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QM Geographers join regeneration debate with North East MP

One of the UK’s youngest MPs met Geography students from Queen Mary, University of London this week. Their discussions focused on how the North East of England is coping with the recent economic crisis and government cuts to public services.

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The group of first-year undergraduates had the opportunity to question Bridget Phillipson, Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, on her short and long-term plans for her constituency.

Ms Phillipson, who was elected in 2010 at the age of just 26, suggested a tax on bankers’ bonuses to fund internships and the introduction of new policies to prevent a ‘brain drain’ of Northern graduates moving South to work.

The visit comes near the end of Reinventing Britain, a degree module concentrating on the economic, social, cultural and political developments that have reshaped the country in recent years. It considers major economic shifts, the changing role of the state and some of the social transformations that have taken place over the last four decades.

A key focus of the course is the North East of England: a region that has experienced profound social and economic changes that differ drastically from other areas of the country, such as the loss of major steel and shipbuilding industries in the 1980s.

Dr Alastair Owens, who teaches Reinventing Britain, says: “Meeting with Bridget gave our students a fantastic insight into important issues for people living in the North East. She helped them grasp why politics matter in understanding the contemporary economic geography of Britain.”

Student Rocco Fioretti was among the group, led by the School of Geography’s Kathryn Cassidy, who questioned Ms Phillipson on regional economic issues. He asked how she would deal with rising youth unemployment in the region: “She proposed different kinds of internships financed by a tax on bankers’ bonuses.”

He adds: “She mentioned that there are a lot of people going to university in the North East, but once graduated they often come back to London and the South East. Bridget suggested policies in order to encourage these people to stay and work in the North East.”

The students are now set to take part in a week-long field-course in Durham. They will explore a range of issues such as the role of culture and the arts in the regeneration of North-Eastern cities, the problem of financial exclusion among former industrial communities in County Durham, and the contribution of migrants to the North East's economy.

Dr Alastair Owens comments: “Field work is a really important element of studying Geography here at Queen Mary. As part of our module Reinventing Britain, our first year human geographers also visit the North East in order to explore first-hand how the region has been affected by the recent recession and cuts in government spending.”

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