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My experience of learning Chinese

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(Originally published by the Business Confucius Institute)

I am often asked by friends and acquaintances why I decided to learn Chinese. There is no simple answer to this question. However, in this post I will attempt to summarise some of the main reasons and describe my experience of joining an estimated 200,000 Brits as a student of the world’s most spoken language.

I started working at the University of Leeds two years ago, following a career transition. Having moved to a new city I was looking for things to do which would enable me to meet new people in my spare time. I noticed that the Business Confucius Institute (BCI) were offering Chinese evening classes on the university campus and, together with a friend who had also recently moved to the city, decided to sign up to a beginner (level 1) class.

This initial decision was made on a whim – there were no grand career ambitions, set goals or plans to travel to China in the immediate future. Part of my attraction to the challenge o…

My encounter with a vegan activist

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Today I was wondering around the students' union at lunch time when I stumbled across a group of people at a stall who were getting students to try on some virtual reality headsets. I had no idea what was behind it but decided to try on a pair of goggles.

When I put the headset on I was transported to an animal slaughter house and as I looked around I saw many cows crammed into cages. Then a farmer walked towards me and stunned a nearby cow who immediately collapsed unconscious. After this the cow was strung up and bled to death.

When I took the headset off one of the men at the stall asked me how I felt about what I’d seen. I told him I was surprised at how painless the slaughter had appeared, and that it was surely towards the humane end of the factory farming spectrum. It quickly became apparent that the man was a vegan activist as he began questioning me about my ethical opinions and presenting stock philosophical arguments against factory farming. I made it clear that I had alr…

The next chapter: Higher Education

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Over the past few years I have had the privilege of working as a freelance journalist, covering issues which I care about - from miscarriages of justice to disability rights - for numerous publications. I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience and have learned a great deal from researching social issues and interviewing fascinating people. Unfortunately, during the last few months I have been unable to write as much as I would have liked, owing to commitments related to a career transition.

Through my writing I have become increasingly interested in labour issues, including youth unemployment, graduate prospects, worker instability, the growth of freelancing and self-employment. This interest has led me to pursue a second career as a consultant, helping students in higher education to navigate the challenging and often confusing world of work as they plan their future careers.

I recently completed my training towards a professional guidance qualification and have now been offered an e…

Has gambling got out of control?

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(Originally published by the Guardian)

Most people are able to place a small bet once in a while without suffering any real consequences beyond losing a tenner. However, for a small minority, gambling can become a serious addiction with the power to destroy lives. 
In the UK, it’s estimated that around 350,000 people suffer from an addiction to gambling – recently classified as a disorder in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM V) – and those numbers are growing.
Last week the Guardian hosted a debate in collaboration with Discuss, where two expert speakers debated whether or not gambling is now out of control. Here’s what they thought:
If members of the audience were in any doubt about the potential for gambling to cause harm, few remained unconvinced after hearing the first speaker, Paul Buck, recount his personal story. Buck who is the founder of EPIC, a problem gambling consultancy, began his career in retail shortly after graduating …

Syria debate proves critical thinking should be taught in schools

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(Originally published by New Internationalist)


The level of debate around whether Britain should bomb Syria demonstrates why critical thinking should become a compulsory subject for children in British schools. To give an example, if someone puts forward the argument: "Bombing Syria will strengthen, not weaken, ISIS and make things worse for all of us", the standard reply: "so what are you proposing; that we just do nothing?" isnota logically valid counter-argument.
The question of whether we should bomb Syria or whether bombing will be counter-productive is entirely separate from the question of whether or not there are other policies, that do not involve bombing, which could have a positive effect. The onus is on those defending bombing to demonstrate that their policy is likely to have positive, rather than negative, consequences. Merely asking their opponent what they would do instead adds nothing to their argument whatsoever. 
This is understood in almost every o…

Is education failing our economy?

(Originally published by the Guardian)

In recent years, education debates have largely centred on disputes between teachers’ unions and the government. While teachers complain they are overworked and under resourced, ruling politicians – such as the former education ministerMichael Gove– insist on the need for greater “academic rigour” in the classroom to ensure pupils can compete in the global marketplace.
Yet beyond the rhetoric, grave doubts remain over the education system’s competence. According to arecent studyby the British Chambers of Commerce, two-thirds of companies believe secondary schools are failing to prepare pupils for the working world. At aGuardian Live/Discuss eventheld in Manchester Central Library four expert panellists debated for and against the motion: Education is failing our economy.
First to speak for the motion was Guardian Education writerMelissa Bennwho told the audience that successive governments have refused to invest sufficient funds in careers advice…

Guardian Live: should we say yes to nuclear power?

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Originally published by the Guardian)

Last month George Osborne backed a deal with China to build a new £24bn nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. The government claims the new plant will be relied on to deliver 7% of the UK’s electricity while providing a low cost, low carbon alternative to fossil fuels. 
But not everyone agrees, with critics arguing the plants will be expensive to build and questioning whether nuclear energy represents a safe, clean and cost-effective energy future. 
On Thursday the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester played host to a public debate as part of the Manchester Science Festival in which four expert panellists debated the motion: Nuclear power, yes please. These were some of their thoughts:
Four reasons why nuclear is the answer:
Britain has led the way in developing nuclear technology
Dr Fiona Rayment, director of Fuel Cycle Solutions, argued that Britain should be proud of its leading role in developing nuclear technology since the fir…