“Less Ivory Tower - more real world”
University of Leicester HEACF Volunteering Project
As a result of
• 78% of students said that
their confidence in their
abilities has increased.
• 73% of students agreed that
their employability has
• 73% of students said that their
sense of being part of the local
community has increased.
Each year, hundreds of University of Leicester students give up their time
to do voluntary work in the local community. ‘Contact’ is the University’s
student volunteering project which has over 600 members who volunteer
with a wide range of voluntary and community groups. Contact has been
in existence for around 30 years, starting out as a Student Community
Action Group, and is now one of the largest student-led Associations at
the University. Working in partnership with a range of organisations,
student volunteers bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm and make a positive
difference to the local community.
In 2002 the University of Leicester received funds from the Higher
Education Active Community Fund (HEACF), part of the Government’s
wider Active Community initiative. Since the introduction of HEACF,
volunteering activity has increased significantly across the University,
with record numbers of students joining Contact and staff members
participating in a wide range of volunteering activities.
“Less Ivory Tower - more real world”
To assess the economic, cultural,
physical, and human value of
the volunteering project,
questions were adapted from a
‘tool kit’ developed by
Volunteering England. Using an
online survey website
questionnaires were delivered to
students, university staff and
tutors, the organisations who
use volunteers, people who
benefit from the services
provided by volunteers, and
graduate employers. Focus
groups were held with student
volunteers and with
organisations that use
volunteers. The research was The HEACF enhanced the key role played by HEIs in their local
conducted between March – community and was designed to encourage greater involvement of
September 2007. students (and staff) in voluntary and community activities.*
The funds enabled the University of Leicester to employ staff to
support the work of Contact and also to develop new volunteering
initiatives for staff. Although there are indicators that the
Volunteering Project is successful and continues to develop and
improve, the University of Leicester wanted to undertake a formal
evaluation process to measure the impact of the project.
The HEACF Volunteering Project Research Report provides information
which will inform and shape the Volunteering Project’s development
and potential funding, with the aim of improving the quality and
range of services that can be provided. This Executive Summary
presents the key findings of the research.
* There were two rounds of HEACF funding between 2002 and 2006.
Support for student and staff volunteering opportunities in HEIs is
continuing under the Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund.
As a result of 1. Students
volunteering: More than 80% of students who had done some voluntary work through
Contact indicated that, as a result of volunteering, their personal
• 92% of students said that their
ability to communicate with development had increased. For more specific questions asking about
other people has increased. confidence, self-esteem, motivation, etc. 50% or more answered that all
these factors had increased. Students’ skills also developed through
• 78% of students said that their volunteering, particularly the ability to ‘communicate with people’, ‘to
ability to lead or encourage lead or encourage others’, and skills directly related to work. Seventy
others has increased. three percent of students agreed that their ‘employability’ had increased,
and there was strong agreement that the following had also increased:
the chances of gaining employment in their chosen field, willingness to
look out for people, getting involved with local activities, and the sense
You're outside the bubble
of being part of the community.
Other benefits of volunteering were the enjoyment of working with the
of the University, you're community, using skills, having fun, meeting new people, doing
actually part of Leicester. something good, and adding to the CV. Comments included:
” ‘It gave you an opportunity to give something back to the community as
well as get to learn more about the place you are living in. With my
project, you could see the benefits of your volunteering within a few
months and that was really satisfying.’
‘…you’re outside the bubble of the University, you’re actually part
‘We can show them that we’re not just all lager louts and we can give
something back to the community as well.’
For those students who had never signed up with Contact, 45% had
heard of Contact, and 30% had considered volunteering through Contact
but were mainly either too busy with academic work or just didn’t get
round to it. Of those who hadn’t considered volunteering, the main
reasons were either not having enough time or not being aware of the
possibility of volunteering. When asked ‘what one thing might have
encouraged you to volunteer’, the most popular response was ‘better
promotion of volunteering’.
With extra resources the project has the capacity to grow through
increased promotion of volunteering across the institution. There is already
significant publicity about volunteering with Contact across the campus,
but further resources would enable the project to reach more students
which, in turn, would lead to increased numbers of students volunteering.
2. Graduate Employers
On a five point scale of A There is a general consensus as to the sorts of qualities employers look
to E (with A = a great for in graduates. These skills include communication and organisational
deal and E = not at all) skills, initiative, self-awareness, team working, problem solving abilities
how much would you say etc. We took it for granted that employers wanted these skills from
graduates and asked whether they felt that voluntary work delivered
voluntary work is seen as
them. More than 88% of respondents answered either ‘Strongly agree’ or
a valuable addition to a
‘Agree’ to the statements, ‘Voluntary work helps graduates develop the
key skills we look for’ and ‘Voluntary work makes graduates more aware
of their skills and personal qualities’. Voluntary work was also seen as a
valuable addition to a graduate’s CV (see fig. 1).
Comments indicated that companies who have considered the merits of
voluntary work have found that it has helped graduates to develop a
variety of skills, gain an understanding of the work place, and
demonstrate strength of character. Comments included:
‘Less ‘ivory tower’, more ‘real world’.’
‘With the vast amounts of applications voluntary work makes candidates
stand out and shows they have more to their personality than academics
or sport or work.’
A B C D E It would seem that, in an increasingly competitive graduate jobs market,
students can give themselves a head start by gaining valuable work
experience through volunteering. It is encouraging to see that graduate
employers recognise the value of volunteering and are aware of the
impact it can have on students’ personal development.
3. University Tutors
While most tutors were aware of voluntary work being done at the
University, less than half had heard of Contact, and very few were aware
of any publicity about volunteering. There was a general feeling that
voluntary work is seen as a valuable addition to a student’s CV, but the
idea of embedding voluntary work in the curriculum was looked on
unfavourably by almost all respondents. It would appear that tutors
would prefer to see voluntary work remaining as just that - something
that students choose to do voluntarily!
Staff members who do voluntary work through the University showed
overall satisfaction with the training and support they have received.
There were some aspects of personal development and economic, social
and cultural capital which had increased as a result of volunteering for
“Less Ivory Tower - more real world”
some staff, but this was to a lesser extent and for fewer people than for
the student volunteers. There were mixed feelings as to whether the
How do community University should give greater help, or time off in lieu, for volunteering.
about their student Staff who are on the volunteering project database but who haven’t
volunteers? volunteered, overwhelmingly cite lack of time due to their commitments
to University work as the reason. Other demands on staff time included
• 94% agreed that student
social lives and voluntary work not organised through the University.
volunteers bring in fresh
When asked if there was anything which might have encouraged them to
ideas on serving their users.
volunteer, respondents indicated they might have volunteered if they
• 87% agreed that student were offered a project more suited to their interests, or were allowed
volunteers enhance the time off in lieu of volunteering. We can conclude from these comments
reputation of the University. that more staff would consider participating in voluntary work if they
had more time to do so. The University currently supports the ‘right to
• 87% agreed that student read’ scheme where staff are allowed an extra half hour on their lunch
volunteers act as good break to volunteer, but this could be extended further to enable staff to
ambassadors for their participate in a range of voluntary opportunities, suited to their interests.
5. Community Organisations
• 81% agreed that student
volunteers enable them to do Students at the University of Leicester volunteer with a wide range of
work they otherwise would organisations covering many different areas of work. In general, the
not be able to afford to do. responses to the questions in this survey have been very positive and
show that the projects and Contact have been doing a good job in
supporting students and liaising with each other. Over 90% of
organisations indicated they were either ‘Very satisfied’ or ‘Satisfied’ with
the quality and the quantity of the work done by student volunteers.
There was strong agreement that students enhance the reputation of both
the organisations they volunteer for and the University of Leicester. It is clear
that the projects value the students highly and that students bring a lot of
value to the projects. Comments included:
‘We have had a large amount of quality mentors from (the) University of
Leicester this academic year to date. They have worked well with students,
been reliable and really helped out young people in their learning.’
6. Service Users
Students volunteer with such a wide variety of projects it was difficult to
create a questionnaire which would assess impact with all user groups,
so we concentrated on SCAMP, a special needs playgroup run by Contact
volunteers. The feedback was very positive. Some projects do evaluate
the impact of their work and they, rather than Contact, are in a better
position to do this.
• Increase publicity about volunteering to raise awareness of the range of
I think a degree is not a
volunteering opportunities available and the benefits of voluntary work
• Consider a programme of presentations in academic departments and
golden ticket to a great work more closely with tutors to highlight relevant volunteering
job, it is competitive and opportunities for students
graduates can really raise
• Explore ways of increasing staff participation in volunteering, such as
their game by undertaking paid time off for volunteering or as an option for staff development days
some voluntary work.
It sets grads apart from • Encourage projects to collect feedback from their users to help assess
their counterparts and the impact of student volunteers
provides great work • Assess the ability of the Volunteering Project to deal with an increase in
experience to make the student and staff volunteers to ensure they receive adequate support
transition into the work
The research has evidenced that volunteering not only has a positive
place smoother. Ultimately
impact on the local community but also on volunteers themselves.
it makes graduates more
Students gain personal satisfaction and enjoyment from their volunteering
” but also develop the key skills that graduate employers look for.
Volunteering provides students with valuable work experience and the
comments from graduate employers show that voluntary work enhances
a graduate’s CV and can help to set them apart from their counterparts.
It would appear that volunteering is a win-win activity: community groups
benefit from extra support; volunteers gain personal satisfaction and new
skills; employers gain skilled graduates and the University strengthens its
links with the local community.
The research has highlighted that there is more we can do to increase
participation in voluntary work and ways in which we can achieve this.
The recommendations in the report will enable us to plan the
development of the Volunteering Project with the aim of further
increasing participation in voluntary work at the University of Leicester.
For further information or to request a copy of the full report,
Community Liaison Team, Careers Service, College House,
University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH
Tel: 0116 252 3890
Researcher: Colin Hyde
Acknowledgements: Korin Grant, Birgit Lewis, Megan Murray,
Isla Brookes & Vanessa Harris