Thursday 21-07-2016 - 14:39
We all know that clubs and societies provide value to students, but how does your union measure the true impact of these student opportunities? For this edition of ‘Show and Tell’, George Creasy notes the key trends emerging from his campus in Warwick and ponders whether these can be seen nationally.
1. Volume of Activity
We are seeing our 260 societies and our 66 sports clubs doing more and more activity every single year. They're organising balls, trips and tours and putting on their own conferences, they're competing in BUCS and Varsity, and engagement is exploding.
At Warwick, 50 per cent of all students are a member of a club or society, and when considering only undergraduates, that numbers shoots up to 83 per cent.
This year we saw more new society applications than ever before, which is tricky for the societies exec to handle because of the capacity issues we have with staffing.
I certainly don't see this slowing down either, students are always finding a niche which isn't currently provided in a society, and using their entrepreneurial skills to get it off the ground.
2. Student Retention
We are seeing our clubs and societies having a huge impact on student retention at the university. I've encountered so many students who wouldn't be here if they didn't want to let down their club, or move away from the people they've met in their society.
One student even went as far as to say he did a degree in football with a bit of history on the side. We haven't managed to get under the skin of the data in this area, but anecdotally at least, if our SU didn't have so many active clubs and societies, drop out rates from Warwick would be much higher.
We have also noticed that it is the clubs, the performance societies, and generally the groups which build a team or community ethos which students identify more strongly with.
3. Lack of SU Resource
Our students are becoming more and more employability focussed, and with fees at an all-time high, any time not spent on your studies needs to be adding value to your CV, this has led to a rise in a number of individuals taking on numerous exec roles and projects.
Wednesday afternoons are a prime example of this. It used to be a time to relax with your friends, now it's for organising events, competing in BUCS, or volunteering generally.
This has led to a much higher demand on staff in our students' union, and with over 320 student groups and around 2,000 executive committee members, our student activities coordinators can only do so much.
We are well and truly at capacity in our SU, as I'm sure SUs around the country are, and it's starting to have a negative effect on some committee members' mental health and wellbeing, as evidenced by the increase in cases that we're forwarding from our department on to our advice centre.
I think that there is more work to be done in terms of training for students wanting to run for exec positions, and making them aware that one position is probably enough, especially if they're going to be a finalist.
4. A Lack of Collaboration
Last year our clubs and societies organised 43 balls, 125 trips and tours (68 of which went abroad) and 18 conferences, with budgets accumulating £1.1 million.
We have been urging our groups to collaborate, with the hope that together, they can put on higher quality, larger scale events for members. However, instead we're seeing execs wanting to take ownership of their event, so that they can put it on their CV and talk about the role they played in interviews.
We've put on networking events and made many suggestions, but Chemistry, Maths and Physics continue to put on separate balls every year.
As an organisation based on collectivism and students working together, this is of course a worrying trend and given the capacity concerns we have in the department, we may get to a point where we can only support a certain number of events, which would force them to collaborate.
Not only are our student groups doing more activity, but what they're doing is becoming more and more complex for us, as an SU, to help them with.
They're inviting controversial external speakers onto campus, creating apps, doing more around big data and even using crowdfunding to fund their activity.
They come to us with these ambitious ideas, and we're expected to facilitate them whilst also supporting all of the regular day to day activity. It adds a whole new dimension to the service we offer as an SU because we're acting as a travel agency, consultants and sometime legal advisors.
With the launch of NUS' 'Prove Me Wrong' initiative, it would be interesting to see if other students' unions are experiencing similar trends, and if so how we can respond as a movement to ensure that the heartbeat of our campuses keep maximising their potential and continue to have a positive effect on society at large.
George Creasy is Warwick Students’ Union’s Societies Officer. For more information about student opportunities at Warwick, visit www.warwicksu.com.