Blog by Doug Cooley, winner of the Policy & Politics 2021 postgraduate prize to the student achieving the highest overall mark on the ‘Power, Politics and the Policy Process’ unit of the Masters in Public Policy at the School for Policy Studies.
I’m Doug Cooley, and have just finished a one-year Masters in Public Policy at the University of Bristol, home to the Policy & Politics journal. I hope to use this MPP as a basis to conduct future academic or practical policy work. During the year, I have focussed my research on various theoretical concepts, including policy transfer, and power structures in the policy process, applying these concepts to neoliberal mechanisms in the Global Financial System, and to the UK’s local governance structures. I am delighted to have won the Policy & Politics prize for achieving the highest overall mark on the unit ‘Power, Politics and the Policy Process’ as part of the MPP programme.
In this post, I highlight a piece of my work which explores the link between policy transfer, which I define as replication of policy instruments between polities, and institutional isomorphism, or the convergence of organisational structures and governance mechanisms. The relative lack of literature on the link is surprising, given how intuitively similar these ideas are, and the different normative connotations of the two concepts. Policy transfer emphasises the benefits of learning between polities, whereas institutional isomorphism is seen as a constraining influence on innovation. (more…)
Studying or working abroad is a fantastic opportunity to internationalise your degree, boost your personal development and gain a new perspective on your studies.
Each year, more than 700 Bristol students spend a semester or year abroad. Students often say that their placement abroad was a highlight of their degree.
Here, Hannah talks about her experience of studying at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, as part of her BSc in Criminology.
It must have been daunting leaving your family and friends behind. How did you feel when you first arrived?
During the first week it felt like I was on holiday, if not slightly hectic. Whilst you’re trying to settle yourself in and complete necessary errands, like buying a phone SIM and opening a bank account, you are also trying to meet people and explore your new home before university commences. I personally didn’t struggle to meet people as I lived in a shared house with a large group of students from other universities. However, if you do feel lonely or like you are struggling to meet people, the university hosts welcome/mingling events during orientation week which a lot of students attend so this can also be a good way to meet people.
What was the course like?
I found the studying side of the year enjoyable. The workload was similar to what I have been used to at Bristol, but with more frequent assessments throughout the semester. I decided to take two open units and two units compatible with my course, which was really rewarding as it allowed me to explore new subjects/interests outside of my degree subject.
How did you spend your time outside of your studies?
In terms of socialising and travelling, there was so much to do in and around Brisbane and the city was always putting on events and entertainment. The university also has societies for international students which you can join to meet people or just enjoy the events they host; QUEST is particularly good for this. With regard to travelling, you will almost certainly do some travelling in your year abroad and I would 100% recommend this but definitely start saving as soon as you can to ensure you can fully experience each destination you choose without feeling too much of a financial strain.
What’s your advice to students taking a year abroad?
I think a great way to approach the year is to be open and friendly to everyone. You will meet so many people throughout the year so keeping an open mind to experiences and people will be hugely beneficial to you. I also think it is important to remember that you are in the same boat as lots of other students and you are all probably feeling the same way, so don’t worry if you are feeling a bit daunted at first as you will soon find your feet.
This article was originally published by Women’s Aid in their Safe blog.
Tuesday 20th July 2021: Today, Women’s Aid and the University of Bristol publish new research, “Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse. Evidence for Policy and Practice”. Lizzie McCarthy (Knowledge Exchange Fellow – based in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research while undertaking this research) and Sarah Davidge explain why it is vital that we recognise the role sexism and misogyny play in setting the scene for domestic abuse. (more…)
The government has introduced policies to improve access to products and education about periods. These are steps in the right direction. However, these policies will not end menstrual stigma.
All state-schools can now request free period products using an online portal. This momentous policy development means that products are accessible to young people who cannot otherwise afford them.
However, the policy has faced implementation issues and these appear to be, at least partly, explained by menstrual stigma. The scheme continued during lockdown, but Plan International UK’s survey with a representative sample of more than 1,000 14-21-year-old girls found that during this time:
30% of girls had issues accessing products during lockdown
42% of these girls did not know where to get hold of free products
30% felt too ashamed to seek out a source of free products
Furthermore, the BBC report that only 40% of eligible schools are signed up to the scheme. If young people are too ashamed to ask their schools for support and the government is not tackling taboos and promoting free products, the opt-in scheme will struggle.
From this year, Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSE) is compulsory in all schools. Statutory guidance for teaching RSE has also been updated for the first time since 2000 and states that young people should learn about “menstrual wellbeing” and that schools should help girls manage periods.
The government has also released additional non-compulsory RSE teacher training and advice, which includes information about periods. However, neither the statutory guidance nor training mention tackling stigma.
Furthermore, the DfE’s bizarre advice that schools should not use resources produced by organisations that take “extreme political stances” such as anti-capitalism may undermine effective RSE and menstruation education. This advice is non-compulsory and it is unclear whether schools ever use anti-capitalist RSE resources. However, as Shout Out UK highlight, it is unclear how “schools are to facilitate a sufficiently diverse dialogue” on RSE topics (e.g. gender, periods and taboo) “without limiting themselves unnecessarily for fear that the resources they wish to use could be interpreted as being in breach of the guidelines.”
Advertisers’ portrayals of menstruation appear to be shifting. As Camilla Mørk Røstvik points out, many contemporary period product advertisements are designed to appeal to modern consumers who care about social justice. For instance, THINX were the first menstrual product company to feature a trans man in an advertisement.
It is encouraging to see companies taking these steps, but it would be naïve to ignore conflicts of interest. Companies aim to make sales and still promote products that hide periods. It therefore seems unlikely that advertisements alone can end menstrual stigma.
Critiquing menstrual stigma should be part of the every day. Policy makers should work with education practitioners and young people to capitalise on the opportunities presented by compulsory RSE and free period products. Menstrual stigma is a widespread, damaging problem that needs to be solved.
Kate’s PhD topic focuses on menstruation stigma, discourses in advertising and Relationships and Sex Education.
For more information on our PhD in Social Policy click here.
We caught up with Lucy Bull; recent MSc Nutrition, Physical Activity and Public Health graduate to get some top tips on how to get the most out of your postgraduate study…
Hello there, would you mind telling me a little bit about yourself?
“I’m Lucy, I’m a 40-year-old mum of three children and I NEVER thought I could do an MSc! I run a nursing home in Devon with my mum but wanted to build my own expertise to support my work. The umbrella of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Public Health seemed to be a good fit, serving as a platform for future specialism. It seemed like a good course that would fit alongside the expertise of our nurses in the home.”
Why did you choose University of Bristol, for your studies?
“My background is the arts; I worked for the BBC for many years. This MSc meant I could commute from Devon, retrain my artsy brain into a science one and gain expertise. My love of Bristol now encompasses a deep loyalty to the University of Bristol, for its amazing facilities, sublime course content and world class teaching staff.”
Talk about a project/initiative you’ve got involved in whilst studying here?
“My dissertation dovetailed my media experience with my newfound scientific thinking, as I analysed the media coverage of recent physical activity guidelines. I discovered that there is a real lack of confidence in media skills within academia. Because this MSc is so good at developing research skills and scientific writing, I now feel more competent at searching out niche areas of research.”
How has completing your MSc helped with your career or further education?
“My knowledge base is much stronger, and I can research key topics exceptionally quickly. This has been crucial during Covid to pull together evidence-based guidance for the nursing home. I can speak more authoritatively to the team and they have confidence that I know what I am talking about!”
And finally, do you have any advice or tips for people who are thinking about undertaking a Masters, or continuing their education?
“Yes! I wrote a twitter thread about it. I felt a bit at sea when I started and wanted to help others feel less lost.
Try and find your people, whether you are learning online or in person. Reach out, through whatsapp or uni email; most will be happy to hear from a friendly soul. Be kind to the silent ones.
2. Find your lecturers on Twitter, learn who they follow and why. #academictwitter is a fascinating, useful rabbit hole.
3. If you like a lecture, tell the lecturer. You never know when your paths may cross in the future.
4. There are NO stupid questions. Every answer helps someone.
5. Embrace statistics and if you don’t understand a stat, don’t use it. Push your limits of statistical comprehension. Chances are you’ll understand more than you thought.
6. Get to know your librarian, use their knowledge. Learn Endnote or Mendeley and their capacity to help your referencing. Choose one and learn it.
7. Get to grips with the Assignment template in Word and how to use it. Do it sooner than later.
8. If you’re new to scientific writing, don’t be scared. There’s a wealth of resources at your fingertips. University of Bristol Study Skills run some incredible courses. Use your personal tutor and always ask for feedback after assignments.
9. You’re about to step into a world of fascinating study led by world experts in their field. Use their intellect, ask questions, don’t let imposter syndrome silence you! Your teachers are clever, brilliant people but above all they are kind and they want you to flourish. This is your springboard, to new friends, jobs and opportunities.”
Thank you Lucy for your wise words! I’m sure this will help maybe new students navigate their way through postgraduate life.
Dr Natasha Mulvihill, lecturer in Criminology at the School for Policy Studies and member of the Centre for Gender and Violence Researchhas published work on prostitution and sex work, domestic abuse, honour abuse and sexual exploitation. In this blog she talks about impact of COVID:19 on sex workers.
Sex workers, like the majority of society, have suffered from the effects of austerity – and COVID-19 has left them even more exposed. Dr Natasha Mulvihill, argues that legal and welfare reform are needed to enable choice and reduce harm.
In 2019, I co-authored a Home Office-commissioned report with colleagues at the University of Bristol on the nature and prevalence of prostitution and sex work in England and Wales. As part of that research, we heard from over 500 individuals involved in selling sex, and followed up with more than 40 within that group to learn more about their experiences. Since the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, I have been thinking about our participants in that research and how they are managing.
The challenges facing those who sell sex both in the UK and around the world during the pandemic have been articulated in academic journals, by organisations working with and representing sex workers (including NUM, ECP, Changing Lives, Beyond the Streets, SWARM and One25) and on news and social media. Of course, many of those selling sex are unaffiliated to any group or support organisation: they work alone in privacy or remain outside the public and media gaze, through choice or otherwise.
There is stark commonality, but also diversity across the sex industry. Most are working in-person, providing sexual services, including full sex either at home, outdoors or in another venue such as a brothel, parlour or hotel; others are working through phonelines or online, webcamming or making clips to order, for example. Given the lockdown, there has been some movement to online, but many will have continued to work in-person. Most sellers are women, including trans women. There are also a significant number of male sex workers, as well as those who identify with other genders or none.
Some are successful entrepreneurs, running their own websites, operating from dedicated premises, registered as self-employed and paying tax. A proportion of these may therefore have met the criteria to apply for the UK Self-Employment Income Support Scheme set up in response to the lockdown. However, the Home Office research suggested that the majority of those selling sex are either doing so temporarily, intermittently or long term to make ends meet, including as a supplement to other paid work. Many are caring (often solo) for others, including children, partners or parents; some are managing long-term physical illness or mental health issues; many are migrants, some with insecure status; some are students; some involved are victims of partner abuse, or are misusing drugs or alcohol. Some may register their earnings formally; most will not. I would term this majority as ‘sex workers’ or ‘individuals engaged in survival sex’ (see Mulvihill, 2019), and it these groups that are the focus of this commentary. There are also a significant number of mainly women and girls who are coerced into, and abused by others through, ‘prostitution’ – which, while recognising the overlap and movement between categories, I would rather term ‘sexual exploitation’.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus two issues for those engaged in sex work and survival sex in the UK: the inadequacy of the legal environment, and the inadequacy of the welfare safety net and public provision.
In England and Wales, it is legal to sell and to buy sex. However, myriad activities around the sale of sex are illegal, such as pimping, kerb-crawling, soliciting on the street or working with one or more other people from a premises, as this constitutes a ‘brothel’. These laws have been layered piecemeal over decades and are unevenly enforced, more so given tightening police resources. They are ostensibly aimed at preventing exploitation, but stem as much from a concern to keep such activity out of public view.
Whether you understand selling sex as a job like any other or as an outcome of patriarchy and other inequalities – or both – most can agree that sex workers should not be criminalised. Governments should seek to allow sellers to work together in a small-scale and self-managed way. Such brothels already exist up and down the country, but sex workers risk inconsistent policing, depending on where they are located. The illegal status of brothels places barriers to reporting violence or other crimes against sellers. Those selling sex on the street should not be criminalised. Equally, the concerns of communities in relation to both indoor and outdoor sex work need to be recognised and negotiated. Rather than seeking to manage outdoor sellers, far more resource should be invested in tackling the drivers for street sex, which are well documented (see for example, Matthews et al., 2014; Sanders, 2007).
The legal status of sex workers links to the second issue of access to welfare and collective provision. The UK, like other liberalising economies, has seen a steady erosion of the welfare safety net. The threshold for eligibility is ever higher and the benefit received ever lower. State dependence is stigmatised and personal responsibility prized (though inheritances and other financial support from one’s family are encouraged). Sex workers, like the majority of society, are vulnerable. Not vulnerable in the sense of helpless or lacking resourcefulness, ability or graft, but rather vulnerable through exposure to changing individual circumstances and unforgiving welfare and legal contexts. Many of us can face this sudden exposure when we find ourselves caring for others, made unemployed, discriminated against, migrate or become ill. Surveys in the US and UK suggest that at least a third of millennials, for example, have no savings put by; and another third would only have three months pay if their income stopped. So a safety net, whether that is short or longer term, is crucial both to uphold human dignity but also to avoid the future multiplier costs to the state of economic and social exclusion.
Yet austerity and the difficulties in accessing Universal Credit have pushed many into exchanging sex for money. How ironic that now the COVID-19 crisis is affecting mainstream workers, the government has adopted a ‘pay now, verify later’ approach to Universal Credit – and that borrowing, minimised for a decade in favour of austerity, has reached unprecedented levels in order to stave off a depression. Had we prioritised spending after the 2008 financial crisis to invest in a fairer safety net and more robust public provision, we might have been better equipped to meet the challenge of the pandemic.
Around the world, those who sell sex (including those who add significantly to national income through the tourism and leisure industries) have found that they either have no access to government income support (France, Thailand, Japan or Kenya) or minimal access (Brazil or Mexico). In New Zealand, by contrast, where sex work is decriminalised, applying for help has been more straightforward.
The pandemic has temporarily allowed us to see alternatives to the current order. It is possible to hold quite divergent views on prostitution and sex work, yet at the same time agree that punitive criminal justice or welfare measures appear only to harm those who sell sex – indeed, harm all those exposed by social inequity or a change in circumstances. By lifting those selling sex out of social, economic and legal grey zones and giving them the resources to stand in equality with others, they can determine their own futures.