Why does involving students matter?
Students offer a huge potential resource of time, talent and enthusiasm to deliver quality engagement between universities and the public, in particular through their voluntary contributions to their communities. They also bring an intelligence and sensibility to thinking about the purpose and value of engagement, which can be unlocked by actively involving students in developing your public engagement strategy and in its delivery.
"Universities increasingly have a responsibility to deliver not just a great educational opportunity ... but need to be working with their student bodies and local communities to ensure that they engage in a positive way. Our students are increasingly expecting us to support them to develop their careers, but also to develop their social interaction." Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor, University of the West of England
Through a whole host of routes, such as student volunteering and community-based learning, students can experience public engagement as an integral part of their university experience: in the process developing their own skills and confidence, and making a significant contribution to the institution’s wider engagement efforts.
"Volunteering provides a great way of helping students engage with the local community. I have made friends with people from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds.... [and] got to know the city I live in. Volunteering has enriched my student experience and provided me with a better insight into the world." Claire Sedgwick, MRes English Literature, Northumbria University
Whilst sometimes institutions conceive of their engagement work in different silos – research, teaching and learning, student volunteering, business engagement etc – to truly be an engaged institution you need to consider how these activities interrelate, and how working together can enhance impact, efficiency and value.
The experiences of the vinspired students project and the beacons for public engagement have helped focus attention on how best to involve students, and to develop appropriate support
Build a shared sense of purpose
It is important to build a shared understanding of the meaning, value and role of student engagement. Involving key stakeholders – students, staff and community partners – will help to explore and then articulate the purposes and benefits that student engagement serves.
Provide an efficient and 'joined up' support infrastructure
NCCPE research has shown that support for student engagement is often piecemeal and fragmented across institutions, with little secure funding. A review of current provision can consider how best to ensure that it is ‘joined up’ and delivers maximum value for the investment being made.
Encourage leadership and advocacy
A senior champion for student engagement, who can communicate clear and consistent messages of its value and take responsibility, is critical to ensure effective support and development of the service. The role of student leaders should be considered, and support provided for an active network of ambassadors across the institution.
Recognise learning and celebrate achievement
A key way that institutions can demonstrate their commitment to student engagement is through celebrating and formally recognising students’ engagement activity. Our research shows that students have a more positive experience of engagement if they are supported by their universities through providing opportunities for reflection, and a range of ways that learning through engagement can be captured formally and informally.
Communicate a clear and effective offer
Students will be more likely to get involved if there is a clearly articulated ‘offer’ that articulates why engagement is valued as part of their experience at university, and how they can expect to access opportunities to engage with the public. A similar offer to community partners should clarify how they can expect to work with the institution and student body.
Download our students EDGE tool to help you work through this area, or explore related resources on this page.