘blog’ articles are Professor Panicos Demetriades, from the Department of Economics, who used the platform to respond to a piece written in the Financial Times by Samuel Brittan on the Eurozone’s economic troubles. Professor Demetriades argued: “I do not think that the departure of Greece and Portugal is the only or the best solution to the Eurozone’s current troubles. Indeed, I would argue that the rebirth of the Deutsch Mark makes a lot more economic sense.” It’s challenging thinking like this that has engaged readers and encouraged them to join in the debate on the site.

Readers have certainly got involved in the debate on ‘Is Britain Broken?’, led by Dr Angus Cameron from the Department of Geography. Comments in response to his post, which argued that ‘Britain isn’t broken, but its citizens are broke’, were approaching 100 at the time of writing. This popular article is one of many 5-star peer-rated articles on the site.

The audience has also responded enthusiastically to the debate on ‘Should Man go to Mars?’ Among contributors to the topic is Sir Patrick Moore, CBE, Hon FRS: astronomer, broadcaster and University of Leicester Distinguished Honorary Fellow. His guest post ‘Onward to Mars’ discusses the merits of space travel to the Red Planet. Moore’s vision is that: “Once on Mars itself, the first thing to do will be to construct a proper base. This is bound to take time, but once it is operational the value of the whole programme will quickly become obvious. Medical science, for example, will benefit immediately, as delicate operations immensely difficult on Earth will be much easier on Mars, where the gravitational pull is only one-third as strong. There is no need to stress the advantages of the Martian Base as a physical and chemical laboratory, and as an astronomical observatory it will be unrivalled.”

Leicester Exchanges is not simply an online forum. Passionate debate takes place at events for informed practitioners and the public. The first of these events, ‘Should We Punish or Reform Offenders?’, held at the Tower of London in March 2011, was chaired by Professor Sir Robert Burgess, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, and was a huge success, attracting guests from Government, civil service and the general public, as well as a global audience following the live Twitter report. More events are also planned to be announced on the Leicester Exchanges website.

Whether it’s online or in person, all the signs are that Leicester Exchanges, with its global reach and wide-ranging remit, is another significant step towards redefining what a leading university needs to be in the 21st century. Long may the debate continue.

For more information on Leicester Exchanges visit www.leicesterexchanges.com

This article originally appeared in LE1 Autumn 2011.

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