< back

University of Exeter case study: Empowering students by recognising their time and efforts

Case Study

March 18, 2024

No items found.

Overview of initiative/action

Wanting to implement a more equal way of working between students and staff, the University of Exeter hired seven student interns through the institution’s student campus partnership scheme (SCP).

These students are supported by full time staff, to collect evidence for the Responsible Futures audit, coordinate working groups and campaigns, create their own resources for students and staff, and facilitate workshops. They are given responsibility for specific Responsible Futures criteria, but also the flexibility to create resources, communications and case studies to record their research in ways they find most useful and interesting. The partnership recognises their efforts on LinkedIn with a reference and blog about their experience.

The partnership has hired a further 7 students, for a related curriculum mapping pilot. They have offered short-term paid roles for another 4 students in workshop facilitation.

Impact of initiative

Through this initiative, the partnership is acknowledging students’ efforts, signalling that they value student input as much as academics and professional services. Whilst still giving opportunities for short term, or voluntary roles within Responsible Futures, it ensures students can play a key role in the coordination of the audit and working group.

This initiative puts into practice a more equal way of working between students and staff, and reduces the implicit hierarchy present in higher education, between academic and student. This empowers students to question the status quo and suggest creative yet challenging improvements to the institution’s delivery of sustainable development.

Students’ role in the campaign, and long term presence throughout the year gives them a confidence to take the lead in campaigns, such as creating reports, workshops or presentations. Staff also feel more comfortable in working with students, as students’ roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.

Longer term contracts reduce financial barriers to involvement, increasing accessibility, and promoting a more inclusive and accessible campaign for students of all backgrounds. Student activists have previously felt that they can carry an unequal burden, of pushing for change, whilst negotiating their ongoing commitments of study and work. Stable employment is important in recognising their efforts.

The SCP scheme provides a more structured way of working (due to the requirement of interns to work 6 hours each week), therefore maintaining momentum in the campaign. This is helpful for students also, in keeping an eye on their quality of life and Responsible Futures: case study weekly routines, avoiding overburdening themselves.

The status of SCP allows the partnership to recognise students’ experiences on LinkedIn. The partnership provides a reference and students are asked to create a blog post about their experience. This allows constant reflection on making the jobs as valuable as possible for the student. Secondly, it provides the student with something tangible to share on their profiles and can increase their personal network. Finally, it prompts students to think about the skills they developed during the internship, helping develop their CVs. These are all items’ students are looking for, when thinking about careers post-university.

For one student intern, this led to further opportunity. Her initial 3-month contract was eventually extended to 9 months, and the opportunity to apply for a graduate internship (full time for one year) was provided. After a successful interview process, she took on the role, providing a great step forward in developing her career after completing her masters. She now coordinates the RF campaign and other sustainable education initiatives.

Role that RF criteria/programme has played in this initiative

The SCP scheme was already in existence before we hired interns, however Responsible Futures has allowed the partnership to ask for permanent budget allocations from existing teams, by proving that there is a requirement for student leadership in the campaign. This has maintained the momentum of RF as a campaign, as there is a student-led demand for continuous action and improvement.

Responsible Futures has helped to further empower and legitimise student involvement in change at the institution, creating stronger, more equal links between the two parties. The related Responsible Futures criteria listed below are:

  • POC005 – The partnership has made sufficient staff or student resource available to substantively progress the issues related to Responsible Futures.
  • PPL001 – The partnership has a working or coordinating group that leads on sustainability.
  • PPL003 - Within the current academic year, the partnership has proactively and meaningfully engaged key stakeholder groups in the issues related to Responsible Futures.
  • IO003 – The partnership has reflected on and identified their short-term impacts and outcomes in relation to positive outcomes for students.
  • IO004 - The partnership has reflected on and identified their long-term impacts and outcomes in relation to positive outcomes for students.

I really enjoyed working on this project to amplify the student voice on the topic of sustainability and the climate crisis, as well as developing my own professional skill set. This internship has encouraged me to develop my confidence and initiative, as I have been given the freedom by the Responsible Futures team to shape and manage the project in my own way.

Meg, student intern (May to July 2023)

My internship allowed me to develop skills in a number of areas particularly in regards to project management and the development and facilitation of sustainability workshops. Overall, I enjoyed my time as an intern on the Responsible Futures project, and was grateful to contribute to advancing sustainability within the teaching and more widely across the university.

Liv, student intern (Feb to July 2023)