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Using Service-Learning to Build Social Capital for Civic and Political Engagement– A UK Case Study

Civil Society
Comparative Perspective
Alasdair Blair
De Montfort University
Alasdair Blair
De Montfort University
Mark Charlton
De Montfort University

Questions have been raised by political scholars in recent years over ways to engage young people in civic and political issues in light of a growing intergenerational divide between voters. Many theorists have linked the activity of volunteering and building civic participation amongst young people by identifying distinct connections between participants and their likelihood to make further positive contributions to public life and civic engagement. While there is much evidence to suggest general volunteering can build social capital, few studies have considered the university’s role in building good citizenship – despite the responsibility of creating good citizens being considered one of the public goods of higher education. At De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom, an innovative outreach programme, known as DMU Square Mile, has been developed over several years which gives hundred of young people volunteering or service-learning opportunities, typically linked to their courses. The volunteering is done in collaboration with the local authority and other partners, seeking to address some of the diverse challenges currently facing the city of Leicester. This paper seeks to identify what impact of a focused university programme of service-learning and volunteering has on young people’s attitudes to civic and political issues. It will consider changes in attitudes to voting, likelihood of future civic participation or social activism as well as personal learning outcomes and skills development. The findings will demonstrate whether a focused university approach to service-learning can aid higher education’s commitment to create the good citizens of the future who are engaged in political issues, locally and nationally.
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