The Bentham Project sets a Summer Challenge!

Wednesday 2 August 2017

The Bentham Project in UCL’s Faculty of Laws has spent the first weeks of the summer working with a group of Year 12 students to explore the thought of UCL’s intellectual inspiration, the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).

The Summer Challenge is part of UCL’s Widening Participation programme of visits, events and courses for school pupils. UCL is committed to promoting access and inclusion in higher education and the Summer Challenge is designed to offer high-achieving state-school students a taste of university study.

Pupils make independent applications to join the Summer Challenge and then commit to attending five evening tutorials at UCL. In addition to the course on Bentham’s philosophy, Year 12 pupils could choose from a range of other subjects including Fine Art, History, Law and Biology. Summer Challenge courses are typically delivered by postdoctoral or postgraduate tutors.  The Bentham Project’s course was devised and taught by Dr Louise Seaward, research associate on the Bentham Project.

The Bentham course was designed to give students an overview of Bentham’s philosophy of utilitarianism and encourage them to explore how the philosopher’s ideas can be applied, in both historical and modern contexts. Some of the Summer Challenge students had heard of Bentham before but others were very surprised when we visited the Auto-Icon, Bentham’s preserved body which is displayed in the corridor at UCL! The course was started by analysing Bentham’s early writings on the importance of maximising pleasure and minimising pain in society and from there moved on to look at the way in which Bentham applied his philosophy to the issues of crime and religion.

The idea behind the Summer Challenge is to let sixth-form students experience university-style tutorials, so there was lots of opportunity for intensive reading, group debates and short presentations. By studying Bentham’s philosophy, the students developed their critical thinking skills and gained the confidence to share their own interpretations on the discussion topics. And the Summer Challenge team generously provided lots of biscuits to keep the pupils going until 7pm each evening!

Around 20 students completed the Bentham course of tutorials and they are now working on their final essays. The students will receive marks and feedback according to University criteria, to give them an idea of what is expected at this level of study. Now the students all have something to add to their UCAS personal statement and the experience should give them confidence for their University applications, whether they are hoping to attend UCL or elsewhere.