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Students' experiences and perceptions of summer vacation activities

May 2018

There are many ways students enhance their employability during the summer vacation period. This research has broadened our knowledge regarding the learning potential from students' summer activities.

Key findings

Quantitative and qualitative data collected from 477 undergraduate survey respondents, focus group participants and student-authored vignettes were analysed. Key findings from the research include:

  • the importance of students' personal networks in sourcing summer opportunities, as 28% of survey respondents used family and friends
  • the diverse range and geographical locations of the opportunities students undertake, as 44% of survey respondents completed their summer activities overseas
  • the strong student awareness of the employability enhancing value of their summer experiences
  • the need to provide more structured reflection opportunities for students to analyse their wider learning and skills development
  • the importance of identifying effective practice to help raise students' summer aspirations and where support could be improved.

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Students' experiences and perceptions of summer vacation activities

  • File type
    PDF
  • Number of pages in document
    34  pages
  • File size
    1099 KB

Download the full report

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What's inside

This report presents research to discover and understand the types of activities returning University of Aberdeen undergraduates engaged in during the 2016 summer vacation period. Research was conducted to:

  • understand the range of summer activities completed by undergraduates and their rationale for undertaking them
  • explore potential new ways to recognise, reward and support students' wider learning through these activities
  • discover how these experiences have impacted on students' employability and personal development.

About the report

Funded by HECSU, this report presents insights to students' summer vacation experiences and makes a series of recommendations derived from the study, which are relevant to employability development across the UK higher education sector. The intended readership for the report includes employability advisers, work placement officers, employer engagement coordinators and careers advisers.

The report was authored by Dr Joy Perkins, educational and employability development adviser at the University of Aberdeen.

Abstract

Overview

The Careers Service collected findings on the types of activities returning undergraduates engaged in during the summer 2016 vacation period. Research was conducted via an online survey, focus groups and student-authored vignettes.

The main aims of the HECSU-funded research were to:

  • understand the range of summer activities completed by undergraduates and their rationale for pursuing them
  • explore potential new ways to recognise, reward and support students’ wider learning through these activities
  • discover how these experiences have impacted on students' employability and personal development.

Summer activities explored in the research include internships, placements, study abroad, academic research, employment, volunteering, family responsibilities, travelling and time off.

Methodology

To explore students' attitudes, experiences and perceptions from their summer activities, a mixed method research approach was used to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. Five broad summer activity themes (student engagement, opportunity sources and activity analysis, impact, barriers and challenges and institutional recognition) were utilised to collect data via an online survey, focus groups and student-authored vignettes. Any data collected was treated confidentially, in accordance with the Data Protection Act.

Key findings: Online survey and focus groups

477 students completed the survey - 34% 2nd years, 41% 3rd years, 19% 4th years and 6% 5th years. Respondents were mainly full-time students, aged 18-24.

,% of returning undergraduates
Paid employment,31
Internship or placement (paid),14
Travel,12
Continued with my term-time employment,12
Internship or placement (unpaid),8
None,7
Voluntary work,7
Family responsibilities,4
Dissertation research,2
Further study,1
Field work as part of course,1
Self-employment,1

Note: Students self-determined their main activity.

,% of returning undergraduates
Help with finances/living costs,41
Improve career or further study prospects,26
Personal development,8
Family commitments,6
Experience a new culture,6
Improve specific skills,4
Other,4
Meet new people,2
Hours/weeks fitted into my summer plans,2
Build contacts with employers,1

Note: 32 students who completed the Survey did not engage in any summer activity.

How did students identify activities?

  • Personal contacts, including family and friends: 28%
  • Already worked there: 17%
  • Employer's website: 9%

What were the students' opinions regarding the University recognising their wider learning?

  • 'I would have appreciated some credits, but oh well.' - 4th Year Student, School of Language, Literature, Music & Visual Culture
  • 'I don't think I need rewarded for having worked during the summer. I think it's a normal thing to do and wouldn't expect to need to have some incentive to do so.' - 3rd Year Student, School of Social Science

What impact did students' summer activities have on their employability?

  • 'Learned how to deal with stressful situations and built my business knowledge.' - 3rd Year Student, School of Natural & Computing Sciences
  • 'There is a lot of pressure of balancing work experience and spending time with parents as they don't see me for half a year while I'm at university.' - 3rd Year Student, School of Engineering

Why did 7% of survey respondents not engage in any activity?

Reasons included family commitments, health issues, needing relaxation time and inability to secure an opportunity.

Research findings from both the online survey and focus groups reveal the importance of personal networks in sourcing opportunities, the diverse range and geographical locations of the opportunities and the strong student awareness of the employability-enhancing value of such experiences.

Key findings: Student-authored vignettes

The student-authored vignettes provide further insights regarding the perception and value of students' summer experiences. This is illustrated via the following example vignette:

Fourth year MA (Hons.) International Relations and Management Studies student

European Parliament trainee

'This was a unique experience and I would not have changed it for anything else! I was a summer trainee in the Parliament and served at the European People's Party group. I had a broad range of responsibilities and duties to undertake. I attended different parliamentary meetings, where the member in European Parliament (MEP) I was assigned to had a leading role. I compiled reports based on these meetings, translated documents in different languages and organised and facilitated events. The most exciting part was that I was involved in the organisation of a conference dedicated to the Democratic Republic of Congo and its presidential elections.

My advice to undergraduates is to try and secure an internship and to not be discouraged by rejection. Keep going!'

A number of common themes emerge from the students' vignettes, namely:

  • Networking - case study findings allude to the value and benefits of real-world experiences
  • Skills development - the vignettes reveal that students have been influenced by their summer experiences to improve their awareness and articulation of their competencies
  • Career planning - several case studies suggest students have developed a greater capacity to be able to frame their summer experiences in terms of their career options
  • Confidence and personal development - both are apparent in case studies. Students also appear to be particularly analytical in their commentaries, further confirming their professional development.

Recommendation

Recommendations derived from the research, which could be relevant to employability development across the UK higher education sector, include:

  • Encourage universities to investigate the potential of a credit-bearing course (module) to provide more structured reflection opportunities for students to analyse their summer activities.
  • Further the use of the 'student voice' at dedicated student-led presentation events, to share the varied benefits and challenges of summer vacation learning.
  • Deliver a wider range of bespoke, employer networking sessions to help widening participation students to extend their personal networks, and help gain the social capital they need to enter and succeed in the workforce.
  • Establish a longitudinal Summer Activities survey to help inform the strategic employability direction of universities.

In conclusion, the research has highlighted that in order to appreciate student perspectives on summer vacation learning and personal development, it is important that student feedback is more actively sought, monitored and evaluated. This feedback is crucial to inform employability policy and practice across universities and to improve students' preparedness for their transition to employment or further study.

Download the full report

Students' experiences and perceptions of summer vacation activities

  • File type
    PDF
  • Number of pages in document
    34  pages
  • File size
    1099 KB

Download the full report

Download PDF file Students' experiences and perceptions of summer vacation activities

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