Student Volunteering Week: How are students engaging in social action?

Last week was Student Volunteering Week, and we were delighted to visit the House of Commons for an event celebrating the positive contribution that so many students make in communities across the UK.

Hosted by Julian Huppert, Member of Parliament for Cambridge, the event brought together a number of organisations that work to ensure that young people are given the opportunity to get involved with volunteering.

To kick off Student Volunteering Week, NUS released the findings of research carried out in partnership with the Association of Colleges, which discovered that 57% of students already volunteer in some way. By way of contrast, only 8% of respondents said that they had never volunteered.

Of those students not currently involved in volunteering, 59% said that they would volunteer, with an additional 34% stating that they might be interested in giving their time in the future. Just 7% of those not currently volunteering had no interest in doing so in the future.

Additionally, volunteering students are keen to do even more, with only a miniscule 4% of those currently involved in volunteering said that they would not consider doing any more. That means the overwhelming majority of student volunteers are enjoying their experience, and keen to get even more involved.

Amongst volunteers, most (69%) got their first experience of participation whilst in secondary school, and the importance of engaging with young audiences to develop experience and enthusiasm for social action is something that was regularly reiterated over the course of the Growing Giving Parliamentary Inquiry. Indeed, 49% of volunteers reported that they found out about volunteering opportunities through their place of study, which emphasises the importance of education bodies in raising awareness of giving, whilst making sure that young people have the knowledge and encouragement to participate.

Motivations for getting involved with volunteering show the importance of making sure that young people who do give their time find a way of benefitting from their experience. Two of the most important motivations for encouraging volunteering are ‘gaining work experience’ and ‘developing skills.’ In fact, one of the most important principles of social action is the concept of a ‘dual-benefit’ – meaning that both society and participant get something back from the activity - and the responses from students explaining the most effective ways of encouraging them to volunteer reflect the importance attributed to that.

Of course it’s important for young people to have their social action experience recognised when applying for jobs, and there is a greater need for employers to take account of the skills that are derived from giving and volunteering.

But participation in this way can make young people stand out when applying for university too, particularly relevant given that many are beginning to volunteer well before they begin the application process. Following a recommendation from the Growing Giving Parliamentary Inquiry, we’re working closely with UCAS to make sure that those applying for university are given information about how they can demonstrate the skills they’ve gained as a result of their volunteering.

In the meantime, our congratulations go to Conor McGlacken from Bristol who was named Student Volunteer of the Year. Read his story here – get involved in social action and next year it could be you!

Steve Clapperton

Posted 2 March 2015