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Five Cambridge academics elected to the British Academy in 2022

Fri, 22/07/2022 - 09:55

The academics have been elected to the fellowship this year in recognition of their work in the fields of literature, visual culture, memory, history and heritage, and are among 85 distinguished scholars to be elected to the British Academy in 2022. 


Professor Virginia Cox (Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics; Trinity College)
Virginia Cox’s research focuses on Renaissance and Counter-Reformation Italian literature, on the history of the reception of classical rhetorical theory in Italy between the 13th and 16th centuries, and on the history of Italian early modern writing by women.

Professor Richard Henson (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit)
Richard (Rik) Henson’s primary research focus is how the brain 'remembers' things. His work uses focuses on trying to understand how our brains support different types of memory, which is vital for understanding the memory problems associated with brain damage and disease. He is current president of the British Neuroscience Association.

Professor Heonik Kwon (Department of Social Anthropology; Trinity College)
Heonik Kwon is the author of prize-winning books on the historical memories of the Vietnam War, Asia’s Cold War, and the Korean War. He is currently working on the history of cultural internationalism in the 20th century and beyond as part of a five-year research project called Beyond The Korean War.

Professor Marie Louise Sorensen (Department of Archaeology; Jesus College)
Marie Louise Sorensen specialises in European prehistory, gender and theory, as well as contemporary heritage politics: in particular around conflict, including destruction and reconstruction. Sorensen has recently worked on early colonial expansion into the Cape Verde islands, and investigated domestic life in Bronze Age Hungary.

Professor Emma Wilson (Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics; Corpus Christi College)
Emma Wilson researches contemporary visual culture, modern French literature and gender. She has written on contemporary women filmmakers in France, along with the uses of cinema to respond to loss and pain in her book Love, Mortality and the Moving Image. Wilson’s book on filmmaker Céline Sciamma was published last year.


Founded in 1902, the British Academy is the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences. The Fellowship claims over 1600 of the leading minds in these subjects from the UK and overseas, with other Cambridge fellows including the classicist Professor Dame Mary Beard and the historian Professor David Reynolds. The Academy is also a funding body for research, nationally and internationally, and a forum for debate and engagement.

"I am delighted to welcome these distinguished and pioneering scholars to our Fellowship,” said new President of the British Academy, Professor Julia Black. “I am equally delighted that we have so many new female Fellows. While I hope this means that the tide is finally turning for women in academia, there is still much to do to make the research world diverse and open to all.” 

“With our new Fellows’ expertise and insights, the Academy is better placed than ever to open new seams of knowledge and understanding and to enhance the wellbeing and prosperity of societies around the world,” said Black.

 

Five academics from the University of Cambridge have been made Fellows of the prestigious British Academy for the humanities and social sciences.

British Academy British Academy


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Yes

Why do so many company mergers fail, new book asks

Thu, 21/07/2022 - 14:51

Mergers of firms have boomed over the past four decades, with a 40-fold increase in deals done each year. These mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are sealed by talented, highly skilled executives, lawyers, bankers and advisers, and spending on mergers totalled $5 trillion in 2021. Yet most mergers fail, and don’t achieve the boost in operating profits they were touted to achieve.

Why? And why hasn’t this been fixed?

Those questions lie at the heart of a new book – The Merger Mystery: Why Spend Ever More on Mergers When So Many Fail? – authored by Geoff Meeks, Emeritus Professor of Financial Accounting at Cambridge Judge Business School, and J. Gay Meeks, Senior Research Associate in the Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge. Digital versions are available for free from Open Books Publishers.

M&A takes increasing share of executives’ time and energy

“As evidence of disappointing outcomes mounted, Western businesses were devoting to M&A a large and rapidly increasing share of their key strategic resources: investment funds and senior executives’ time and energy,” the book says.

The authors outline key factors that have led to the huge gap between the theory and hope surrounding mergers and their actual outcomes: These include:

  • The people taking part in the mergers are often able to enjoy subsidies and privileges at others' expense. This has made some deals attractive to participants despite bringing no operating gains, while taxpayers, creditors, pensioners, customers and suppliers have lost out.
  • Incentive structures for key players and advisers can induce perverse, inefficient results with rewards for CEOs and other top executives involved in acquiring businesses, in part tied to a correlation between CEO salary and firm size and in part open to “gaming” by participants.
  • The glamour of life on the acquisition trail, including being in the media spotlight, boasting rights and the thrill of the chase.
Deal incentive structures enrich bosses, not other stakeholders

Examples cited in the book of deal incentive structures that have enriched bosses at the expense of other stakeholders include the $27 billion acquisition of Refinitiv by London Stock Exchange (LSE) in 2021 that tripled the acquirer’s revenue and resulted in a 25% boost in the CEO’s base salary, yet LSE shares fell by a quarter in the same month. In another case, simply closing Vodafone’s $181 billion acquisition of Mannesmann in 2000 triggered a $10 million bonus for Vodafone’s CEO.

“Over time you would expect managers and their advisers to learn from their mistakes, filter out unpromising mergers, and ensure that a large majority of deals result in operating gains,” the book says. “However, this has not happened.”

The book is based on a synthesis of the ideas of economists from Adam Smith to recent Nobel Laureates, with more than 100 statistical studies and evidence from 100 businesses involved in mergers, mostly in the particularly active US and UK markets, but with data from other countries too.

What are the solutions?

The book suggests reforms by government, regulators, non-executives and others that could significantly reduce the number of failed mergers. These include changes in participants’ contracts that would mitigate conflicts of interest; removing tax, legal, and other distortions which encourage mergers that offer no operating gains; and improving both the appraisal of merger proposals and the monitoring of outcomes.

Adapted from an article which first appeared on Cambridge Judge Business School website

Mergers are constructed by talented executives, lawyers, bankers and advisers, yet most deals fail. A new book, The Merger Mystery, co-authored by Geoff Meeks of Cambridge Judge Business School, outlines the reasons why.

Samson on UnsplashBusiness buildings


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Yes

"It’s going to be a very hot day..." Cambridge experts on the UK's record-breaking temperatures

Tue, 19/07/2022 - 10:08

From heatwave 'dismay' to the 'deadly' effects of climate change, here's what two Cambridge experts say about the UK's record-breaking temperatures.

New Cambridge Latin course reflects diversity of the Roman world

Mon, 11/07/2022 - 11:41

Breaking news from 79 CE: Caecilius has a daughter. Barbillus is a Greco-Syrian man of colour. Enslaved people aren’t always happy. Metella is reading in the atrium.

These statements may read like indecipherable babble to some, but for students of Latin, they are among the most notable changes in the new edition of the Cambridge Latin Course: the leading textbook in the ancient language.

The course, a mainstay of Latin learning in British schools since the 1970s, has something nearing cult status with its fans. Its vivid stories, beginning in Book One with the adventures of a Pompeiian family featuring Caecilius, his wife, Metella, son, Quintus, and cook, Grumio, have inspired fan fiction, artistic tributes and even a cameo on Doctor Who.

The newly-published fifth edition represents one of the most significant new editions in its 50-year history. It draws on a wider range of sources and on new scholarship to give a more accurate, evidence-based picture of the classical world. In doing so, it better prepares students to engage with classical works and to think critically about the past, while addressing concerns raised by teachers, academics and students about the representation of women, enslaved people, and minorities in the Roman world.

While the original cast are as central as ever, new characters have been introduced, stories rewritten and features updated. Women have greater prominence (Caecilius has a new daughter called Lucia, for example), readers learn more about the lives of enslaved people, and the multicultural reality of Rome’s vast, intercontinental empire is represented in greater detail.

The course, written by the Cambridge Schools Classics Project at the University of Cambridge, has been informed by a fact-finding exercise in 2018 which involved school visits, surveys and interviews with hundreds of teachers and pupils, confirmed other long-held doubts about representation in the course books, prompting a more thorough reassessment.

Caroline Bristow, director of the Cambridge School Classics Project, said: “The aim has always been to introduce students to the complexity of the Roman world and get them to think critically about it while learning Latin. That prepares them to engage more thoroughly with authentic classical sources. The feedback we got told us we weren’t doing enough in that regard.”

Girls were especially keen to see more of the female characters – many had already started inventing their own backstories for them.

The stories in the new edition are, as ever, rooted in historical research, but expand women’s roles and devote more attention to their lived experiences. Lucia, for example, is being pushed into an arranged marriage in Book One. Caecilius also hires a female painter, Clara, to introduce students to the fact that poorer Roman women had to work as well as men.

Bristow said: “We wanted to provide students with a more rounded picture of people and events, while ensure the stories remain historically grounded. We’ve done that by drawing from that wider range of sources and events.”

This also helps to address the challenges that inclusion, access and minority representation can present for Classics educators. In particular, research highlights the imposter syndrome that people of colour feel when encountering the inaccurate, but standard, depiction of Rome as predominantly white. Other studies have shown that without being prompted to see diversity, even students of colour automatically make this assumption about the Roman world – a finding backed up by teachers’ experiences in the classroom.

Responding to this, greater attention was given to cultural diversity in the new edition. For example, Barbillus, a wealthy Greco-Syrian merchant character, features more prominently and is clearly presented as a person of colour. His early presence in the stories is partly intended to challenge another general misconception, that such people were always enslaved.

Jasmine Elmer, a Classics educator and media personality whose work focuses on trying to broaden access to, and understanding of, the ancient past, was one of several experts who reviewed the new edition. “We’ve tended to take an all-white view of an empire that clearly wasn’t,” she said. “If you’re a person of colour, it’s natural to wonder whether people like you were even there. The new course seems to be braver about those issues. It doesn’t run away from complicated subject matter; it turns it into teaching points.”

Enslaved characters were, in earlier editions, sometimes depicted in simplistic terms: as “happy”, “hard-working” or “lazy”. In the new edition, slavery is now depicted through the eyes of its victims, focusing on their anxieties and gruelling lives.

Other changes reflect developments in historical scholarship since the series was last updated. Ingo Gildenhard, a Professor of Classics at Cambridge, advised the production team on a section on gladiators in Book One. Traditionally, gladiatorial combat has been presented as a strange, bloodthirsty aspect of Roman culture. Without ignoring its horrors, modern research nonetheless shows the reality was more complex: arena combat also stirred Roman audiences because it reinforced key contemporary values, such as martial prowess.

Teaching materials in the new edition draw attention to that more nuanced perspective. “It’s essential that instead of brushing aspects of Roman culture under the carpet, we look at it in the round,” Gildenhard said. “Part of this is about empowering teachers with new scholarship they might not have encountered. It’s also about inviting students to think critically about the past and its relationship to the present. That’s a valuable skill whether or not you end up doing Latin long term.”

Pupils and teachers have tested the new edition and responded positively. One young reviewer told the team: “I like that Lucia is educated, but I would like to know whether she actually wants to marry or not.” Of Clara, another commented: “It’s good that Caecilius is hiring women”.

Bristow said: “We sometimes get told that children just want to learn the language, study the amazing things Romans did and dress up as gladiators,” she said. “There’s lots that was inspiring, but this was a complex world. We’re teaching children to be Classicists. We’re not teaching them to be Romans.”

 

This story was first published by Cambridge's Faculty of Education.
 

The latest edition of the leading Latin course has been designed to more accurately depict the roles of women, minorities and enslaved people in the Roman world.

It’s essential that instead of brushing aspects of Roman culture under the carpet, we look at it in the roundIngo GildenhardCharacters from the Cambridge Latin Course, Book OneCharacters from the Cambridge Latin Course, Book One


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Yes

‘Hologram patients’ developed to help train doctors and nurses

Tue, 28/06/2022 - 16:00

HoloScenarios, a new training application based on life-like holographic patient scenarios, is being developed by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH), in partnership with the University of Cambridge and Los Angeles-based tech company GigXR. The first module focuses on common respiratory conditions and emergencies.

"Mixed reality is increasingly recognised as a useful method of simulator training,” said Dr Arun Gupta, consultant anaesthetist at CUH and director of postgraduate education at Cambridge University Health Partnership, who is leading the project. “As institutions scale procurement, the demand for platforms that offer utility and ease of mixed reality learning management is rapidly expanding."

Learners in the same room, wearing Microsoft HoloLens mixed-reality headsets, are able to see each other in real life, while also interacting with a multi-layered, medically accurate holographic patient. This creates a unique environment to learn and practice vital, real-time decision making and treatment choices.

Through the same type of headset, medical instructors are also able to change patient responses, introduce complications and record observations and discussions – whether in person in a teaching group or remotely to multiple locations worldwide, via the internet.

Learners can also watch, contribute to and assess the holographic patient scenarios from Android, iOS smartphone or tablet. This means true-to-life, safe-to-fail immersive learning can be accessed, delivered and shared across the world, with the technology now available for license to learning institutions everywhere.

Alongside the development and release of HoloScenarios, an analysis of the new technology as a teaching and learning resource is being led by Professor Riikka Hofmann at Cambridge’s Faculty of Education.

“Our research is aimed at uncovering how such simulations can best support learning and accelerate the adoption of effective mixed reality training while informing ongoing development,” said Hofmann.

“We hope that it will help guide institutions in implementing mixed reality into their curricula, in the same way institutions evaluate conventional resources, such as textbooks, manikins, models or computer software, and, ultimately, improve patient outcomes.”

Junior doctor Aniket Bharadwaj is one of the first to try out the new technology. "Throughout medical school we would have situations where actors would come in an act as patients. With the pandemic a lot of that changed to tablet based interactions because of the risk to people of the virus,” he said.

“Having a hologram patient you can see, hear and interact with is really exciting and will really make a difference to student learning."

The first module features a hologram patient with asthma, followed by anaphylaxis, pulmonary embolism and pneumonia. Further modules in cardiology and neurology are in development.

Delivered by the Gig Immersive Learning Platform, HoloScenarios aims to centralise and streamline access and management of mixed reality learning, and encapsulate the medical experience of world-leading doctors at CUH and across the University of Cambridge.

The new technology could also provide more flexible, cost-effective training without heavy resource demands of traditional simulation, which can make immersive training financially prohibitive. This includes costs for maintaining simulation centres, their equipment and the faculty and staff hours to operate the labs and hire and train patient actors.

This story is reproduced from the Cambridge University Hospitals website

A new partnership involving Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) and the University’s Faculty of Education, brings medical training using “mixed reality” technology one step closer. The project aims to make consistent, high-level and relevant clinical training more accessible across the world.

The demand for platforms that offer utility and ease of mixed reality learning management is rapidly expandingDr Arun GuptaClinicians at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, using HoloScenarios, a new training application based on life-like holographic patient scenarios


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Yes

Developmental dyslexia essential to human adaptive success, study argues.

Fri, 24/06/2022 - 00:00

Cambridge researchers studying cognition, behaviour and the brain have concluded that people with dyslexia are specialised to explore the unknown. This is likely to play a fundamental role in human adaptation to changing environments.

They think this ‘explorative bias’ has an evolutionary basis and plays a crucial role in our survival.

Based on these findings − which were apparent across multiple domains from visual processing to memory and at all levels of analysis − the researchers argue that we need to change our perspective of dyslexia as a neurological disorder.

The findings, reported today in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, have implications both at the individual and societal level, says lead author Dr Helen Taylor, an affiliated Scholar at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge and a Research Associate at the University of Strathclyde.

“The deficit-centred view of dyslexia isn’t telling the whole story,” said Taylor. “This research proposes a new framework to help us better understand the cognitive strengths of people with dyslexia.”

She added: “We believe that the areas of difficulty experienced by people with dyslexia result from a cognitive trade-off between exploration of new information and exploitation of existing knowledge, with the upside being an explorative bias that could explain enhanced abilities observed in certain realms like discovery, invention and creativity.”

This is the first-time a cross-disciplinary approach using an evolutionary perspective has been applied in the analysis of studies on dyslexia.

“Schools, academic institutes and workplaces are not designed to make the most of explorative learning. But we urgently need to start nurturing this way of thinking to allow humanity to continue to adapt and solve key challenges,” said Taylor.

Dyslexia is found in up to 20% of the general population, irrespective of country, culture and world region. It is defined by the World Federation of Neurology as “a disorder in children who, despite conventional classroom experience, fail to attain the language skills of reading, writing and spelling commensurate with their intellectual abilities”.

The new findings are explained in the context of ‘Complementary Cognition’, a theory proposing that our ancestors evolved to specialise in different, but complementary, ways of thinking, which enhances human’s ability to adapt through collaboration.

These cognitive specialisations are rooted in a well-known trade-off between exploration of new information and exploitation of existing knowledge. For example, if you eat all the food you have, you risk starvation when it’s all gone. But if you spend all your time exploring for food, you’re wasting energy you don’t need to waste. As in any complex system, we must ensure we balance our need to exploit known resources and explore new resources to survive.

“Striking the balance between exploring for new opportunities and exploiting the benefits of a particular choice is key to adaptation and survival and underpins many of the decisions we make in our daily lives,” said Taylor.

Exploration encompasses activities that involve searching the unknown such as experimentation, discovery and innovation. In contrast, exploitation is concerned with using what's already known including refinement, efficiency and selection.

“Considering this trade-off, an explorative specialisation in people with dyslexia could help explain why they have difficulties with tasks related to exploitation, such as reading and writing.

“It could also explain why people with dyslexia appear to gravitate towards certain professions that require exploration-related abilities, such as arts, architecture, engineering, and entrepreneurship.”

The researchers found that their findings aligned with evidence from several other fields of research. For example, an explorative bias in such a large proportion of the population indicates that our species must have evolved during a period of high uncertainty and change. This concurs with findings in the field of paleoarchaeology, revealing that human evolution was shaped over hundreds of thousands of years by dramatic climatic and environmental instability.

The researchers highlight that collaboration between individuals with different abilities could help explain the exceptional capacity of our species to adapt.

The findings are published today in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology.

The research was funded by the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, University of Strathclyde.

Reference

Taylor, H. and Vestergaard M. D: ‘Developmental Dyslexia: Developmental Disorder or Specialization in Explorative Cognitive Search?’ Frontiers in Psychology (June 2022). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.889245

Researchers say people with Developmental Dyslexia have specific strengths relating to exploring the unknown that have contributed to the successful adaptation and survival of our species.

“The deficit-centred view of dyslexia isn’t telling the whole story. This research proposes a new framework to help us better understand the cognitive strengths of people with dyslexia.”Dr Helen TaylorYoung boy steadily makes his way through a dense forest of trees and cow parsley. He stands out in the green in his bright red jumper.


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YesLicense type: Public Domain

“Reductive” models of wellbeing education risk failing children unless improved, researchers warn

Tue, 21/06/2022 - 01:11

In a new compendium of academic analysis, researchers argue that despite decades of investment in ‘positive education’ – such as programmes to teach children happiness and mindfulness – schools still lack a proper framework for cultivating pupil wellbeing.

The critique appears in Wellbeing and Schooling, a book launched on 21 June. It compiles work by members of the European Health and Wellbeing Education research network, which engages specialists from around the world.

It argues that many education systems, including in the UK, treat wellbeing education reductively, generally viewing it as a means to drive up attainment. It links this viewpoint to the prevalence of one-size-fits-all models such as the ‘happiness agenda’: a sequence of initiatives which have tried to promote ‘happier living’ in British schools in recent years. These typically focus on training pupils to adopt a positive mindset. Commonly recommended methods include keeping gratitude journals and recording happy memories.

The authors suggest that such approaches, while useful, have limited impact. Instead, they say wellbeing should be “an educational goal in its own right”. Fulfilling that requires a more nuanced approach, in which pupils engage purposefully with the circumstances that influence their wellbeing, as well as their own feelings.

Their book presents various examples from around the world of how this has been achieved. They range from system-wide strategies, such as the use of ‘Transition Years’ in Ireland and South Korea; to small-scale programmes and pilot studies, such as a project co-created by parents and teachers in New Zealand which drew on indigenous Maori heritage.

Wellbeing is typically conceptualised as having two dimensions: a ‘hedonic’ aspect, which refers to feelings and personal satisfaction, and a ‘eudaimonic’ aspect; a sense of meaningful purpose. Ros McLellan, an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, who co-edited the book, said most wellbeing education focused only on the hedonic dimension.

“If education doesn’t also guide children towards doing things that they find worthwhile and meaningful, we’re failing them,” McLellan said. “We limit their prospects of becoming successful, flourishing citizens. Life satisfaction is also more complex than we tend to acknowledge. It’s about dealing with both positive and negative experiences. Just running lessons on how to be happy won’t work. At worst, it risks making children who aren’t happy feel as if that’s their own fault.”

There is some evidence that wellbeing education, as presently realised, is failing to cut through. The Children’s Society has reported that 306,000 10 to 15-year-olds are unhappy with their lives, while one in eight feels under pressure at school. Other research on pupil stress raises questions about why the standard policy justification for wellbeing education remains the “positive impact on behaviour and attainment”.

One chapter in the book, co-authored by Professor Venka Simovska, from Aarhus University, Denmark (together with Catriona O`Toole), raises concerns that the happiness agenda overlooks the fact that some pupils inevitably find it difficult to suppress negative emotions, and fails to reflect whether focusing solely on positive feelings is beneficial for wellbeing.

“Students are faced with ever-increasing exhortations to be upbeat, to persist in the face of challenges, to display a growth mindset, to be enterprising and resilient,” the researchers write. “Repeated over time, this can give rise to an atmosphere of toxic positivity, particularly for those whose life experiences and living conditions do not lend themselves to feelings of cheery enthusiasm.”

As an alternative, they point to the recent revival in Scandinavia and elsewhere of Bildung, a German educational philosophy that links independent personal development to wider notions of purpose and social responsibility.

Informed by this tradition, schools in Denmark have applied a participatory and action-oriented pedagogical model to health and wellbeing education. The model starts by encouraging students to discuss an issue, for example how they feel when in school, then the teacher guides the students to critically explore the dynamics – either within their school or beyond – which might influence this, and envision creative possibilities for positive transformation.

Teachers and students together then develop programmes which address these structural influences and try to bring about change. The result has been school-level projects that address issues such as social inequality, marginalisation and discrimination related to health and wellbeing. “One could describe it as a form of citizenship education, but focused on school-related or wider societal determinants of wellbeing,” Simovska said.

The book also underlines the need to avoid generic, often Eurocentric, responses to promoting wellbeing in school, to consider complexities of culturally sensitive and multicultural environments, and to focus on both local circumstances and the specific needs of different demographic groups.

One chapter examines Ireland’s use of an optional ‘Transition Year’, in which students focus on developmental activities and work experience, partly to help them become more “fulfilled citizens”. This has inspired the introduction of ‘Free Years’ in South Korea. The South Korean model, however, necessarily involved adaptations to address local issues. Most obviously, Free Years, introduced in 2013, are compulsory, reflecting deep nationwide concerns in South Korea “about student wellbeing and stress in a high-stakes academic environment” – manifest in rising rates of school violence and youth suicide.

Another chapter reports how researchers at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, orchestrated a series of wānanga – traditional Maori knowledge-sharing gatherings – for parents and teachers on New Zealand’s South Island, to examine local communities’ ideas and priorities for wellbeing.

Teachers used these to devise effective strategies for helping pupils to develop positive relationships and express emotions, often drawing on Maori culture. In one particularly touching example, a primary school teacher introduced a symbolic Maori Stone into her classroom, to which children could ‘transfer’ thoughts and feelings. She found it became a useful tool for working through moments of unrest and disagreement.

McLellan believes such cases illustrate how a more nuanced approach to wellbeing education is particularly feasible in primary settings. “Arguably, it’s important we start as young as we can,” she said. “The examples in the book also show what amazing things teachers and schools can do, if we give them the resources and space to implement really effective, comprehensive, socio-ecological and culturally sensitive wellbeing education.”

Wellbeing and Schooling: Cross Cultural and Cross Disciplinary Perspectives is published by Springer, within the book series of the European Educational Research Association’s book series titled Transdisciplinary Perspectives in Educational research. The book will be launched at an event on 21 June.

An improved vision for wellbeing education should replace the over-simplistic approaches currently employed in many schools, such as happiness lessons, which risk creating an “atmosphere of toxic positivity” for pupils, experts say.

If education doesn’t also guide children towards doing things that they find worthwhile and meaningful, we’re failing themRos McLellanTeacher speaking with students


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Yes

KPMG and the University of Cambridge unveil new partnership to reimagine the world of work, starting with mental wellbeing

Mon, 20/06/2022 - 17:23

The University of Cambridge and KPMG have today unveiled a new partnership to understand how the world of work is changing, starting with what really works when it comes to supporting employees’ mental wellbeing.

The partnership is a global first and sees the University of Cambridge bring together researchers from different disciplines to better understand the factors that affect mental wellbeing at work. It will show how different kinds of supports can boost individual mental wellbeing, enhance productivity and promote a healthy workforce for the future. 

KPMG will open its doors to Cambridge researchers, who will assess the effectiveness of the mental wellbeing initiatives the firm currently offers to its c.16,000 UK employees. This will develop an evidence base of what works and how new support measures can be developed and evaluated to meet employees’ future needs. The firm will use these insights to invest in and evolve its package of mental wellbeing support.

The firm will also share its research with the wider business community, to help them support their own workforce and reduce attrition and wellbeing related absence. It also aims to provide empirical evidence clearly demonstrating the link between employee mental wellbeing and improved productivity. 

Jon Holt, Chief Executive of KPMG UK, said: “Mental wellbeing is a global issue and a leading concern on the minds of the business leaders I speak to. Businesses need research and data to help them invest in the right areas to support their staff through a huge period of change, as we emerge from the pandemic and introduce new ways of working.

“But mental wellbeing at work is an under researched area and it is hard to access empirical data evidencing clear links between mental wellbeing policies and better employee health. 

“This partnership with the very best academics in their field seeks to address this and provide real answers on what works. It aims to help leaders support their people to thrive at work, which in turn will lift productivity and deliver wider benefits to the economy.”

Professor Gordon Harold, who is leading the Mental Wellbeing programme for the partnership, said: "Mental health is the bedrock of a healthy, productive and positive society. By 2030 depression will be a leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally, with significant implications for individuals, society and the future of work. Promoting positive mental health and supporting those who experience or are at risk of mental ill health is now a national and global priority.”

Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations at the University of Cambridge said: “Work – what we do, how and where we do it and what it means for individuals, organisations and wider society – is changing. This ambitious partnership will bring together Cambridge researchers from a wide range of disciplines to reimagine the world of work and to co-create with KPMG effective strategies and interventions that will benefit both its workforce and those of organisations worldwide.

“Finding the best ways to support mental wellbeing at work is an urgent and important task, and the starting point for this partnership which will explore more broadly how can we enable meaningful work that addresses society’s needs.” 

The announcement is part of KPMG’s £300m three-year strategy to transform and grow its business, as it invests in new insight and services to support its clients and its people.  

It also forms part of a wider partnership between KPMG and the University of Cambridge, which aims to examine the big issues affecting work and society, such as the impact of digital technologies, the global distribution of work and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), and to provide evidence-based, actionable insights. In September last year, the firm unveiled a training programme with Cambridge Judge Business School, which will deliver ESG training to KPMG’s 227,000 global workforce.

Read more about the Future of Work partnership here.

Published 21 June 2022

New five-year partnership on the ‘Future of Work’ will examine the big issues affecting the modern workforce and offer practical, research backed solutions to employers

Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash


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Pre-school play with friends lowers risk of mental health problems later

Tue, 14/06/2022 - 01:00

Researchers at the University of Cambridge analysed data from almost 1,700 children, collected when they were aged three and seven. Those with better peer play ability at age three consistently showed fewer signs of poor mental health four years later. They tended to have lower hyperactivity, parents and teachers reported fewer conduct and emotional problems, and they were less likely to get into fights or disagreements with other children.

Importantly, this connection generally held true even when the researchers focused on sub-groups of children who were particularly at risk of mental health problems. It also applied when they considered other risk factors for mental health – such as poverty levels, or cases in which the mother had experienced serious psychological distress during or immediately after pregnancy.

The findings suggest that giving young children who might be vulnerable to mental health issues access to well-supported opportunities to play with peers – for example, at playgroups run by early years specialists – could be a way to significantly benefit their long-term mental health.

Dr Jenny Gibson, from the Play in Education, Development and Learning (PEDAL) Centre at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, said: “We think this connection exists because through playing with others, children acquire the skills to build strong friendships as they get older and start school. Even if they are at risk of poor mental health, those friendship networks will often get them through.”

Vicky Yiran Zhao, a PhD Student in PEDAL and first author of the study added: “What matters is the quality, rather than the quantity, of peer play. Games with peers that encourage children to collaborate, for example, or activities that promote sharing, will have positive knock-on benefits.”

The researchers used data from 1,676 children in the Growing up in Australia study, which is tracking the development of children born in Australia between March 2003 and February 2004. It includes a record, provided by parents and carers, of how well the children played in different situations at age three. This covered different types of peer play, including simple games; imaginative pretend play; goal-directed activities (such as building a tower from blocks); and collaborative games like hide-and-seek.

These four peer play indicators were used to create a measure of ‘peer play ability’ – the underlying ability of a child to engage with peers in a playful way. The researchers calculated the strength of the relationship between that measure and reported symptoms of possible mental health problems – hyperactivity, and conduct, emotional and peer problems – at age seven.

The study then analysed two sub-groups of children within the overall cohort. These were children with high ‘reactivity’ (children who were very easily upset and difficult to soothe in infancy), and those with low ‘persistence’ (children who struggled to persevere when encountering a challenging task). Both these traits are linked to poor mental health outcomes.

Across the entire dataset, children with a higher peer play ability score at age three consistently showed fewer signs of mental health difficulties at age seven. For every unit increase in peer play ability at age three, children’s measured score for hyperactivity problems at age seven fell by 8.4%, conduct problems by 8%, emotional problems by 9.8% and peer problems by 14%. This applied regardless of potential confounding factors such as poverty levels and maternal distress, and whether or not they had plentiful opportunities to play with siblings and parents.

The effect was evident even among the at-risk groups. In particular, among the 270 children in the ‘low persistence’ category, those who were better at playing with peers at age three consistently had lower hyperactivity, and fewer emotional and peer problems, at age seven. This may be because peer play often forces children to problem-solve and confront unexpected challenges, and therefore directly addresses low persistence.

The benefits of peer play were weaker for the high reactivity sub-group, possibly because such children are often anxious and withdrawn, and less inclined to play with others. Even among this group, however, better peer play at age three was linked to lower hyperactivity at age seven.

The consistent link between peer play and mental health probably exists because playing with others supports the development of emotional self-control and socio-cognitive skills, such as the ability to understand and respond to other people’s feelings. These are fundamental to building stable, reciprocal friendships. There is already good evidence that the better a person’s social connections, the better their mental health tends to be. For children, more social connections also create a virtuous cycle, as they usually lead to more opportunities for peer play.

The researchers suggest that assessing children’s access to peer play at an early age could be used to screen for those potentially at risk of future mental health problems. They also argue that giving the families of at-risk children access to environments which promote high-quality peer play, such as playgroups or small-group care with professional child minders, could be an easily deliverable and low-cost way to reduce the chances of mental health problems later.

“The standard offer at the moment is to put the parents on a parenting course,” Gibson said. “We could be focusing much more on giving children better opportunities to meet and play with their peers. There are already fantastic initiatives up and down the country, run by professionals who provide exactly that service to a very high standard. Our findings show how crucial their work is, especially given that the other risk factors jeopardising children’s mental health could often be down to circumstances beyond their parents’ control.”

The study is published in Child Psychiatry & Human Development.

Children who learn to play well with others at pre-school age tend to enjoy better mental health as they get older, new research shows. The findings provide the first clear evidence that ‘peer play ability’, the capacity to play successfully with other children, has a protective effect on mental health.

Games with peers that encourage children to collaborate, for example, or activities that promote sharing, will have positive knock-on benefitsVicky Yiran ZhaoJay Chen on UnsplashChildren playing


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

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