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Enhancing the Student Civic Experience: A Roadmap to Empower Students

Universities across the UK should embed a ‘truly civic’ approach that equips all students as lifelong active citizens through formal learning, campus activities, and community engagement, according to a new report jointly produced by the Civic University Network and the UPP Foundation.

The report released today (Monday 17 June), Enhancing the Student Civic Experience, argues that universities have a fundamental responsibility to promote robust civic and democratic education regardless of a student’s field of study.

Based on input from two national workshops involving representatives from across higher education and leading civil society and student organisations, the report outlines four key recommendations:

  • Supporting Democratic Participation through practices like compulsory voter registration, on-campus polling, and legislative ‘surgeries’.
  • Acknowledging the student civic experience in metrics like the Teaching Excellence Framework and National Student Survey.
  • Refreshing Civic University Agreements to formally recognise the importance and value of the student civic experience to ‘truly civic’ universities.
  • Creating a ‘What Works’ civic learning resource hub and funding further research.

The report also recommends universities and Students’ Unions should undertake an annual ‘Student Civic Health Check’ to assess levels of civic engagement and participation in systems of representation, student elections, and local democratic and volunteering networks.

Richard Brabner, Executive Chair of the UPP Foundation said: “Student participation in their local communities through volunteering, extra-curricular activities and work experience as part of their degree is incredibly valuable. It helps town-gown relations and supports student employability. This report offers a plan for what an effective student civic service programme could look like and we call on the next government and higher education sector to embrace its findings.”

Professor Chris Wiggington is Pro Vice-Chancellor for Global and Academic Partnerships at Sheffield Hallam University which leads the Civic University Network. He said: “Our degrees and apprenticeships must enable students to develop true civic identities. This means providing sustained opportunities for civic learning, participation in governance, and connections to local communities.  Higher education holds incredible potential to support students to become engaged and active citizens. There is a need to promote universities as civic and democratic communities of participation to prepare them for a lifelong commitment as active citizens.”

Andy Mycock, Chief Policy Fellow, Yorkshire and Humber Policy Engagement and Research Network (Y-PERN), University of Leeds and report author said: “With the general election approaching, how the higher education sector supports students to learn about and participate in civic life is more important than ever. This report is a wake-up call to all who work in and fund our universities to ensure they are ’truly civic’. It provides a clear and achievable framework for enhancing the civic experience for each and every student both during their time at university and beyond.”

Sophie Duncan and Paul Manners, Co-Directors, NCCPE said: “We warmly welcome this report. The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement always been interested in how to maximise the potential of student involvement in universities’ public, community and civic engagement. The report lays out a clear set of recommendations and challenges – and we are committed to working with the sector to tackle these, in particular to help build a stronger community of people committed to this agenda and to developing the evidence base about what works, including how civic engagement can animate student learning.”

The report was developed by the Civic University Network through funding from the UPP Foundation.

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