Professor Margaret House, Vice Chancellor, Leeds Trinity University, writes for GuildHE about Active Citizenship.

Throughout my career, I’ve been struck time and again by the wealth of opportunities which students choose to take up alongside their degrees.

Many people enter higher education expecting to audition for a play, or join a sports team, but when they arrive, the choices open to students are far richer and more diverse. The best of these help our students grow into active citizens, sharing in the life of the local and global communities we live in. I believe such varied experiences are an integral part of what a university must offer in the twenty-first century. If we want to teach students to engage with the world critically, we must expose them to different perspectives.

It is for this reason that I am thrilled to be speaking at the joint GuildHE/NUS conference “More than Just a Degree? Active Citizenship in HE”. The conference aims to encourage Higher Education Institutions and Students’ Unions to explore new ways to work together to develop students as active citizens. Through workshops and panel discussions, the one-day conference will explore six dimensions of active citizenship; volunteering, democratic engagement, environmental sustainability, community engagement, global citizenship and reflection and development.

Here are two examples of the sorts of projects we hope the conference will inspire:

In 2013, Leeds Trinity became the first university to partner with Cricket Without Boundaries, a charity which uses Cricket coaching as a means of reaching young people in Africa, in order to raise awareness of HIV and Aids. CWB operates in nine countries, and by integrating the programme within the framework of professional placements completed by all our students, over a dozen Leeds Trinity students have been able to complete placements, supporting more than 8,000 children, and training more than 150 coaches. This year, a group of students will travel to Rwanda with CWB to continue this important and inspiring work in Africa.

We have also been able to set up links closer to home, with St Vincent’s Support Centre in Leeds, the local branch of the St Vincent de Paul Society, which supports people living in poverty. At the core of this is a graduate internship. Through this a Leeds Trinity graduate has worked with St Vincent’s Support Centre on a range of fundraising, marketing and other activities, gaining valuable experience in the charitable sector. The wider community also benefits from the collaboration – Leeds Trinity lecturers are providing support to volunteers teaching English classes, and an ever-growing number of students are volunteering with St Vincent’s Support Centre.

Experiences such as these stay with our students, giving them different lenses through which to see the world, as well as new skills and knowledge, ultimately improving all-important graduate prospects. In the words of one of our Final-year Secondary Physical Education and Sports Coaching Students: “Volunteering in Rwanda was easily the best thing I have done in my life so far!”

“More Than Just A Degree? Active Citizenship in HE” will be held at Woburn House, Tavistock Square, London, on 13 March 2017. To find out more visit the GuildHE website. I hope to see you there.

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