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#IWill – Promoting youth social action

27 November 2015
Nicola Dandridge

Nicola Dandridge

Former Chief Executive
Universities UK
Universities UK and the National Union of Students are celebrating the 2nd anniversary of  #iwill week, the campaign for youth social action, and are calling on universities to join us. In 2014, Universities UK, in partnership with the National Union of Students, agreed to support this growing movement that aims to make involvement in social action part of life for more 10-20 year-olds around the UK.

Youth social action is defined as ‘young people taking practical action in the service of others to create positive change’ and includes activities such as campaigning, fundraising and volunteering. Working with business, education and voluntary sector partners, the campaign aims to ensure that all young people can access social action opportunities, whatever their background. The #iwill goal is to raise by 50% the number of 10-20 year-olds taking part in social action by 2020, which will mean an additional 1.5 million young people being active in their communities.



Within higher education, social action takes a variety of forms, from students helping out in soup kitchens, or supporting residents in local campaigns, or providing sports coaching to children in the community. Students’ unions and Student Hubs also provide numerous opportunities for students such as leading a club or society, becoming a course representative or standing in a students’ union election.

Volunteering is of course nothing new to either students or staff in universities. If you look back to the origins of higher education, many universities were created by citizens, communities and their societies with a view to contributing to social and economic transformation. This civic role remains just as relevant today: over 730,000 students – 31% of the higher education student population – currently volunteer in their local community and put something back to the area where they live and study.

To ensure that as many students as possible could participate in this social action, in 2014, UUK and the NUS made a joint pledge to explore how levels of social action and volunteering could be increased for young and older learners. This resulted in joint guidance published​​ in summer 2015 which looked at how to address barriers to volunteering such as time constraints, money, pressures of study, aspiration, family commitments and paid work commitments.

The iwill Campaign developed a set of 6 principles which define effective social action. The UUK and NUS guidance then considered how these should be adapted to universities to form a toolkit or Higher Education Social Action Framework. The NUS is currently rolling out training sessions on the framework for all their sabbatical staff.

Why is this important? There is no doubt that student volunteering plays a considerable role in creating opportunities for students to tackle societal concerns and work with local communities to develop life skills, and at the same time, enhancing their student experience and their employability skills.

But there is still much more to do. Research published on 24 November by Ipsos MORI makes explicit the extent to which inequalities remain in participation in social action, and these includes regional disparities. Children from less affluent families, ethnic minority groups, unemployed young people, and boys were all less likely to take part than others. It is precisely these sorts of issues that the UUK and NUS Guidance seeks to address.

In terms of next steps, UUK will hold a round table discussion with university leaders and students’ unions in February 2016 during Student Volunteering Week to explore how we can support our members in scaling up activities.

By working in partnership with students’ unions, universities can contribute to delivery of the #iwill goals by helping to increase participation of all young people to over 60% by 2020 and to break through the 30% participation barrier for all students within universities.


If you would like to support the #iwill campaign, please contact Universities UK or the campaigndirectly. Universities themselves can make their own pledges, and a good example is the one just pledged by the University of Manchester. They have used the #iwIll pledge to make clear the ways they are supporting youth social action through working in partnership with external organisations to embed a culture of volunteering among their students.

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