Aarhus University Seal

Can AU support students’ involvement in voluntary activities better?

Because volunteering benefits society and social life on campus, Aarhus University is considering introducing an initiative to provide support for volunteering. The inspiration for the idea comes the University of Edinburgh.

Although Aarhus’ term as Volunteering Capital is officially over, volunteering will still play a major role at Aarhus University. All the faculties’ boards of study and committees on education were thus recently invited to a seminar to discuss how AU can promote volunteering amongst students.

The presentation came from Scotland, where in 2011 the University of Edinburgh introduced the so-called Edinburgh Award. The award is part of a programme that uses involvement in volunteering to help students focus on skills they would like to improve and learn to reflect on their personal development.

“There is great pressure on students to finish their studies more quickly, and when a lot of them have a student job at the same time, students choose to cut out involvement in volunteering,” says the vice-dean for education at Arts, Niels Lehmann, who adds:

“But volunteering helps strengthen civil society, and also helps create a more vibrant campus. We will thus be looking at how to make involvement in volunteering even more attractive – and perhaps give students some kind of personal benefit that they can also translate to other contexts.”

Not a competitive sport

Both Niels Lehmann and the rest of AU’s Committee on Education, which organised the day, are aware of the contrast inherent in mixing volunteering and concepts such as ‘skills’ and ‘personal benefit’:

“It’s an obvious objection. Volunteering should ideally not be driven by a desire for personal gain. So we also need to think long and hard about whether to proceed with this. I think a good initiative could be put together, drawing on inspiration from Edinburgh, but it will be very important to do it in precisely the right way. A programme such as this must absolutely not end up being another arena in which students feel they have to compete and perform in order to enhance their CV.”

Pilot project may be the next step at AU

The vice-dean points out that students who have completed the Edinburgh programme describe how they started it just so as to enhance their CV, but ended up using it as a form of personal development. They have thus got better at describing their skills and continuously reflecting on their progress – qualities that have benefited them not only in their student and working lives but also as citizens. The programme has, at the same time, benefited the university’s clubs and associations.

“I think there was a good discussion at the seminar on both the opportunities and the pitfalls of the Edinburgh model. In the Committee on Education we’ll now be discussing whether we should trial a format to see how it might work in practice, and how students react to it,” Niels Lehmann concludes.

The Edinburgh Award in brief

  • There are many different versions of the programme aimed at various extracurricular activities (including actual paid student jobs).
  • Completion of the programme per se requires about ten hours a year (apart from the time spent on volunteering activities).
  • As part of the programme students give each other anonymous feedback on their reflections and objectives.
  • About 93% of the students who complete the Edinburgh Award would recommend it to a friend.  

 Link: Read more about the Edinburgh Award