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The importance of student volunteers

Designing a game for children with a life-shortening illness. Organising a mini comic convention. Holding a disco night. Trekking to Mount Kilimanjaro. Designing a fundraising campaign. These are just some of the initiatives students from Scotland's universities and colleges are undertaking on behalf of CHAS. As we celebrate Student Volunteering Week, I'm impressed by the effort and talent offered by student volunteers in supporting CHAS with these exciting, innovative and fun projects.

I'm Will McLean, Voluntary Services Manager at CHAS. I've recently completed a BA in Volunteer Management as a mature student. I found the course and being a student uplifting, motivating, exciting and challenging. The learning experience was meaningful and I was able to use my existing skills and knowledge in my studies while finding out more about my chosen profession and myself. This student experience should also translate when students volunteer for a charity. Students should find their experience meaningful and worthwhile and be able to use their skills while benefiting their chosen charity.

This isn't always the case. The recent "Time Well Spent" national volunteering survey published last month by NCVO revealed that only 38% of students used their existing skills when volunteering. In comparison 58% of retirees were volunteering with a charity and using their skills as part of their role. There is clearly a responsibility for our sector to look at skills and abilities rather than age and experience.

We know there are significant benefits related to students volunteering. Edinburgh Napier University encourages volunteering because of the value employers place on volunteering, the positive learning and development outcomes for students and the benefits to the university itself. Napier recognises that volunteering can reduce instances of drop-out, a very real problem within Scottish universities; some of which cite more than 10% of students withdrawing from courses.

The benefits of volunteering offer students stability, enabling them to continue in their studies. Encouraging volunteering would seem to be an obvious initiative for our further education establishments to invest in, but research by the NUS found that universities need to invest in student volunteering. Almost half of student volunteers who engaged in formal volunteering with a charity did so without support from their institution. Compare this to The Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology in Thailand where each of their 10,000 new annual undergraduates complete the compulsory "Civic Engagement" module. This course is described as the "Instillation of social conscience and awareness of one's role and duties as a good global citizen." The course communicates this social conscience through lectures, case studies and other recognisable learning methods but also empowers students to take direct action by organising their own campaign or by getting involved in activities to bring about change and community benefit in an area they are passionate about. Wouldn't it be amazing to see Scottish universities and colleges working with charities to offer something similar and allowing students to use their skills to take direct social action on the causes they care most about?

Here at CHAS, we are working closely with students in colleges and universities across Scotland. They bring a new approach to volunteering and skill-sharing. We are learning from them as much as they are gaining crucial life and work experience from us. With flexible volunteering opportunities, varied skilled roles on offer and a culture that promotes personal improvement for those who join the organisation at all levels, we are hoping to encourage even more students that volunteering with CHAS is a valuable use of their skills and time.

If you want to talk to someone about your own situation or find out more about our services, please get in touch: