Student Hubs has recently branched out with its Engage for Change programme, running a six week pilot (across a 12 week delivery period) in collaboration with the Open University in Wales. This marks the first time Engage for Change has run outside of the University of Cambridge, and is part of Student Hubs’ new strategy which involves doing more project-based and discrete work with university partners alongside our traditional Hub model.
Our programme delivery with the Open University in Wales
The pilot took place as part of a Welsh Government funded ‘Net-Zero and Digital Transformation’ programme undertaken at the Open University in Wales throughout summer 2022. Engage for Change is part of our skilled placement offer which seeks to involve student action in university sustainability strategy, whilst providing students with a deeper understanding of the climate and ecological emergency and upskilling their knowledge and skills in climate leadership through weekly training sessions. The programme provides the opportunity to design and complete projects which support the university to reach its net zero and sustainability objectives, and make a direct impact on the student and university community.
Six students completed this small pilot programme, showcasing their projects to Student Hubs and Open University staff at a Showcase Event in early August.
The student projects covered different areas of sustainability policy, and the presentations were met with real excitement at the potential for student involvement and leadership in driving the environmental agenda at the university:
- One student is seeking to complete a mapping activity of collaborative projects between the Open University and rural communities, hoping to build open dialogue and shared expertise in pursuit of a regenerative future for rural and agricultural communities
- Another student identified a lack of Welsh language resources for student mental-health support, and is seeking to engage a community organisation to develop Welsh language Climate Anxiety support, in collaboration with the Open University in Wales.
- A third student is investigating how the university disposes of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), and attempting to reduce waste while providing a direct benefit to students, addressing the access-barrier of high electronic equipment costs for students.
- Another student wants to encourage the Open University to pursue a ‘carbon negative’ Wales, painting a vivid picture of Wales as a world leader in renewable energy, and seeking to mobilise the university’s voice as a leader in the Higher Education sector to encourage industry, funding and community partners to actively pursue this vision.
- Finally, two students are working together to galvanise a ‘Students’ Assembly’ on the Climate and Ecological Emergency, creating a legitimate democratic mandate to drive university environmental policy in the future. This ambitious project has the potential to have a world leading impact from a student leadership perspective.
Equally, feedback from student participants suggests a significant, deep impact on their individual development in terms of gaining understanding of the climate and ecological emergency and what they can do to have an impact, developing skills and confidence, engagement with their university and their course of study, wellbeing, team-working and gaining a peer support network.
Quantitative data which demonstrates this from our end of programme feedback includes:
- 67% of students strongly agreed or agree that as a result of their participation in this activity, they increased their engagement with their university course
- 100% of students strongly agreed or agree that as a result of their participation in this activity, they increased their engagement with their university as a whole
- 100% of students strongly agreed or agree that as a result of their participation in this activity, they enhanced their university experience
- 100% of students of students strongly agreed or agreed that participating in this activity has enhanced their wellbeing
- 100% of students strongly agreed or agreed they met others like them in this activity, and that this activity introduced them to people they otherwise wouldn’t have met
- 100% of students strongly agreed or agreed they are more likely to tackle further social challenges a a result of their engagement with this activity
- 100% of students are interested in remaining involved in sustainability/environmental initiatives at the Open University next term/year
We also received qualitative feedback from student participants which further demonstrates this breadth and depth of impact.
On the programme itself:
“I received fantastic training and support, from group and one-to-one sessions to material that I could research at my own pace.”
“During the Engage for Change programme I broadened my knowledge of Climate and Sustainability issues, whilst also developing the skills necessary for project management. I achieved a greater confidence in speaking publicly and engaging with others on a subject that I had little confidence in.”
On engagement with academic course and graduate outcomes:
“It’s renewed my enthusiasm towards my course”
“I think it’s actually helped me gain the employment I’ve got recently.”
On making sustainable change:
“I feel more ready to make an impact on the environment and make it a better world because I think some things need to change to make it better for people.”
“It’s… given us a sense of community. It’s something that we’ve all come together and done”
Thank you and next steps
We thank the Open University, the Welsh government and the fantastic students at the Open University for enabling us to deliver this fantastic programme over the summer and make real impact in the net zero and sustainability sector. As shared above, 100% of students involved as participants agreed they wanted to remain engaged with environmental initiatives at the Open University, and the Sustainability team will continue to meet our student cohort and support the development of their projects from this activity.
If you’d like to learn more about our experience of running the Engage for Change programme at the Open University in Wales, or more about our new strategy delivering project work with universities, please get in touch with Partnerships and Development Director, Fiona Walsh at email@example.com. You may also want to read about one of our other flagship sustainability programmes, Climate Action Bristol, delivered with the Sustainability team at the University of Bristol.