What are the benefits of student volunteering, beyond enhancing a CV or developing soft skills? Are there other talents developing or changes in behaviour less obvious and unintended when an undergraduate gives their time to a project or cause?
I’m presenting a piece of research at the Refugee and Migration Exhibition at De Montfort University that suggests that student volunteers are showing an increase in their political participation as a result as giving time to work with refugees and migrant communities. The Refugee and Migration Exhibition has been organised by the Arts, Design and Humanities Faculty and has been inspired by DMU’s close involvement with the Together Campaign, so look out for any exhibition-related tweets with the hashtag #JoinTogether. Lots of DMU researchers are giving talks on their specialisms too. As part of my talk I’ll discuss how political engagement amongst young people has been lower than other voting groups for several decades. In the United Kingdom, since 2010, the 18 – 24 age group has received considerable scrutiny in the wake a major political decisions and election outcomes. Historically the public good of higher education was considered to not only supply a well-educated workforce for the country but to create well-rounded and civically-engaged individuals that would benefit society. Since the UK Government’s introduction of full tuition fees in 2012, questions have been raised about the purpose of universities, with an increased focus on economic and employability outcomes for graduates. In light of falling political engagement amongst young people, the government’s Electoral Commission has encouraged UK universities to seek new ways to encourage more young people to vote. Volunteering, which is offered in some form by most UK universities, is recognised through various studies as a way of building social capital and creating civic engagement. This research presents a case study of whether a programme of focussed volunteering for university students can better enhance participants’ political awareness by exposing them to people directly affected by political policies, in this case refugees and migrant communities. This research seeks to identify whether participation with refugee and migrant communities can lead to increased political engagement, likelihood to vote or future activism. I present the outcome of a pilot study linked to my PhD which used mixed methods of qualitative and quantitative research involving a questionnaire and focus group of a small group of students who discussed the effects working with refugees on a recent trip to Berlin (pictured top), which I podcasted with their permission. You can hear the podcast here: