Skip to main content

Reflections on Global Citizenship

Written by Madeleine Pownall, Richard Harris, Pam Birtill


In 2021, we started a Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) fellowship that aims to help academics embed Global Citizenship (GC) in the curriculum. ‘Global Citizenship’ broadly refers to the use of subject-specific knowledge and skills to contribute meaningfully and thoughtfully to solving global problems. This includes issues like climate change, sustainability, social justice, and equality. Global citizenship is having a ‘moment’ currently, both in the university and beyond. For example, global citizenship education aligns with UNESCO’s global Sustainable Development Goals and the ‘education for sustainment development’ agenda and is increasingly being embedded in Higher Education policy and practice.


Our Fellowship

Our interest in Global Citizenship was initially inspired by our previous work on psychological literacy. Psychological literacy is a pedagogical approach and set of graduate attributes, which is all about helping psychology students to understand how they can apply their psychological knowledge to solving global problems. We were curious about whether the concept of psychological literacy can be applied to other subjects (Is there a ‘mathematics literacy?’ A ‘fine arts literacy’? What do they look like and what do they share?).

The more we explored the literature, the clearer it was that psychological literacy is a subject-specific implementation of global citizenship. Our fellowship aims to:

  1. Understand what that might look like across the university
  2. Investigate how staff and students relate to this term
  3. Develop a toolkit to facilitate embedding global citizenship in our new redefined curriculum


What we’ve done

So far in our fellowship, we have focused on listening to staff perceptions of global citizenship via our ‘GC Conversations’, which are open to anyone. We wanted to start broad and get an overall sense of whether global citizenship ‘fits’ (or, indeed, does not fit) within different disciplines and subjects across the institution. To do this, we had a three-step process:

  1. First, what skills does global citizenship encompass? What are the core attributes of global citizenship?
  2. Are these attributes present in the QAA subject benchmark statements? Are students across disciplines expected to develop all of these attributes or are some less relevant than others?
  3. What does this look like in a Leeds context?

To tackle the first of these questions, we created a framework for global citizenship with the help of our Academic Advisory Group. This encompasses the six attributes that we consider to be most aligned with global citizenship (e.g., the ability to take intercultural perspectives, engage in reflective practice, understand sustainability etc). Once we had established these, we then undertook a deductive content analysis of all 48 QAA subject benchmark statements, combing through each one to try and establish where these attributes may sit in each discipline. This analysis broadly confirmed that global citizenship is (explicitly and implicitly) covered throughout academic subjects.

We’re now turning our focus to the final question: we’ve created a broad understanding of what global citizenship may look like across the sector, but what does this mean for Leeds? Our various conversations with colleagues tell us that there are some reservations about the use of the term ‘global citizenship’, given the perceived connotations with white saviourism, internationalisation, and voluntourism, and conflicts between climate change and global travel. Therefore, we are focusing on understanding how we can negotiate these concerns with terminology, while promoting the integration of these attributes in the curriculum.


What we’re planning

The next step is to embed student voice(s) into the project. We’re running a large-scale, mixed-methods survey which will ask students whether our pillars of global citizenship make any sense to them and, more generally, how they relate to the concept of global citizenship. This work will take us into early 2023, when we’ll start to consider subject-specific implementation of global citizenship in the context of the University of Leeds. We are excited to start bringing students into these conversations, as this will provide (hopefully!) the missing piece of our global citizenship puzzle.