The Student Consultancy and Community Action Groups Oxfordshire are working together to get students involved in the local community. The programme lasts 8 weeks, pairing students with local Small and Medium Enterprises, charities or community organisations.
Jon Williams, a team leader and Medicinal Chemistry DPhil candidate at Jesus, described the current student contribution, saying “there are seven teams of students working on different Community Action Group projects, including stock management at Sandford Farmer’s market and developing marketing strategy at Dean Court Community Centre.”
Williams explained the benefits brought by the programme as “mutual, in that we are able to contribute positively to the local community, whilst also developing key employability skills, such as market research, data analysis and presentation skills.
“Working with a small community organisation means there is real potential for tangible impact.” At the moment, Williams’ team is working on funding and market research at the Barracks Lane Community Garden, hoping to boost involvement in the garden.
Jonathan Black, a director at the Careers Service described the projects to assist local organisations as “ a progressive and value adding link between ‘town and gown’” that will “undoubtedly build a positive image of the university and its students within these groups.”
Black further stated that the programme attracts students from across the range of colleges, year-groups and subjects and provides an opportunity “to break out of the ‘bubble’ and engage with the local community, while learning useful consulting skills, experiencing team work and developing business awareness.
“Most students do not want to be consultants in their future, but see this as a way to learn what consulting is about, in a successful and supportive programme.”
The students are expected to add value to the organisations with which they work; Black expressed that the Careers Service hopes for students to come up with “well-researched and useable suggestions to the strategic problems facing these groups.”
When asked for comment on the new projects, the University press office agreed that “this community engagement has benefits not only for the individuals concerned but also for the University as a whole, deepening the University’s relationship with the city and the region.”
Moreover, the press office reiterated its goal “to make a major contribution to improving the quality of life of people in the region”, and cited the great works done by Oxford students dating back centuries: “Oxford students pioneered student volunteering in the 19th century, and the student body today is heavily involved in voluntary community activity of every kind.”
The Student Consultancy has been swiftly expanding and will have co-ordinated 47 projects and nearly 200 students over the 2011-12 academic year. The Careers Service hopes to further grow this figure to around 25 projects per term, it has recently received a grant from HEIF enabling the project to grow to 100 students a term.