Universities to be rewarded for volunteering activities and tackling social issues

New guidelines are provided to measure the university’s impact on the wider community

A new framework, launched on Wednesday, will provide higher education institutions with a guide to measure the involvement of the university and its students in civic and social engagement in the wider community.

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’ Connor said that the new guidelines are conducive to “rich opportunities for national and international engagement to enhance a strong bridge to enterprise and the wider community”.

The new initiative, which was first outlined in the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030, will provide third level institutions in Ireland with a comprehensive guide on ways to map, monitor and report on their engagement in volunteering, social, and civic work. Additionally, it will allow them to measure the impact of teaching and learning activities organized for the community.

The guide will also provide information on ways in which universities and Institutes of Technology will be able to raise awareness and create more opportunities for their students to volunteer and be part of the community both in Ireland and abroad.  The framework is designed to increase the number of volunteers from Ireland both nationally and internationally and to promote the involvement of third level students in tackling social issues.

Universities and other third level institutions will be encouraged to increase their existing number of students that are involved in research, teaching, and learning as well as volunteering and public engagement. Institutions which fail to meet the assigned targets may face withholding of funds in certain circumstances.

The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 has stated that students’ engagement in social and public activities in the wider community both in the Republic and abroad is a key role that the third level institutions have to provide. This initiative emphasises not only the importance of students’ involvement in the wider society but also the role that third level institutions play in creating, encouraging and promoting their student’s engagement in such activities.

Kate Morris, National Co-coordinator of the Campus Engage network, said that third level institutions in Ireland are “increasingly connecting with a broad range of communities and external partners” in order to address societal challenges. According to Norris, these collaborations will improve both research and student learning, and will “directly address issues of public interest”.

In 2014, the Presidents of Irish Universities and Institutes of Technology signed the Campus Engage Charter for Civic and Community Engagement. The charter outlinted ten points for higher education institutions to follow to develop their impact on their respective communities, including by opening campuses to local communities and partnering with other stakeholders to in pursuit of civic goals. The new guidelines will be delivered to third level institutions across the country in order to increase the number of students who engage in social and civic activities which seek to tackle social issues and problems.