We all understand that having a degree alone will not secure a graduate job. Students also need to have extracurricular experience. The University and Leeds University Union make a varied range of good quality experiences available: volunteering opportunities; paid internships; work experience placements; student societies; being a student representative; short summer abroad opportunities and more. As staff we encourage students to take advantage of these for personal and professional development and to add value to their CV. As the long vacation approaches, we ramp up the pressure to ‘do something’ by sending out emails urging students to take up these extracurricular opportunities (I admit to being one of those filling up student inboxes on a regular basis!).
For some students, the financial cost creates a difficulty, as volunteering means making the choice to forgo paid work. Summer internships paying £300 a week may be an obvious, attractive and easy option for a student with no dependants. For a student with three young children, the childcare costs for the week would swallow up most of the £300 before considering additional costs such as travel or new clothes suitable for the workplace. The new short summer abroad opportunities are a great way of gaining valuable new experiences – but only if you can afford the flights, accommodation and other expenses.
The Lifelong Learning Centre has developed a new Summer Opportunities Bursary Fund to address this. It is intended to enable students who would otherwise be unable, for financial reasons, to access the personal and professional development opportunities offered through the Lifelong Learning Centre, the University of Leeds or external organisations. In appropriate circumstances the Fund can provide help towards the cost of childcare, travel and other expenses involved in volunteering, taking up an internship, attending courses, conferences or residential training events, or any other ‘student opportunity’. We hope that, through the Fund, all students will have equal access to the opportunities of their choice.