Stage is set for masterclasses in empathy

By Paul Jump

Academics will be well aware of William Shakespeare's line about all the world being a stage, but it remains to be seen whether they will welcome advice about how to play their parts on it in a more sympathetic manner.

A team of actors has been recruited as part of a programme developed by several UK university business and management schools aimed at helping staff to empathise more effectively with students.

Project leader Kim Cassidy, professor of services marketing at Nottingham Trent University's Nottingham Business School, admitted that role playing in professional training had suffered a "bad press".

But she insisted that there was no requirement for participants in "human-experience management" workshops to join in with the actors unless they wanted to. She said the programme was unique because it was geared to specific groups.

A pilot project to help staff at the University of Lincoln improve their interaction with international students saw scripts drawn up in light of "market research" among the students to identify particular concerns.

"The programme is about engaging with other people in a professional context and trying to understand where they are coming from," Dr Cassidy said.

"There is a level of emotional engagement that you only get from theatre."

She said that she had been encouraged by the response of the participants in the pilot and hoped to expand the programme to help university departments - such as finance and libraries - overcome cultural differences.

Dr Cassidy added that she hoped to run workshops to help academic staff empathise more with students in general.

She acknowledged that many academics were likely to be sceptical about the programme, but said a trial project had overcome similar resistance from a "tough bunch" of corporate managers.

"There will be opportunities for academics to critique, be cynical and perhaps move the programme on," she added.

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