Upside for universities if more students embrace volunteering

New initiative set to measure the impact of higher education on wider community

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor at the launch of a guide on measuring community engagement at third level. Photograph: Jason Clarke

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor at the launch of a guide on measuring community engagement at third level. Photograph: Jason Clarke

 

Universities whose students get involved in volunteering or efforts to tackle social issues stand to benefit under a system which measures the performance of third-level colleges.

Higher education institutions are being encouraged to boost their impact on the wider community through measures such as volunteering, accrediting students who work with civil society organisations and initiating research into social challenges.

A new guide has been produced for colleges to measure their impact on the wider community by the Irish Universities Association and the Campus Engage network, which promotes civic engagement at third level.

The results will feed into a performance framework for higher education, overseen by the Higher Education Authority.

This framework is used to hold institutions accountable for their performance in meeting key national priorities. In some circumstances, colleges may have funding withheld if they fail to meet these targets.

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’ Connor said institutions are being asked to “create rich opportunities for national and international engagement to enhance a strong bridge to enterprise and the wider community”.

The new guide provides advice on how to map, measure and report on a variety of engagement activities across research, teaching and learning, student and staff volunteering and public engagement.

The State’s seven universities and DIT are already involved in the Campus Engage network.

Kate Morris, the network’s national co-ordinator, said universities and institutes of technology were increasingly connecting working with communities to address societal challenges.

“These collaborations enhance research and student learning and directly address issues of public interest,” she said.

Boosting the impact of colleges on the wider community was first cited in the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030.

This endorses the civic mission of higher education and states that engaging with wider society is a key role for higher education.

In response, presidents of the Irish universities and institutes of technology have pledged to commit their institutions to the enhancement and co-ordination of engaged research, teaching and learning, public engagement and student volunteering.