Issues in science, technology and politics relating to transport, demography, climate change and civic participation were hotly debated last weekend by a group of sixth-formers from schools in Eastern England and London, putting forward proposals for the future of the city as part of a Student Science Parliament.

Nineteen Student Parliaments will be held in countries across Europe on the topic of “the Future of the City” between September 2013 and April 2014. Five students from each of these local parliaments will be invited to take part in a final European Student Parliament held in Copenhagen in June 2014 at the European Science Open Forum, including five from the Cambridge Student Science Parliament. The project http://www.student-parliaments.eu/home.html was coordinated by Wissenschaft im Dialog in Berlin, and aims to develop dialogue between students aged 16 to 19 and scientific researchers, enabling students to assess complex topics and form qualified opinions as well as introducing students to a European community. The European Student Parliament project is funded by the Robert Bosch Foundation.

The student parliament took place as a three-day residential event organised by the Public Engagement Team at the University of Cambridge and held in Corpus Christi College from 3-5 January 2014. Thirty-six students took part, from schools across Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and London.

Students were split into four groups for the weekend. Each group heard presentations from experts in their topic before deciding upon their own proposals. Experts included Professor Doug Crawford Brown, Department of Land Economy; Dr Alice Reid, Department of Geography; Professor Peter Landshoff, Centre for Risk Studies; Dr Sebastian Macmillan, Department of Architecture and Dr Julie Smith, Department Politics and International Studies. Discussion and planning sessions were facilitated by students from the Triple Helix Society, a group focusing on science and society issues, and each student group decided upon 5-8 resolutions. 

For the final debate, each group shared their resolutions with the rest of the students who had the opportunity to question and challenge their suggestions. After a period of open debate students had the opportunity to pass or reject each resolution. Passed resolutions include: ‘the introduction of gradual retirement schemes to allow part time job creation for young people as well as transition into retirement for the elderly’; ‘increasing the facilities for renewable technologies in the city, while capitalising on old infrastructure’ and ‘to replace Thursday voting with Sunday and Monday options to maximise the proportion of voting population’. The Mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Paul Saunders, attended the event to receive the list of resolutions and answer questions from young people.

Responses from sixth formers who took part in the Parliament were positive, citing improved confidence in public speaking and increased exposure to types of parliamentary decision-making processes and the specific topics discussed. As one of the participants said: “The event…has given me a very clear idea of what I would like to do in the future, and made me consider things I would not have done before.”


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