Understanding the value of extra-curricular activities in creating graduates with impact in education

Grant type: Themed Funding: Graduates with Impact
Round: Graduates with Impact
Amount awarded £14,426.00
Completed: December 2011
Leader(s): Mrs Jacqueline Stevenson
Organisation: Leeds Metropolitan University
Contact Email: j.stevenson@leedsmet.ac.uk
Contact phone: 0113 8123798
Michelle Fraser
Regional University Network
Start Date: 3 January 2011
End Date: 31 December 2011
Interim report received: 24 August 2011
Final report received: 21 December 2011

This project is a collaboration between Leeds Metropolitan University and four Further Education Colleges across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The overall research aim is to enhance conceptual and theoretical understandings of the diversity and value of extra-curricula activities (ECA) to education students, staff and employers (see below) and to the wider society; and to understand how ECA might be integrated into the education curriculum, developed to enhance employability and, in so doing, to create graduates with impact.

There is manifest evidence that participation in sporting, cultural, arts and volunteering activity (amongst others) is highly beneficial across the life course, not only in terms of health and well-being (Van Willigen, 2000) but also of societal social capital and citizenship (Puttnam, 2000) and community economic regeneration (Chapman and Kirk, 2001). However, research indicates (Clegg, Stevenson and Willott, 2009) that there is a significant decline in participation in this type of activity once students enter higher education, with those who continue to participate often middle-class, better-off students (ibid). Despite this, there is only limited policy level recognition that participation in ECA contributes to graduate outcomes (employability, personal and professional development), and only some, limited, research that suggests that ‘involvement in extra-curricular activities was related to successful employment outcomes (especially for women)’ (Blasko, 2002). Our recent research for the Higher Education Academy (Clegg, Stevenson and Willott, 2009, 2010; Stevenson and Clegg, 2010) exploring the contribution of ECA to generic graduate outcomes revealed a complex, messy story wherein the valuing of student ECA is influenced both positively and negatively by the dispositions of staff and their disciplinary orientations, with some forms of ECA privileged above others; we also found that the contribution ECA could make to the curriculum and to likely graduate outcomes was not always recognised, by either staff or students, and was highly gendered. In addition, although the research revealed that some students exercise considerable agency in the ways they engage in ECA, this was not only gendered but also racialised and classed. Consequently student participation, along with the institutional valorisation of only some forms of ECA, significantly privileges some students (predominantly white, middle-class and male) over others.

Whilst our data are immensely rich and provide insight into the complexity of the meanings and valuing of ECA, they are, however, generic and not subject specific. The impact of ECA on graduate outcomes has not been properly debated and specified within education and there has been a lack of research specifically about the impact of participation in ECA of students on education courses. This is a significant omission since we know that students on these courses already have differential curricular experiences (Flintoff, 2008; Carrington and Skelton, 2003) and retention rates (Smithers and Buckingham, 2008; Basit et al, 2007; Wilson et al, 2007; Moyles and Cavendish, 2001). This in turn not only affects their future employability but is likely to influence the highly variable employment rates and employment patterns experienced by education students (Woolhouse et al, 2009; Moreau et al, 2007; White et al, 2003). The lack of recognition of the role that ECA can play in enhancing the employability of students on education courses may, therefore, significantly disadvantage some students, particularly those with low social capital, over others.

Our research objectives are therefore to:

  • Establish the full range of ECA that students on education courses engage with and whether there are differential patterns of participation by social group/ gender/ethnicity and type and level of course being undertaken
  • Establish the rationale for participation in ECA, for example for ethical, social and environmental reasons as well as to become the ‘future employed’
  • Establish the possible impact of participation on retention, achievement and the student satisfaction of education students
  • Explore student, staff and employers perceptions of the value of participation in ECA to the enhancement of graduate outcomes, into both teaching and allied professions, and to the wider community; and, alongside this, explore inter-sectionality in relationship to the differential valuing of the forms of ECA
  • Explore how education staff and students can draw on ECA in relationship to curriculum activities and in shaping graduate futures, including creating graduates with impact on the economy and society