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Student volunteering week: making overseas volunteering programmes work

23 February 2018

​This week is student volunteering week, celebrating the contributions that students make to the communities and the world around them. This year’s volunteering week has not only recognised the crucial benefits that student volunteering brings to civic life, but also the benefits it has in terms of student well-being and employability. ​

International volunteering opportunities can have especially life changing advantages: UUKi research shows that graduates who have been outwardly mobile during their degree are likely to earn more and be at less risk of unemployment. Students who have travelled often describe their experiences as mind-opening, horizon-broadening and transformative. 

Volunteering outward mobility opportunities offer an experience that is unique from other study or work abroad opportunities. Volunteering abroad can provide vital work experience in areas such as international development, where paid work opportunities are scarce but international experience is vital. Volunteering programmes are often short term which can help overcome many common barriers, such as the worries about cost and home sickness which are often associated with longer-term outward mobility.   

Despite these benefits, only 2.6% of students who experience outward mobility do so as part of a volunteering programme: the majority study abroad, with 30% working abroad. Often this is because there are fewer opportunities to volunteer overseas through institutions.   ​

One institution that does offer a number of successful volunteer abroad opportunities is Cardiff University: 25% of their outwardly mobile students take part in one of their volunteering overseas programmes. To celebrate student volunteering week, we caught up with Chris Gale, International Summer Programmes Manager at Cardiff, to tell us a bit about what Cardiff offer, some good organisations to work with and the challenges that Cardiff have overcome.

What kinds of schemes are on offer at Cardiff?

At Cardiff we offer a range of volunteering projects, mostly on a group basis. Projects usually cover activities such as teaching English, environmental research, environmental conservation, community development (including activities such as building school playgrounds) agriculture and working in an eco-village to promote sustainable living.

Our students travel to locations including Fiji, Cambodia, India, Japan, Vietnam, Ecuador, Uganda, Nepal and Tanzania.

Typically programmes run for four weeks, during the summer holidays. There are variations – the overall range tends to be three to six weeks.

Are there any national schemes or providers that you have found particularly good to work with?

Notable successful projects are with Think Pacific Fiji, a teaching and sports development project, SLV Global, who offer psychology placements in Sri Lanka, and Operation Wallacea who arrange environmental research placements worldwide. We also work with local-based charities and their global networks for other projects.

How do you promote opportunities to your students?

We have a dedicated International Summer Programme team who promote activities in a wide range of ways including social media, presentations and lecture shout outs, internet and intranet, newsletters, an ambassador scheme, hard copy materials, photos and videos from previous participants, fairs, face to face drop in sessions... the list goes on!

What sorts of funding do you offer to students?

Bursaries for our summer programmes are available for any undergraduate student who meets a few criteria. These aren’t means tested, but the student must be taking part in a programme which is three weeks or longer. The bursaries range from £500 - £1,000, depending on the project.

There is additional support for students from lower income background, and for disabled students. We also provide tips and advice on fundraising.

What have been your biggest challenges and successes?

Challenges have included starting the initiatives from scratch and building in comprehensive risk management processes - we vet all projects to ensure they are ethical and sustainable. 

Getting the word out there to students took time, but has now become a success, with many students learning about our programmes through word of mouth from fellow students.​

Identifying suitable, ethical and sustainable projects also carries its own challenges.

One of the major successes is the Think Pacific Fiji project, which has grown in numbers from 24 in its first year, to an anticipated 100+ this summer, which is the fourth year of the project running with us.

Key Contacts

Jo Hindle

Jo Hindle

Head of Media
Universities UK

Luke Lambert

Luke Lambert

Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK

Clara Plackett

Clara Plackett

Senior Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK


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