When it comes to higher education, big is not necessarily best. The University of Winchester may not be the greatest in terms of size, but to those of us who value such things, it leads where it matters most. Winchester is a world leader in values-based education, being deeply committed to values such as sustainability, social justice and diversity. At the heart of its mission is the desire to make a positive contribution to society at large.
I’ve never forgotten the inspirational words within the job description of my own position when a colleague first sent it to me, before I first applied. Incredibly, here was a university that aimed to provide its students with “justified confidence in their abilities and the strength to stand up for what they believe to be true.” This was exactly what I tried to do when I was an Australian veterinary student in the 1990s, campaigning for humane alternatives to surgical training labs in which healthy animals were routinely killed. Far from supporting me then, some elements of my university were in substantial opposition. However we prevailed, humane alternatives were introduced, and today those labs have almost been completely ended. We hope and expect that many of our students will become similarly powerful agents for positive change, and here at Winchester we aim to give them the knowledge, strength and qualifications to help them realise their potential.
For those students interested in helping animals, we will achieve this partly through the establishment of our new Centre for Animal Welfare. The Centre is one of a growing number that have been established at universities around the world in recent years. At the present time there are perhaps 30 worldwide, including a small number here in the UK.
Our Centre will positively contribute to the advancement of animal welfare and protection, through several mechanisms. We will research, publish, educate and offer associated qualifications in animal welfare at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. However, we won’t stop there. We will also move beyond the walls of academia, to actively engage in important social debates about contemporary uses of animals. We will host a seminar series. We will proffer evidence, opinion and expertise to policy-makers. We will provide media commentaries. We will publish in popular, as well as academic, outlets, and we will provide presentations to popular, as well as academic, audiences. Through these means we will encourage greater awareness of animal welfare issues, and will stimulate critical scrutiny and debate. We hope to encourage the evolution of social consciousness and public policy relating to animals, thereby helping to bring about a better world for all.
Prof. Andrew Knight is Director of Winchester's Centre for Animal Welfare