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Civic Engagement in Trinity College

Within the Engagement with Society theme, the Trinity College Dublin Strategic Plan 2009-2014 seeks to champion initiatives in civic engagement. The Strategic Plan calls for outreach in education and research, stating that "[u]ndergraduate education of young people in particular helps to build the value systems and practices of society; it also impacts centrally on society's capacity for civic responsibility, social innovation and critical reflection" (p.30). It goes on to state, "[w]e plan to promote encourage and incentivize volunteering in the local, national and international community by members of Trinity staff and students." (Action 5.2)

In April 2011, University Council endorsed the First Trinity College Dublin Civic Engagement Report and its recommendations to progress the aims above. The Report drew on School responses to the Framework for the Strategic Plan, findings from the TCD Staff Civic Engagement Survey and Student Voluntary Activity Survey, the College submission to the Campus Engage Survey of Civic Engagement Activities in Higher Education as well as information provided by individual Heads of Schools and information available on School websites at the time of data collection. The eight recommendations of the Report are as follows:

  • Develop appropriate mechanisms to recognise and incentivise members of College community who are committed to engaged research, teaching and service activity which is of mutual benefit to the College and the Community.
  • Raise awareness of the value and opportunities for service-learning and provide professional development opportunities for those interested in the pedagogy of service-learning.
  • Offer community organisations a contact point within the College and develop a mechanism to enable community organisations with research questions to link in with the College.
  • Facilitate and promote low commitment and once off volunteering opportunities to enable increased participation.
  • Continue to promote, raise awareness and provide information about the range of volunteering opportunities available.
  • Support new students and staff who wish to engage in volunteering.
  • Provide opportunities for those actively engaged in this work to share knowledge.
  • Identify and more widely disseminate collaboration success stories

Download the full report here (DOC 394KB Local Access only).

You may also be interested to Download Campus Engage's Survey of Civic Engagement Activities in Higher Education
in Ireland 2011(PDF 1.95MB)

Current Civic Engagement

Although information in this regard has not been collected or collated in Trinity previously, there are national trends and indicators which offer some context for the civic engagement related statistics and figures collected over the last year in College.

  • According to the 2006 Census, 16.4% of the population aged 15 and over were involved in voluntary activity.(1) Among young people in the 20-24 years age bracket, the figure was as low as 10%.
  • The 2006 indicated that 35% of active volunteers engage in what is termed “social or charitable work”, 33% are involved in sporting organisations and 26% engage with religious or church organisations.(2)
  • Rates of voluntary activity in Ireland are considered “relatively low” by European standards(3) and the Eurobarometer study on the European Social Reality carried out in late 2006 showed Ireland as having among the lowest levels of people who believed that helping others or doing voluntary work was an important part of their life. (4)
  • Volunteer Centres Ireland has indicated that the recession has led to a dramatic rise in the number of people registering with their local volunteer centres.(5) Furthermore, the 2006 census indicated a slightly greater level of voluntary activity in Leinster (perhaps attributable to the higher density of voluntary bodies in the region than elsewhere).
  • In 2002, Volunteering Ireland indicated that individuals with a Third Level Qualification are more than twice as likely to volunteer as those with Primary Certificates. Older data notes that students were the second most likely cohort of people to engage in voluntary activity in 1997-8 (after those with part-time employment status) and that the rate of participation was increasing.(6)
  • Tipping the Balance (2002) reported that seeing results, doing good and meeting people were the most frequently cited benefits of volunteering. A sense of “usefulness” or achievement is a benefit which is associated with increased self-esteem and confidence as well as strong volunteer retention. This is believed to reduce social isolation and have a positive impact on mental health.(7)

In light of all this, there are great opportunities for TCD to foster and support voluntary activity among members of the College.


In February and March 2010, 953 TCD Students from across the student population responded to a survey designed to collect data on student engagement in voluntary activity.(8) This is a response rate of 6% and although it could not be considered a representative sample, it is nonetheless sufficiently large to provide useful information on the target population. Thanks are due to Ms Leah Hunt who worked to analyse this data as part of her final year project in Management Science and Information Systems Studies under the guidance of the Civic Engagement Office and under the academic supervision of Mr. Eamonn Mullins.

  • Half of respondents indicated that they currently volunteer and a further 40% indicated that they had volunteered in the past.(9)
  • 48% of those who identified as volunteers (either current or former) indicated that they have never volunteered “through college”.
  • 32% of current volunteers indicated that they have never volunteered through college.
  • To make a difference or an impact was ranked the top motivation among student volunteers, followed by “to give something back”, “fun”, “learning new skills” and “meeting new people” closely followed by “as a challenge”.
  • In relation to benefits of voluntary activity, 75% of student volunteers believe their voluntary activity has had a positive impact on their personal development in relation to confidence and self esteem. 74% of student volunteers cited improved social and communication skills, 89% emphasised an increase in their sense of making a useful contribution and close to two thirds of student volunteers referred to team work skills (66%), leadership attributes (65%) and a willingness to try new things (71%) and more than half (55%) believed that their job-related skills increased.(10)
  • 80% of students who have volunteered gained their first experience of voluntary activity prior to coming to TCD.
  • 51% of student volunteers had engaged in fundraising activity at some point.
  • Other significant categories of experience include youth and children(46%), education or literacy (34%), health/disability (27%), campaigns/awareness raising (26%) , mentoring (25%), childcare (21%), sports/recreation (21%), volunteering related to academic studies (20%) and arts culture and the media. Many volunteers have voluntary experience in more than one area and some voluntary experience spans more than one category.

Although the definition of voluntary activity provided for the survey explicitly included unpaid work with sports clubs and college societies, it is still possible (and indeed anecdotal evidence would suggest) that this work was not factored into individual responses. Students often do not consider non-charitable or non-altruistic activity to be “volunteering” as they dissociate from the“do-gooder” label. This is something which the Civic Engagement Officer hopes will be addressed through the broad eligibility for the Dean of Students' Roll of Honour, the 2011 European Year of Volunteering Student Exhibition and other initiatives into the future.


In May and June 2010, a survey in relation voluntary activity which was circulated to members of staff yielded a response rate of 11.6%. Thanks are due to Ms. Jade Bailey who worked on the analysis of the data collected. Some of the principal findings are listed below.

Voluntary Activity

  • 57% of respondents indicated an interest in voluntary activity and 29% indicated current voluntary activity.
  • The categories of voluntary opportunities which generated the most interest were education (46%), opportunities related to professional work (38%), the arts (34%), the environment (32%) and mentoring (29%).
  • Categories in which members of staff are actively involved in a voluntary capacity where youth (29%), education (24%), church or religion based (21%), health (21%) and sport (19%) rank as the top five most popular.(11)
  • Among staff members who volunteered, “to give something back” ranked most highly, followed by “I believe in the cause”, “to make a difference”, “to get a sense of community spirit” and “as a counterbalance to work commitments”.

The appetite for voluntary engagement among staff members appears very strong and existing engagement would appear to be much higher than the national average sitting within the “Medium high” band of the Eurobarometer Study's scale for level of volunteering. Considering that most members of staff would have a third level qualification, this may reflect Volunteering Ireland's 2002 annual report indicating a relationship between level of education and voluntary activity (above).(12)

Other Forms of Civic Engagement

Volunteering is not the only form of civic engagement which is practised and supported by members of the College Community. Members of the academic community, in particular, engage in participatory action research, community partnerships and service-learning.(13) A survey of academic staff members relating to academic engagement with the community yielded 153 responses representing 9.3% of the target population. Some of the key results are as follows:

•  71% of respondents indicated a belief that service-learning would be a useful pedagogy in the education of students of their discipline, however 57% were unaware of how this might be incorporated into courses which they teach.

•  Almost 70% of respondents engage in professional service to the external community, 77% reported service to discipline and 15% reported service to the Trinity Access Programme.(14)

•  31 individual members of academic staff indicated that they already incorporate elements of service-learning into the curricula they teach. According to their responses, some degree of service-learning is in place in within the following schools: Business, Social Work and Social Policy, Medicine, Ecumenics, Linguistic, Speech and Communications Sciences, Chemistry, Computer Science and Statistics and the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy.

•  34 members of academic staff reported that they had recently produced publications directly relating to civic engagement activities while sixty-one members of academic staff indicated that they have experience of collaborative research with the community.

•  81 members of academic staff reported mutually beneficial involvement in a collaborative interaction with the community (“Community Partnership”) and named over 70 different partner organisations.


The recent survey of academic staff also raised some attitudinal questions relating to the value placed on matters of civic engagement.

  • 74% agreed that students should gain an enhanced sense of civic responsibility through their studies.
  • 80% believed that students should gain an enhanced sense of civic responsibility through extra-curricular activity
  • 49% supported the idea that both students and staff ought to engage in some form of voluntary activity.
  • 65% agreed that College has a responsibility to carry out research on the basis of community need while 68% agreed that College has a responsibility to carry out research which can be used to advocate for change.
  • 65% believed that members of academic staff should engage in professional service to the community, 77% of whom felt this should be unpaid.
  • That academic staff should engage in service to their discipline was supported by 65%.

It was also noted that education is inherently a service to the community and society. Although there is some reference to service to the discipline and community in promotions procedures, a number of respondents called for stronger recognition of community work. Participants in a recent focus group discussed the matter and noted that there is no real definition of what ‘service' consists of in advancement procedures and that there is no specific reference to partnership or collaboration.

Recommended Actions

A number of recommendations have arisen from the information gathering exercises undertaken in the past twelve months. In light of a high proportion of students (46% of survey respondents) and staff (70% of respondents) who are unaware of voluntary opportunities in College, more should be done to this end. It is hoped that the new website, information sessions and events and fairs will assist in addressing this. An e-bulletin for members of staff shall also be established which will include profiles of existing civic engagement activity on campus. More needs to be done to raise awareness of the value of service-learning. Work is being done to address this through visits of service-learning scholars and increased information sharing on matters of Civic Engagement. The provision and promotion of low-commitment opportunities was also suggested and shall be fulfilled through continued outreach activities through the Civic Engagement Officer. As mentioned above, a number of respondents called for increased recognition and support for professional service, engaged research and community partnerships. There were also calls for improved funding of community engagement activity.

Work of the Civic Engagement Officer

In August 2009, the role of Civic Engagement Officer was established to further strategic actions in relation to volunteerism, community partnerships and service learning. In addition to the work done to map existing levels of and appetite for civic engagement, activities have included:

•  The development of a new information resource for voluntary activity among staff and students has been developed and is available at .

•  In 2009, the largest on campus volunteer fair to date was held and more than 300 members of the College Community attended. This year's fair will be held on Thursday November 25 th from 6pm to 8pm by the Edmund Burke Theatre and will offer an opportunity to engage with almost forty different community organisations.

•  The Civic Engagement Officer has developed links with more than ninety community organisations and has linked some of these to relevant academic partners.

•  Several outreach events have also been arranged in which more than eighty staff, students and graduates have participated as a low commitment opportunity to engage with the community and meet colleagues from across campus.

•  The Civic Engagement Officer also circulates a monthly voluntary opportunities bulletin during term which can be subscribed to by emailing .

•  The Dean of Students' Roll of Honour is a new scheme to recognise student voluntary activity and the inaugural ceremony will be held in April 2011.

•  The European Year of Volunteering will be celebrated in 2011 and the Civic Engagement Officer has been heavily involved in a collaborative exhibition which will showcase student volunteering on campuses and at key events nationwide throughout the year. Trinity College is scheduled to be among the first campuses to host the exhibition.

•  Other supports for voluntary activity include a new TCD Volunteer Charter as well as a number of training and information sessions are available for members of college engaged with or interested in volunteer work including child protection training, listening skills and the art of fundraising. Students are also supported in the European Voluntary Service and Gaisce the President's Award by the Civic Engagement Officer.

•  In respect of service-learning, Professor Robert Bringle, Executive Director of the Center for Service and Learning in Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) visited in 2009 to speak with College Officers and host a roundtable with members of academic staff. Five seed funding grants were supported by the Trinity Annual Fund and awarded to members of academic staff who are developing service-learning. In November 2010, the Civic Engagement Officer hosted Dr. Patti Clayton to further this work. Thanks are due to Campus Engage- the national network for the development of civic engagement in higher education in Ireland- whose collaboration made this possible.

(1)The question asked if respondents had engaged in voluntary or unpaid “helping” activity in the four weeks prior to the census.

(2) The remaining two categories of voluntary activity provided as option by the census referred to “political or cultural” organisations and “any other voluntary activity”. Additional categories defined in internal TCD surveys fall within these broader categories offered by the census.

(3)See the 2010 Study on Volunteering in the European Union undertaken by GHK. The Final Report was submitted to the Directorate-General for Education and Culture in February 2010.

(4) 63% as compared with the European average of 75%. Ireland Ranked second lowest along with Romania after Latvia (65%) and before Bulgaria (62%). In the UK, the level of people who believed that helping others or doing voluntary work was an important part of their life was 74%. The Report was published in February 2007 and is available online at .

(5) Study on Volunteering in the European Union, Country Report: Ireland 2010 available online at .

(6) Ruddle and Mulvihill (1999) as presented in Tipping the Balance, Report of the National Committee on Volunteering (2002) which is available online at

(7) Ibid at 2

(8) This work was undertaken by Ms. Leah Hunt of the 2010 MSISS graduating class.

(9) Of these volunteers (both current and former), 24% had volunteered with VDP in College and 13% had volunteered with the Voluntary Tuition programme.

(10) This is corroborated by evaluation information provided by participants in outreach activities organised through the Civic Engagement Officer during the academic year 09/10 in which the majority of participants noted an improvement in their mental health and well-being as a result of their voluntary contribution.

(11) Percentages do not add up to 100 as respondents were free to tick all that applied.

(12) Not all respondents provided answers to every question and some subsections of the survey included additional questions seeking additional information based on earlier responses. Thus not all percentages represent the entire response profile and instead valid percentages are put forward to represent those who responded to a particular question or subset of questions.

(13) "Service learning is a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs, and b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of personal values and civic responsibility." Bringle & Hatcher (1995)

(14) This service may be paid, unpaid, or considered as part of the individual respondents' role.




Last updated 17 January 2013 Civic Engagement (Email).