Monthly Archives: December 2014

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the story has been chosen by Hanna Heiskanen.

The case for an independent London

The debate around devolution in the UK did not end with Scotland voting for staying in the union earlier this autumn. In his article for the Financial Times (“London should break free from Little England”), associate editor

Philip Stephens argues that London should acquire independence from the rest of the country and become a mini-state of its own – if one can call a state with an economy about the size of Sweden and with nearly three times as many inhabitants as in Finland small.

Stephens’ case is a strong one, at least when it comes to the figures. In addition to generating a large amount of money, thanks to its financial sector and but also the endless number of tourists flocking in every year, it benefits from much lower unemployment rates and a younger demographic than the rest of the country. Situated by its natural lifeline, the Thames, and surrounded by the orbital M25 motorway, London has natural borders against the home counties. It has modern infrastructure, an entrepreneurial spirit, and boroughs that would ensure local democracy. All in all, London would, most likely, make it on its own.

However, as Stephens points out, London is also different from the rest of the country in the way that capitals often are – through its inhabitants, their values, and their political inclinations. While surrounded by UKIP strongholds, London itself thrives on immigration. Although places such as Windsor and Cambridge are only an hour’s drive from London, spiritually they couldn’t be farther away. And isn’t some sort of sense of shared values and identity considered one of the most crucial building blocks of nationality?

If London were to break away from the UK, what would its new capital be? Manchester would be a strong contender for the role as the next-largest city with its nearly three million inhabitants and an impressive industrial history, and would undoubtedly bring a fresh new focus to North West England. Or, perhaps the country could take an even more revolutionary approach and decentralise its institutions into multiple locations. It would almost certainly help distribute national wealth more evenly and generate a stronger feeling of social cohesion. Surely a win-win situation for all.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories are from the British Library’s “Digital Conversations: Cultural Heritage Institutions and Videogame Technologies” panel held on the 8th of December and have been chosen by the Institute’s Maria Pirkkalainen.

Minecrafting the British Museum

Putting together the world famous game Minecraft and the even more legendary British Museum might not sound like the most logical pair at first glance. However, like Nick Harris from the British Museum’s Museum of the future project pointed out at the Digital Conversations panel discussion, the mix of these two has proved out to be very fruitful to both parties.

Initiated and managed by Mr Harris, the crowdsourcing project Museumcraft aims to give anyone interested in the Museum or Minecraft the opportunity to engage with the Museum’s spaces by working together to build the Museum in Minecraft. Engaging the interested audience first via a post on Reddit, the project provides Minecraft users the chance to personalise and modify the Museum according to their wishes. The building will be freely available to download after its completion, and it is also planned to be used as an educational tool.

The idea behind the project is to give the museum and the general public a chance to think together how, for example, the museum space could be customized. Would the people want to build the museum themselves? Judging from the enthusiastic feedback and interest that Museumcraft has generated, the answer seems to be a strong yes.

Victoria and Albert Museum’s Games Designer in Residence

The world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum took another step forward when it introduced its new initiative of a games designer residency in 2013. The museum’s first chosen games designer Sophia George completed her yearlong residency in the fall of 2014, and the V&A’s Team Leader for Digital Programmes, Alex Flowers, discussed some of the achievements and results of their collaboration at the Digital Conversations panel discussion.

Before her residency, BAFTA winner and Chair of Swallowtail Games Sophia George was known, for example, for her family-friendly puzzle game Tick Tock Toys. Organized as a partnership between the V&A, V&A at Dundee and the University of Abertay Dundee, Ms George spent the first half of the residency in London and the other half in Dundee.

The residency aimed to find new interpretations and ways of use for the museum’s large collection of British heritage. The final product of the residency was therefore a free iPad game called Strawberry Thief. The game was inspired by a historical William Morris textile piece in V&A’s Britain 1500-1900 galleries.

Besides working and producing the game in question, the games designer’s residency tasks included working on public engagement, workshops and being active in calling for more women to enter the games industry. The museum’s focus on video games will also be seen at their upcoming video games exhibition in 2016.

World’s first cultural centre for gaming to open in the UK

GameCity is a British institution that celebrates the artistry and creativity of video games and has held the annual GameCity festival each year ever since 2006. And as the company’s Director Iain Simons told at the event, starting from March 2015, GameCity will also be the main party behind the world’s first cultural centre for gaming; the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, United Kingdom.

The 2.5 million pound centre aims to promote video gaming as an art form as important as for example film and theatre. With five floors, video game exhibitions and a permanent display of gaming world objects, the centre is sure to answer a need for an important area of the creative culture and economy.

British Library’s annual quest for finding inspiring video games

Besides engaging professionals from the cultural heritage and academic videogame design sectors, the British Library’s Digital Conversations event also introduced the third edition of the Library’s and GameCity’s annual video game competition Off the Map. The competition’s co-curator Helen Melody explained how the theme of the next Off the Map coincides with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – or as originally known, Alice’s Adventures Underground. 2015 also marks the year when British Library will celebrate the anniversary with an exhibition.

The idea of the contest is to challenge video game designers with the task of using the British Library’s collections as an inspiration to create new digital media – and in new creative ways. The competition will have three entry categories in 2015; the games should be submitted as either 3D, 2D or Interactive Text. On top of this, the competitors should search for inspiration from three particular themes: Oxford, underground and gardens. Taking into account the interest generated by the previous years’ competitions and the forthcoming anniversary of the legendary book, this will no doubt be another successful year for bridging together the gap between cultural heritage institutions and new digi-savvy audiences.

“Jobs for the Boys” – addressing men’s wellbeing

Head of Society Programme Antti Halonen blogs about the Institute’s new education project.

After co-organising the highly successful Oppi learning festival earlier this year and a  precedent series of education seminars, the Finnish Institute’s education programme is taking a slightly new direction.  

According to latest education outcome surveys, such as OECD’s biannual PISA survey, girls in Finland outperform boys in almost every core skill. Similarly, the gender gap in university enrolment has continued to widen in favour of female applicants. Male students are outnumbered by females in almost every subject, including traditionally male-dominated subjects, such as mathematics and medical studies. Subsequently, boys lack crucial skills and confidence when applying to higher education and when starting their working careers. A recent study, in fact, found out that for the first time in Britain women in the age group of 22-39 enjoyed higher average per hour salary than men.

Swedish scholar, Svend Dahl, argues in a recently published report that in Sweden school has simply let boys down. There is a huge difference in learning outcomes and boys struggle especially in reading and social skills, but also increasingly in mathematics and science. Furthermore, according to Dahl, society’s sketchy attitude towards boys’ problems is a growing cause for alarm. Boys’ catastrophic learning outcomes have not gathered enough interest and this negligence is now pointing towards a society where a growing number of men are increasingly excluded.

Simultaneously, we need to bear in mind that men are still disproportionately overrepresented in executive-level jobs, such as CEOs and board members of publicly traded companies and also in other key positions in society. Overall, the pay gap is still in favour of men and needs to be diminished. However, in terms of fairness and equality, it is important to engage both female and male voices in discussing equality and to address problems faced by all genders. A project focusing on men’s well-being does not mean belittling the efforts of improving women’s equal rights.

Men’s well-being touches a number of areas in society, not only in Sweden but similarly in the UK, Ireland and Finland. The problems of men are visible for instance in education, health care, mental health services, the job market and crime prevention. Improving the conditions of young men is crucially important for the sake of society’s overall well-being.

The issue has gradually started to gain space in the British media, with observations from highly respected commentators from right and left alike, such as Telegraph’s Fraser Nelson and Guardian’s Owen Jones. Furthermore, Dr Pasi Sahlberg, the author of award-winning book Finnish Lessons: What Can The World Learn From the Educational Change in Finland, has copiously argued in favour of renewing the Finnish education system whilst Finland is still on top of the global PISA rankings. He has identified the lack of motivation and passion for learning and increasingly differential learning outcomes between girls and boys as some of the key challenges facing the Finnish education system. Communication and social skills, in particular, are amongst the skills boys have lacked so far.



 

The Finnish Institute will start searching for solutions to men’s problems in Finland, Britain and Ireland using the means of social sciences, art and communications. The “Jobs for the Boys” project started in September 2014 with a brainstorming session, in which the project plan was outlined and different means of influencing men’s well-being were discussed. Based on ideas stemming from the session the following action plans were formed:
Being a Boy/Man Today – video campaign about the challenges of everyday life faced by boys and men
  • a series of video interviews to be shared on Twitter in which Finnish, British and Irish boys and men tell about their perceptions on men’s challenges
  • possible topics: social pressures, challenges of manhood, education, mental health issues

Exercise in participatory budgeting for Finnish and British boys:

  • a Finnish-British collaborative project in which the boys are given the power to decide how to use a predetermined amount of money to improve their own well-being
  • participatory budgeting has had positive results in past and it is vitally important that young people get to experience direct influence in matters concerning themselves
Structural changes and young men’s employment:
  • a discussion or seminar organised in Britain with topics such as adapting to structural change, creating new jobs or supporting entrepreneurship
Study: new ways of supporting boys’ learning and employment:
  • a survey of how boys’ learning and employment issues are being tackled in Britain
  • the objective of the research is to produce new information on how boys’ challenges in learning and employment has so far been addressed and to produce tangible suggestions of policy ideas
  • a discussion event on boys’ learning

It is crucial that men are not left alone with their problems. There needs to be a culture change in regard to perception of manliness and men’s role in the society. With these project ideas in mind we start to bring together a various group of societal actors: individuals, universities, charities and NGOs with a goal of raising awareness of boys’ and men’s challenges. Should you wish to take part or should you have an project idea you’d like to discuss with us, please don’t hesitate to contact us at antti.halonen(at)finnish-institute.org.uk.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Taina Cooke.

A fairer year of 2015 – the new transparency law for oil, gas and mining companies

A miracle has happened! All the UK oil, gas and mining companies woke up on Monday with a newfound social conscience and thought that maybe they should exploit the developing countries a bit less. As a New Year’s resolution they have decided to end the shadiness of global trade and start publishing details of the payments they make to different governments across the world for access to natural resources. The 1st of January 2015 will mark the beginning of an era characterised by more trust, more transparency and less corruption!
Okay, the UK government might have helped them a bit. Or a lot, to be more precise. The Parliament, you see, passed a historic transparency law for oil, gas and mining companies which helps to fight poverty and corruption in resource-rich but poor countries. The new law brings hundreds of billions of pounds worth of taxes, licence fees and royalties available to public scrutiny making it more difficult for companies and governments to make shady deals behind closed doors. Companies failing to report truthfully and accurately could face criminal prosecution.

UK is the first EU member state to fulfill the requirements of the EU Accounting Directive by passing the transparency law. All 28 EU countries are required to implement the directive by July 2015 and Finland, alongside five other countries, has publicly committed to early adoption. Passage of the law in Europe sends a strong signal to the US and Canada too encouraging them to join the fight against corruption and the “resource curse”. Fingers crossed, in 2015 an increasing number of governments will help the oil, gas and mining companies to wake up their sleeping consciences and start acting in a more open, more honest and more responsible way.  

Labour’s plan to strip private schools’ tax privileges causes mayhem

The class war is back on. The Labour party and Tories are fiercely fighting over private schools’ tax privileges and the troublemaker at the frontline seems to be Labour’s Shadow Secretary of Education, Tristram Hunt. Or this is the picture painted for us by newspapers such as The Telegraph. In reality, Mr Hunt has acted on a concern raised by many: why do private schools receive tax reliefs based on their charity status when so many of them do so little to earn it?

Mr Hunt has announced that a Labour government would remove business rates relief worth £165m a year from private schools that were not doing enough to help neighbouring state schools. According to Mr Hunt, in order to justify their charitable status private schools should, for example, run more summer schools, sponsor academies and support teacher training. Several advocates of the current tax relief system, however, suggest that removing the reliefs would result in increased fees or severe cut backs on some areas.

Tristram Hunt, as you might have guessed already, comes from a wealthy background and is privately educated himself. He’s been criticised for threatening private schools and effectively trying to deny children the same privilege he enjoyed. On the other hand, having in-depth knowledge about the system in practise hardly invalidates the criticism made of it. Also, if Labour’s suggestion about the relief removal being equivalent to just over 2 per cent of the private school’s fee income is correct, there certainly is room for some well grounded cuts.  

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