A new university course encouraging students to get involved in the community has been launched at Essex University.

Introduced by Dr Rebecca Warren, an accounting lecturer, alongside her colleague, the political theorist Professor Jason Glynos, the Democracy in Action course is run in close partnership with the community organising group Citizens UK.

The course, the concept of which was devised in late 2019, is designed to educate students outside the classroom and connect them to the communities they may not play an active role in developing.

Dr Warren, who joined the Essex University staff in 2018, said the course – which is run across a number of university departments – would also raise awareness among students and allow them to make positive change as volunteers.

She said: “This course offers students the chance to get out of the classroom and have a wider understanding of the community and what’s going around them.

“I wanted to give them another way of gaining that real life experience that some courses perhaps don’t offer.


Pioneering – Dr Rebecca Warrens new course is one of very few on offer in the UK

Pioneering – Dr Rebecca Warren's new course is one of very few on offer in the UK


“It will hopefully connect the students to their communities that they live in – but don’t necessarily have a connection to.”

And Dr Warren says that she is already noticing students adopting a more pro-active approach towards community action only four to five weeks into the module.

“We can already see a mindset change – the work the students have been doing is shifting their perspective,” she said.

“Young people often feel they don’t have much power – in our current democratic set-up they feel their votes don’t have much of an impact.

“This course can shift their mindset as to what they believe they can actively do.”

Dr Warren acknowledges that student activism is nothing new – indeed, students are well-known as a section of society which play a role in trying to instigate change.

But the past two years have seen protests on a global level that have inspired people to take action and make a difference.


Theorist – Professor Jason Glynos is a political theorist at Essex University

Theorist – Professor Jason Glynos is a political theorist at Essex University


“Students have a lot of concerns in societies and want to take action on that,” Dr Warren said.

“Throughout the pandemic, we saw Black Lives Matter protests, as well as the MeToo movement a few years ago – these were really prominent amongst students.”

There are few other universities throughout the UK which offer similar modules.

Dr Warren makes reference to Cardiff University and Anglia Ruskin University, which offer courses relating to community organising, but she says the Democracy in Action course at Essex is unique in the way it allows students to involve themselves in community organisations.

“It does feel like there is something that has shifted in terms of awareness amongst young people,” Dr Warren said.

“When we are teaching, we need to listen to students and not just speak at them.”