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Extracurricular investment will pay off

Extracurricular investment will pay off


Extracurricular activities occupy an important place in student life. Some, like the Hide and SeekSociety at the University of Exeters and the London School of Economics Hummus Society, are just a bit of fun. Some, controversially, serve to strengthen elite networks, such as the famous Bullingdon dining club at Oxford University, in which former British prime ministers David Cameron and Boris Johnson participated.

Others, like the Footlights drama society at Cambridge University and the University of Manchester. Mancunion student newspaper, have inspired remarkable careers. Nobel laureate and former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz credits the Amherst College debate society for helping him learn about public policy.

Indeed, extracurricular activities are becoming an increasingly important way for students to learn professional skills such as teamwork, communication and leadership, and to stand out from their peers in an environment of inflation academic grades. Hackathons, for example, are a great example of learning by doing for entrepreneurial skills, which are highly valued by employers. For universities, extracurricular activities offered by university departments and student associations therefore constitute an increasingly important component of the student offer.

Such activities also provide an opportunity to network with those from other courses, while course-related co-curricular or extracurricular activities can help students apply knowledge learned in the classroom without the constraints of assessment. Creative spaces and living labs are a great way for students to experiment again as a group, without the pressure of assessment, allowing them to take more risks and express their creativity. And giving students greater access to equipment and technology that they might not have access to during their undergraduate coursework can strengthen the technical skills that are of great importance to employers of STEM graduates. It can be relatively simple to retrofit machine tool spaces in engineering departments to accommodate 3D printers and electronic equipment, and they can be used quite flexibly to host demo days, poster sessions or other events.

A new report reveals that almost half of postgraduate students do not feel a sense of belonging within their student community. Meanwhile, current undergraduate students have completed much of their high school education online. This reinforces the need to promote in-person activities that give them a sense of belonging and alleviate loneliness: in particular first year males, among which suicide rates are the highest. With the academic transition from school to university being a major triggering factor, along with social isolation and increased alcohol consumption, involving these most vulnerable students in extra-curricular activities could bring positive benefits, especially in the context of growing debates on the subject. universities' duty of care towards students. A series of recent academic research suggests that students who participate in extracurricular activities demonstrate greater perseverance in pursuing goals, which is strongly associated with emotional well-being and academic achievement.

However, it is necessary to guarantee the inclusion of all. Several studies have shown that older and ethnic minority students generally spend less time on academic extracurricular activities, being more likely to pursue family, religious, and solitary activities.

Students from a lower socio-economic status, for their part, spend more time working, and Sutton Trust found an increase in their number living at home, from 41 percent in 2019 to 64 percent in 2021, a situation exacerbated by Covid. These students are much less likely to fully integrate into college life, the report found.

One solution could be to offer more personal assistance in accessing extracurricular activities through students' academic advisors. We could also do more bite-sized online activities: short courses that often lead to certificates on a variety of interesting topics not covered in the curriculum, which could be a first step toward a new hobby or a new center of interest.

From my own experience in organizing extracurricular activities, there is a lot of interest from foreign students, who see it as an opportunity to get better value for money. Faced with pressure to recruit international students to fill funding gaps, universities should therefore place greater emphasis in their marketing materials on the extra-curricular activities they offer and the ways in which they can supplement undergraduate studies. their students.

Cultivating this sense of belonging also brings material benefit to universities long after tuition has been paid. A recent study found that participation in extracurricular activities was much more strongly associated with alumni giving than with the degrees they earned. The more a graduate was involved in these activities while in college, the more likely they were to donate. About 10 percent of people involved in one or two activities subsequently donated, with this figure rising to 22 percent among those who participated in three or more activities.

In short, any investment in extracurricular activities by universities is likely to be repaid many times over.

Robert Phillips is a Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester.




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