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Cork and Belfast north south prison-university classroom partnerships secure funding from government’s shared island initiative

Short info:  

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from University College Cork and Queens University Belfast have secured funding from the Shared Island North-South Research Programme for their collaborative project entitled ‘TOGETHER- collaborating across prison walls and borders’. The projects builds on UCC’s ongoing education partnership with the Cork Education and Training Bord in Cork Prison and  QUB’s partnership with HMP Hydebank Wood in Belfast. 

The collaborative cross-border research partnership is arising from the Irish Government’s Share Island initiative, delivered by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) on behalf of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research Innovation and Science (DFHERIS).  

The transdisciplinary project will run from 2022-2024 and will explore the impacts of the prison-university classroom and co-produce (with participating students) an all-island curriculum that could be used across Irish prisons, north and south.  

The TOGETHER team are: Dr Katharina Swirak (UCC), Prof Shadd Maruna (QUB), Dr. Gillian McNaull (QUB),  Dr James Cronin (UCC) and Prof Maggie O’Neill (UCC). 


Academics from University College Cork and Queens University Belfast have over the past three years established university-prison education partnerships with Cork Prison and HMP Hydebank Wood.  Borrowing from similar US and UK based models, the Cork ‘Inside Out’ and Belfast ‘Learning Together’ projects are the first such courses in Ireland, with university students and incarcerated students studying side-by-side as equals in the prison classroom. Students and educators report that participation in the prison-university classroom raises empathy, improves learning and provides skills for entering into dialogue across social differences. The TOGETHER collaboration wants to develop an evaluation framework, together with incarcerated and university students in and across both sites, to explore the learning from these innovative approaches to university-prison education.  Importantly, TOGETHER will also seek to develop a uniquely all-island approach to prison-university education. In order to achieve this, TOGETHER will facilitate incarcerated and university students to act as researchers, who will document and analyse how their different backgrounds, shape their experiences of justice, stigma, labelling and harm. Through a variety of creative, participatory and convivial methods, incarcerated and university students will record moments of learning in the prison-university classroom. Importantly, this will  also provide insights into how prison-university classrooms facilitate students in building empathy towards their peers from  different cultural backgrounds. Both Belfast and Cork classrooms will also collaborate to further improve each other’s work. As a result of this process, TOGETHER will produce an all-island framework for prison-university partnerships, including a first-of-its-kind curriculum template specifically adapted to an all-Ireland context. As a result of its activities, TOGETHER will contribute to grow educational opportunities between prisons and universities that can facilitate participatory learning communities and build empathy and mutual understanding between diverse communities. 


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