Volunteer trend gathers pace

December 9, 2005

Academics are signing up for voluntary work in their droves as universities lead the way on corporate responsibility, according to a higher education management expert, writes Jessica Shepherd.

Sir David Watson, professor of higher education management at the Institute of Education, London, and former vice-chancellor of Brighton University, will publish a book on the growth in civic participation at UK universities next autumn. He said that growing numbers of academics were eager to devote their spare time to voluntary work. Universities' increasingly important and pivotal position as socially responsible organisations in local communities may be driving the trend.

This week's Higher Education Active Community Fund awards appear to prove the point with a record number of academics nominated for prizes on the strength of their voluntary work. Felicity Rose, a lecturer in tissue engineering at Nottingham University, was awarded the top prize for academics at the awards.

Sir David said: "There is evidence all around the world of renewed interest in the civic and social role of universities.

"The whole development of the corporate social responsibility movement has moved from the private to the public sector. Universities in the UK are very well placed to take the lead because they are so well connected to so many different organisations."

John Annette, professor of citizenship and lifelong learning at Birkbeck, University of London, believes Britain is about to copy the US and turn involvement in community life into a national movement.

He said: "Universities are about to experience a volunteering explosion.

One of the main aims of universities is to contribute to a democratic, civilised and inclusive society."

The widening participation agenda and deeper links with local authorities are thought to have contributed to the boom Some believe the opening of university science parks and arts venues to the public has helped.

Sir Martin Harris, head of access regulator the Office for Fair Access, said: "People seem to have understood now that a university can be nationally and internationally successful, but also prominent and helpful to the local community.

"Universities have understood that they benefit from and contribute to the success of their communities."

'New universities are leading the way'

Danny Saunders is a serial volunteer.

His good works include giving public lectures to pensioners, being a school governor and, in the past, helping out at a hostel for recovering alcoholics.

Professor Saunders, head of lifelong learning at Glamorgan University, has never resented giving up his evenings to worthy causes.

"Academics are in their nature altruistic. There's this belief that the knowledge they have should be of benefit to the whole of society," he said.

"I find something quite fitting about working at a university and then sharing the expertise with others. It's also great for developing long-term interests outside work."

Professor Saunders believes new universities are leading the way in voluntary work.

He said the widening participation agenda had drawn academics into the volunteering fold. He said: "In the newer universities there is a closer link to local authorities because there is more of a dependency on the local area."

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