The Locality Annual Convention brought together over 600 people who are working across communities to drive positive social change. With students often being considered a transient population in the communities where they attend university, it was great to discuss how local organisations can engage students in their work. Take a city like Oxford, where two of our Hubs operate – the total population of the city is 150,000, with almost 40,000 students from the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes. 40,000 is a lot of potential volunteers, campaigners, fundraisers and advocates to tackle the city’s social and environmental issues – but how do local organisations tap into this potential?
Community organisations find lots of barriers in trying to engage students. The first one is the difficulty to establish contact with the universities themselves. The infrastructure to support student social action across UK universities is very diverse, as examined in the Bursting the Bubble study and Student Hubs Policy and History report. This means that community organisations need to understand how to best approach an institution on a case-by-case basis. The NCCPE has some useful resources that outline some top tips for success, but the overall answer to how to establish a partnership with a university is that it’s not easy.
When community organisations find it difficult to connect with the university, it is still worth trying to reach out to students individually – the Bursting the Bubble report shows that 29% of students volunteer simply because somebody asked them. An effective communications strategy can enable local organisations to reach out to the student population – after all, 95% of students are motivated by making a difference, they just need some encouragement to get started.
When not-for-profit organisations go the extra mile to engage with students, they are also investing in their future, as well as the future of the sector. Today’s students and the leaders, consumers and volunteers of tomorrow, and the issues they engage with today will shape their attitudes and values in the future.
At Student Hubs, we believe that when students get involved in their communities, they develop key insights about themselves, about other people and issues of social justice. It’s the combination of these insights that gives people the agency they need to understand that they can make a difference in the world around them and challenge the status quo. It’s hard to live in a city like Cambridge without taking note of the number of homeless people in the streets, or study any science degree without appreciating that we need to act fast to address global warming. Many not-for-profit organisations are addressing these challenges today, and students can provide them with additional support to achieve their objectives.