Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Ashraf Abbas

MA Global Development and Education | 2015-2016

Photo of Ashraf Abbas

Please tell us a bit about yourself, your background etc?

Born and raised in Yorkshire, I initially trained to become a medic at the University of Leeds. However after spending what felt like a century at Medical School, I finally came to the conclusion that medicine wasn’t my passion, despite wanting to be a doctor “from a young age”, and ended up leaving the profession for good. I spent the next cluster of years working a multitude of roles in fairly generic office environments to pay for the extra mature cheddar on my pasta while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. After quite some deliberation I finally applied for a taught master in Global Development at the start of 2015, and that was that!

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

So as a result of growing political interests over time, I decided I wanted to work within the NGO sector, ideally in policy formulation and project management- but didn’t really have the background experience or the grounding in the social sciences which would be ideal; a Masters in development seemed like the best way to develop myself professionally. Having done an intercalated BSc in International Health, I also wanted to tie this in with my other significant area of interest, education.  After a little bit of research I discovered Leeds was the only northern university which has a degree which focused on education in a developmental context. With a little more legwork, I found out Leeds was very highly regarded as a centre for International Development, being recognised as an expert site for critical thinking on the topic. A lot of the research areas of the academics in the department also aligned well with my interests- it seemed like the best place for me to re-enter academia. As for the city itself, I had lived in Leeds for several years, I knew the city well and knew that I loved it, and already had friends here. It was a match that couldn’t have been more perfect!

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?           

It’s a challenging but potentially rewarding field which could not be more key to the future of our global society. Constantly shifting with the political landscape it’s a very applied topic which draws knowledge and skills across a wide spectrum of other disciplines. Not only does this level of intersectionality keep the work contextual and relevant, but it also allows individuals to carve out their own niche and organisations to establish their own, often very different ways, of addressing development. For me, Global Development tries to address our big problems, to make an impact with larger than life goals and society wide empowerment and transformation, but without losing site of the the everyday and the every-person- grounding this in what’s achievable, tangible benefits and real world systems rather than blue sky political thinking.  How could you not be passionate about that?!

What do you think of your course so far – what aspects of the course have you enjoyed the most or are looking forward to the most?

The course so far has been ace! The staff are both lovely and helpful, always happy to have a chat about their topic and often extend you the respect of a peer rather than a student. The material has been broad and engaging, with the opportunity to get into the nitty gritty if that’s what you like. I am going to Uganda over summer to do an original research dissertation out there, which I am very excited about, and is arranged through a pilot program with the school. I am working in tandem with an NGO on the ground to deliver research which will directly impact their Monitoring and Evaluation and hopefully have benefits for the program and its users. Not only is this an amazing opportunity, which was facilitated by the course, but I get to experience life in the field in Uganda of all places- I’ve got to say that’s the thing I’m looking forward to most.

What would you say about the learning facilities in the School and at the University in general?

The facilities are top notch. The Laidlaw library is fancy and functional- I was very impressed! There are plenty of learning pods within the Social Sciences Building too, and the selection of reading material Leeds has, in addition to their journal access, is excellent. The support staff are also incredible, and it really feels like student support is a top priority- much better than when I was at the University of Leeds the first time around.

What would you say about Leeds as a city?

Leeds is a lovely city. It’s small enough to feel friendly, and for you to walk from one end to the other in half an hour, but large and packed enough for it to have more or less everything you want, for you never to be lacking for things to do and for you to be able to find new places to hang out after being here over 10 years. The people are helpful, the nightlife is second to none, the music scene is thriving and the shopping is great. If you’re a foodie like me, you’ll be in heaven- eating out in Leeds is a pure delight. Also the great Yorkshire countryside is a short train or bus ride away; for me Leeds is the complete package- the right combination of homely and cosmopolitan. 

What do you like to do outside of studying?

Personally I enjoy going to gigs, volunteering, getting involved with politics/being an activist, hiking, gaming (of the board variety), eating out and generally going on mini adventures! Obviously I love travelling when I can, but money and time are an issue!

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

Do it-absolutely 100% a good decision! The staff are great, you’re well supported, the course is well developed while leaving you plenty of opportunities to follow your interests and Leeds is a fantastic city. This Masters will help you develop the professional skills you need if you want to work in the field, and it will give you the opportunity to meet a hugely diverse group of driven, intelligent people with incredibly interesting backgrounds. The only thing I’d say is prepare to work your socks off for 12 months. The department expects a lot from you, you will need to put in a lot of time into your background reading and developing your critical skills. However, as long as you’re happy to do this, you will get back so much more than what you put in- could not recommend it enough.

What do you plan to do once you’ve finished your course?

The long term plan is to go into policy formulation and project management working with either a smaller NGO or a developmental agency. Immediately, I’d ideally like to work with an NGO out in the field for at least a year. However I am considering coming back to do a PhD with the department in 2017, and have already scoped out my potential supervisors and started to put a proposal together- which speaks volumes as I was convinced I wouldn’t want to be in academia for more than a year before starting this course!


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