Less Ivory Tower - more real world


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University of Leicester HEACF Volunteering Project
Research Report Executive Summary

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Less Ivory Tower - more real world

  1. 1. “Less Ivory Tower - more real world” University of Leicester HEACF Volunteering Project Research Report Executive Summary As a result of volunteering: • 78% of students said that their confidence in their abilities has increased. • 73% of students agreed that their employability has increased. • 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. www.le.ac.uk/ssds/volunteering/
  2. 2. “Less Ivory Tower - more real world” Methodology 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.
  3. 3. Key Findings 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 of Leicester.’ ‘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.
  4. 4. Executive Summary 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 student’s CV? 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 Fig. 1 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! 4. Staff 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
  5. 5. “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. organisations feel 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. organisation. 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.
  6. 6. Executive Summary 7. Recommendations • 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 employable. ” 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, please contact: Community Liaison Team, Careers Service, College House, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH Tel: 0116 252 3890 Email: volunteering@le.ac.uk Researcher: Colin Hyde Acknowledgements: Korin Grant, Birgit Lewis, Megan Murray, Isla Brookes & Vanessa Harris