Myths and Misconceptions About University Student Volunteering: Development and Perpetuation


Date of Publication: 2022
Authors: Paull, M., Holmes, K., Omari, M., Haski-Leventhal, D., MacCallum, J., Young, S., & Scott, R.
Published by: VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations  

This paper examines how erroneous myths and misconceptions are developed and perpetuated and can undermine the potential and value of university student volunteering. The paper suggests this can be improved when there is a common understanding, clear expectation setting and an ongoing dialogue between the parties involved. It is provides useful insights to organisations that would like to involve student volunteers, students and their universities. 

Interviews were carried out with student volunteers, university staff, and experienced host organisation representatives - including from a peak body in Australia. 

On the positive side, students were often seen as being energetic, having flexible time, and having skills associated with their studies. However, some negative aspects of the student volunteering emerged, as outlined in the five myths below.   

Myth 1 - Students are unreliable.  

Myth 2 - Students are hard work 

Myth 3 - Hosts don’t have the skills or time to supervise. 

Developing Myth 1 - Hosts don’t always ‘value’ student volunteers. 

Developing Myth 2 - Students need to ‘hide’ instrumental motives. In other words, some students said that part of their motivation for volunteering was to increase their employability, but felt they needed to hide this. 

Erroneous myths were seen to develop from a single event, later confirmed by a ‘related’ event in scenarios with multiple players, motivations, and complexities.   

University student volunteering is an activity with multiple players, all approaching the arrangements with different frames of reference and motivations. Host organisations may see students as a potential source of labour, skills, and energy. For universities, student volunteering is part of a suite of activities tied to graduate capability. Student volunteers have differing and wide-ranging motivations for being involved.  

Consideration of the evolution, perpetuation, and influence of myths and subsequent behaviours has led to suggestions about preventing and countering them. This may apply in other settings. 

The full report is available from the Springer Link website.