On 24th January 2024, Student Hubs will be holding a conference in Birmingham themed on the ‘Social Purpose University’. In designing the conference, we have considered how we can support institutions on various stages of the journey to social purpose, and our afternoon breakout strands are themed using the language of our new strategy, in kickstart; build; and embed.
Today we want to focus on what it means for us to be part of a university’s journey in ‘embedding’ activities which engage students and communities in meaningful place-based activities, sharing a case studies of our work with Kingston University.
In 2023, we wrapped up and celebrated our 9 year partnership with Kingston University. You can read more about our decision to end our partnership here. Ultimately our work at Kingston had come to a natural end in terms of the university embedding and adopting the approaches we had piloted over the course of our partnership, which is the very heart of our mission to mainstream student social action. Our partnership with Kingston is a brilliant example of how we aim to embed with our university partners, and we wanted to highlight key successes which were shared by our partner, Ali Orr, Head of Graduate Outcomes and Employability at Kingston University.
Embedding social action into in-curricular and extracurricular opportunities
Across our partnership at Kingston University, we have developed new ways for students and communities to get involved in social action. In our earlier years at Kingston this focused on structured volunteering and skilled placement opportunities, before transitioning into our community engaged learning work, reaching up to 600 students a year through in-curricular modules with real world briefs from local community organisations.
Ali Orr said: “Student Hubs’ partnership has added more meat to the bone and more substance to the work we do at Kingston. It has complemented what we do, which can be very dispersed. For example with the KEF and our evidence in putting it together, it’s been helpful for case study development of tangible examples of how we work at a civic level and across the region, through in-curricular and extracurricular engagement with students. There are relationships which have crossed with organisations we would have worked with anyway, but also in bringing in organisations we wouldn’t otherwise have reached through Student Hubs’ partnership.”
Adding capacity and knowledge to student engagement strategies
Supporting the learning and development of internal teams at universities as part of our mission to mainstream student social action is important to us, particularly in our new strategy. Embedding high quality practice in student engagement and seeing this work continue beyond our partnership is what we aim to achieve, and we certainly saw this at Kingston. Our scaffolded approach to our skilled placements, and how this supported Kingston’s internal staff to take this model forward in their placement activities, was noted by Ali as a highlight of our partnership.
He said: “Our partnership with Student Hubs has been important in terms of adding capacity and adding another dimension into our work at Kingston. Our Partnerships team has been able to prioritise on employers. Another element has been adding to the volunteering offer; we didn’t have the resource to develop this in-house, and so we didn’t need to pick this up within the internal team. The focus on skill development in what Student Hubs does has been evident in the Social Innovation Programme, in front-loading skill development: students go into those projects feeling more confident that they do have the skills and are able to better reflect on their skills, and that work has helped inform the direction we’re taking at the university with students.”
Providing unique opportunities for students and graduates
Finally, we hear often from our partners that it is our focus on peer-to-peer student opportunities, and how we foster and encourage student voice in the running and development of our activities, which makes our partnerships unique. In our 2022-23 Impact Report, 86% of students agreed that their Hub gave them access to opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had whilst at university. At Kingston, this included scaling and developing activities including mentoring, student-led mental health awareness campaigns, one-off opportunities supporting local soup kitchens, community centres, schools and more.
Ali Orr said: “With the local team [of Kingston Hub] we have opened up opportunities for students and graduates to join the team, and these roles have proven to be stepping stones for university roles too. We have struggled to create a talent development programme internally, so those Student Hubs roles we had each year have been invaluable and provided that training ground, and staff have joined other parts of the university as well. The student involvement in shaping and delivering the programmes, and the way that Student Hubs’ activities are shaped by student voice is really important to hold onto and how it runs through the partnership.”
What’s next for Student Hubs?
The needs of the sector have changed significantly over the past decade, and even more so in the past five years since the pandemic, Brexit, and various other contextual challenges, which has meant higher education institutions have had to adapt and prioritise in new ways. As a result, our ways of working in partnership have become much more flexible in order to meet the needs of the diverse university partners we want to reach through our work.
In setting out new partnerships, our focus for our Hubs is in creating 3-4 year partnerships with clear delivery outputs and outcomes, focused on strategic aims which at the end of the partnership can be reviewed, with decisions made about whether to wrap up our work, handover activities to internal university staff, or to continue with a new fixed term approach.
We want to embed deep change, and see universities take this work forward to do the important scaling and integration needed to make long-term impact with students and communities. What we can provide at Student Hubs is a way to start this embedded change, a clear evidence base of tried and tested activities to deliver this work with students and communities, and the cost effective staffing and resourcing it takes to make this work begin at an institution. How your institution takes this forward after our partnership ends is up to you – but we’re excited to see where this journey takes you, and continue to champion this however we can.
Helping you to embed social purpose activities
We are excited to showcase a range of case studies and approaches to kickstarting, building and embedding activities at our January 2024 conference, which will include Kingston University as breakout session speakers in sharing their practice. You can find out more and buy your tickets here.
We hope you are able to join us in Birmingham, and we look forward to seeing how you embed social purpose at your institution.
If you would like to find out more about our opportunities to support your institution with kickstart, build or embed projects and consultancy, please get in touch with our Partnership and Development Director, Fiona Walsh McDonnell, at email@example.com.