Impressions of Birmingham and Design - international students' views
A cosmopolitan cohort of BCU students gave me their impressions of Birmingham and Design last week ahead of the Birmingham Made Me Design EXPO running from 15th-22nd June at the Mailbox, Birmingham.
During these discussions, Steve Thachet, an overseas student studying international Broadcast Journalism at the Faculty of Performance, Media and English, Birmingham City University, produced a video blog.
The students were keen to help with the 12 Design Zones which will be showcasing design excellence from the over 130 Exhibitors from across the Midlands during the eight days of the Design EXPO and the more than 30 events taking place at the Mailbox.
We were talking about whether in their view, these two words, 'Birmingham' and 'Design' sat together naturally. Coming from China, India, Canada, Saudi, Romania and England, their insights and experiences spanned a good section of the globe.
They are here studying largely design-based disciplines and they all commented on Birmingham's industrial heritage as the root to Birmingham's design credentials, alongside our built environment.
However, our City's industrial heritage was, they felt, insufficiently recognised or credited, leaving us without a clear identity and detracting from our City's inherent culture and personality.
Edinburgh, by contrast, made much more of their heritage, endowing the present with more meaning and a richness that required recognition and celebration.
They felt Birmingham, as an industrial city, was surprisingly green and pleasant with good parks, outdoor spaces and a growing reputation for the quality of the newer elements of its built environment.
Buildings such as Selfridges, the new Library of Birmingham, the upgrade of New Street Station and associated retail and commercial developments were important in moving on perceptions of the City.
The students felt there was too little cohesion in the approach to these new buildings and how they integrated with what already existed in the City. In particular, a lack of focus on pedestrian planning in the past had made it a less friendly City for the around 100,000 students who are living, very largely in the heart of the city itself.
The universities as institutions, could, they commented, play more of a role in the City's social and economic agendas. Universities were big business and could drive international recognition for a city and its talent base. They were surprised at how few of their own incoming peers from overseas graduated and remained in the city to start their own designer-maker or creative businessses. Many, they knew, were interested in these kinds of opportunities, but went elsewhere to pursue them.
As students involved in creative disciplines, they felt they could be playing a much greater role in the life of the City. As a result they wanted to see greater levels of dialogue, collaboration and productive exchanges between themselves, business and public authorities, where possible, commencing as recognised elements of their coursework and leading into unique projects, such as the Birmingham Made Me Design EXPO
They saw the lack of dialogue between these partners resulting in many students who come to Birmingham to study remaining here simply for the duration of their degree only to depart immediately following graduation.
If these incoming students were to become more engaged with City projects and creative ideas exchange during their studies they felt new opportunities for work might emerge which could result in their involvement in more productive and creative capacities.
In response to these needs Birmingham City University was setting up an Enterprise Zone to encourage and support student and graduate start-ups and had just launched a new Birmingham Made Me Entrepreneurs Store at the Mailbox, thanks to the support of the Mailbox management, to showcase and sell their new designs and products.
For more information on Idea Birmingham, the think tank behind the Birmingham Made Me Design Expo visit www.ideabirmingham.co.uk. The Birmingham Made Me Design EXPO is a education business collaboration being led by Birmingham City University with the support of Jaguar, AGA Rangemaster and Cogent Elliott amongst other founder member supporters and chaired by Ian Callum RDI, Director of Design, Jaguar.