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With ethnicity grouped into broad categories, the survey captured an ethnic profile similar to that of the Institution (Table 7). When questioned about their religious beliefs, 35% of those who responded indicated they did follow a particular faith, 60% did not, and 5% preferred not to say. The mostly commonly reported faiths are shown in Table 8.
Table 7: Ethnicity of respondents to survey compared with the profile of the Institution
It is evident that:
1. Students did not always conceptualise what they did outside their academic work as ECA, especially without prompting, and this applied particularly to female students.
2. A significant minority (36%) of students did not engage in ECA. Those that did often engaged in more than one, and these were more likely to be initiated outside the University. Many did fewer ECA than prior to attending university, but ECA initiated outside the educational institution were more likely to be continued.
3. Many students valued the generic skills they were developing during their ECA, while others simply saw their value with regard to health and wellbeing. Smaller numbers recognised skills specific to their careers, and others thought they were of no value at all.
4. Approximately two-thirds of students worked part-time, with many working a substantial number of hours per week. Nevertheless, 19% said they were not developing any skills as a result, with 24% unsure. Those who could identify skills largely mentioned ‘soft’ generic skills.
5. The dispositions of students that make them more likely to engage and sustain ECA while at university are strongly influenced by parental involvement in ECA. Parental experience of HE is less directly important, but as parental participation in ECA itself is strongly affected by prior HE, education remains a strong inter-generational driver in developing social capital through ECA. The type of educational institution attended prior to university may also be important.
6.4.1 Conceptualisation of ECA In response to the question (Q13) ‘do you participate in any ECA?’, 359 (56%) students said ‘yes’ (these are ‘self-declared ECA’ using our terminology).
However, in response to later prompted questions about ECA (Qs. 29-36), 432 (68%) were engaged in ECA (400, or 63%, if the Caring/Domestic category was The Higher Education Academy 27 excluded). This suggests that between 7 and 12% of students do not conceptualise some of the things they do as ECA, and perhaps therefore are not valuing the activities as such, or their contribution to their personal development or graduate outcomes.
While the survey captured the ethnic profile of the institution (see Table 7), small numbers of respondents in individual ethnic groups precluded more detailed analysis. There is a significant difference in the proportion of male and female students who participate in self-declared ECA (Table 9). Approximately 76% of male students declare themselves to be engaged in ECA, compared to only 48% of female students.
Table 9: Participation in ECA (self-declared) by gender. Chi-sq = 44.0; df = 1; p 0.001
This is open to two interpretations: either female students do participate less, or females are less likely to describe what they do as ECA. Looking at the data for prompted ECA, we see that the latter is the case (Table 10). Comparing participation in prompted ECA, male student engagement is around 73%, while female student participation rises to 60%. These percentages stay largely the same when caring and domestic responsibilities are excluded (Table 11), but with female student engagement dropping slightly to 58%. We know that gender issues are critical in many aspects of higher education, including students’ choices (David et al., 2003), and it is apparent here that it is important too in how students conceptualise their ECA, and by extension how they may value and derive benefit from them.
Table 10: Participation in ECA (prompted) by gender. Chi-sq = 9.57; df = 1;
p = 0.002
Approximately 29% of students reported that they did not participate in selfdeclared ECA, but nevertheless said they currently were involved in paid employment either inside or outside the University (Table 12). This figure declined to approximately 25% for prompted ECA (Table 13), suggesting that a substantial proportion do not think of work as an ECA and hold a more traditional view of ECA.
Table 12: Students’ reported engagement in ECA (self-declared) and involvement in work
6.4.2 Engagement in ECA Of the 640 students who responded, 228 (36%) indicated that they did not currently participate in any of the prompted categories of ECA (Table 14). A total of 289 students (45.2%) reported engaging in at least one ECA inside the University, while 326 (50.9%) reported engaging in ECA outside the University (314 or 49.1% if caring responsibilities are excluded). This suggests that traditional notions of ECA being largely initiated via Students’ Union or sporting societies within the university (at least at this new, large, metropolitan university) are misplaced. Students are engaging in multiple ECAs, with just 21% of all students only involved in one ECA (or 32% including only those who participate in some form of ECA).
Variation in the amount of time spent on ECA was broadly similar across the range of types of prompted ECA, both those initiated within and outside the University, and the averaged time spent is indicated in Figure 2. The majority (approximately 60%) of students are spending around one to five hours per week on their activities, 20% are spending six to ten hours, and a further 20% 11 or more hours.
Figure 2: Average numbers of hours per week devoted to ECA (prompted)
Students reported a consistent and substantial decline in all types of the ECA they pursued at university compared to those they did before coming to university (Table 15). We were not able to determine from the survey whether this was due to the pressure of academic or paid work while at university (perhaps combined with greater domestic responsibilities for those students now living away from home), or because there was less of a ‘push’ to participate The Higher Education Academy 30 from their educational institution, teachers or parents. Nevertheless, for each type of ECA, the decline in participation was substantially lower when the ECA was initiated outside the University. In a wide-ranging examination of the experiences of HE students who live at home, Holdsworth (2006) found that those who live at home were more likely to engage in what she describes as ‘non-university’ activities. We might therefore predict that this pattern would be different for those students who lived at home. However, it is not (Table 16); the pattern of participation (and failure to continue to participate) is almost identical to that of the wider student population. So the relative maintenance of ECA initiated outside the educational institution cannot be attributed simply to the students living at home continuing their activities while those living away cease theirs. There would appear to be something about the nature of ECA initiated outside the educational institution or habitus of people who participate in them which promotes more sustained engagement. We shall return to this later in Section 6.4.6.
Table 15: Profile of the kinds of ECA (prompted) students engage in
The Higher Education Academy 31 6.4.3 Valuing ECA Approximately 21% of students stated that the availability of ECA at the University was a factor in their choosing Leeds Metropolitan University (Table 17), with a greater proportion of males (29%) citing it as important compared to females (18%). As noted earlier, Leeds Metropolitan University positions itself strongly in relation to its partnerships, volunteering activity and sports.
Considering those on sports or sports-related courses (80 respondents), the availability of ECA was an important factor in choosing the University for the majority (approximately two-thirds) of both genders (Table 18). In a competitive market for students, many universities emphasise elements of the institution, its facilities, location and amenities as an additional reason for choosing that HEI beyond its academic offer. These results emphasise that availability of ECA can be an important factor for many students, although there is an interaction with gender and disciplinarity.
Table 17: Importance of the availability of ECA in choosing to study at the University by gender
For ECA initiated both within and outside the University, respondents were asked how these activities might help their careers. Approximately 40% of students replied and of these 19% and 26% respectively indicated that their involvement would not help at all or they were not applicable. Some comments,
for example related to political activity, were even explicitly negative:
It will not help my career, as future Union organising will increase the likelihood of my being fired by my employer.
Others (not included in the statistics above) were more ambiguous, and it was
not clear whether students would or would not value their activity in the future:
It might show teamwork, but actually has no link!
Many comments were purely about the value of ECA for the relief of stress and tension, as a break from university work, or for general fitness (in the case of sports) or well-being. Those who recognised the value of their activity largely did so with regard to generic skills development or, more rarely, personal
Looks good on CV, improves team working skills, communication skills and leadership skills.
Because experience shapes you as a person, the more you explore and learn about yourself, the more confidence grows, skills grow, and you have a more rounded personality.
A smaller number of students were very aware of the specific kinds of activities and experiences needed for them to pursue their chosen career, or to help in
making career choices:
I write for the Met newspaper and I would like to become involved in sports journalism after I finish uni so I think it is very helpful.
My volunteering work is based at … Secondary School in their PE department. I run a number of different sports clubs as well as help teach PE lessons alongside the regular teachers. This is providing me with a crucial amount of teaching experience.
Physical stamina, organisation, time management, speaking to people using different tones – children, teenagers, adults – aid to memory, social and intellectual stimulation, discussion and debating of issues e.g. staging, casting.
In relation to the volunteering I'm doing which is looking after special needs children, it has given me a chance to work and play with them and to just have some experience in their day to day lives. It is also an opportunity for me to see if I would like to work in this field in my future career.
Am part of Leeds Writers’ Circle, it helps me develop my skills of analysis and experience reading my work to a fairly big group of people. They also have competitions and publish anthologies, that kind of publicity can’t hurt my writing ambitions.
I have my own record label, I model and work but these are separate to the university entirely. I think they make me feel as though I have something other than my course, but they also keep me focused on university in the sense that I don’t have time to go out drinking and distracting myself.
There were also those who clearly recognised the value of ECA, but for whom personal circumstances or the work patterns of their academic courses
frustrated their ambitions to participate:
It helps to be involved in these activities as they improve your CV but I am poor and need to work so I can buy food every week and complete my degree so I can support myself better in later life.