Opinion Leadership

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11th April 2024
Knowledge Sharing Learning & Teaching

Partnering with the Not-for-Profit Sector to develop experiential learning

8th March 2024

Authors

Dr Madina Tash

Lecturer in Finance, University of Sussex Business School

Jo Clarke

Lecturer and Deputy Program Director of MBA, Newcastle University Business School

Experiential learning offers an effective and valuable pedagogical approach to preparing students for the challenges of work. This blog explores how the concept of experiential learning can be effectively integrated into university curricula by collaborating with the Not-for-Profit sector. To illustrate the potential of such collaborations, we discuss Groundwork North East and Cumbria’s initiative to understand the market for carbon credits trading - an emerging aspect of environmental sustainability. 

Purpose of experiential learning

Experiential learning provides a paradigm shift in education, enabling students to learn most effectively through direct experience, critical reflection, and active problem-solving. Unlike traditional lecture-based methods, experiential learning empowers students by providing them with hands-on, practical experiences that enable them to apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios. 

Partnership with the Not-for-Profit Sector

Partnering with non-profit organisations provides students with opportunities to apply knowledge in real-world contexts while contributing to the betterment of society. These collaborations enhance the educational experience and fulfil the mission of non-profit organisations by supporting their engagement objectives, to educate others in their core purpose. Working with students on in-curricular projects offers a win-win opportunity. Collaborative projects give students the opportunity to network with experts and professionals in the non-profit sector and this exposure leads to mentorship, potential job opportunities, and a broader perspective on charitable business. Furthermore, establishing connections with non-profit organisations fosters goodwill and strengthens the university's ties with the local community.

Experiential Learning with the Non-for-Profit Sector

Exploring the market for Carbon Credits Trading for Groundwork.org

Carbon credits trading involves calculating a cost of carbon emissions to incentivise companies and individuals to reduce their environmental footprint. Imagine a world where a tech giant invests in a wind farm project, generating clean, renewable energy. As a result, they earn carbon credits equivalent to the emissions they have prevented. They can then sell surplus credits to a heavy-emission industry, like a manufacturing plant, allowing them to offset their carbon emissions without penalty. This market-based system fosters a symbiotic relationship between the environment and the economy, although within limits. The market system creates initiatives such as reforestation projects, sustainable farming practices, and even clean cookstove distribution in developing countries, all made possible by the value of carbon credits. The multifaceted nature of carbon credits trading challenges students to think critically and find innovative solutions to environmental problems.

The charity Groundwork has a mission to mobilise practical community action on poverty and the environment. Groundwork NE and Cumbria are developing a unique green finance model to support estuary restoration in the northeast, working with two external consultancies.

Groundwork offered master’s students the challenge of identifying the market potential for this sustainable finance model. The model aims to encourage investment in ongoing nature restoration projects, building carbon credits. Students must apply theoretical knowledge gained earlier in their master’s programme with practical skills and experience gained in conjunction with Groundwork. 

MSc students worked collaboratively to research this emerging opportunity. They identified local businesses in need of improving their environmental credentials, experiencing first-hand the complexities of developing new products for new markets, whilst simultaneously developing personal consulting skills. Groundwork were pleased with the knowledge transferred during the final assessed student presentations. 

Pitfalls

Whilst advantages of collaborating are apparent, there are some possible pitfalls. Universities must allocate additional resources for faculty training and administrative support to facilitate these partnerships effectively and maintain institutional reputation. Exploring carbon credits is an innovative topic, however, academics must still establish defensible and robust assessment mechanisms to measure student achievement. Outcomes cannot be guaranteed, as students progress at different rates and sometimes fail to progress. Satisfaction of all stakeholders needs managing. 

Involving external clients in assessment goes beyond the usual remit of academic assessment, essays, and exams. Additionally, ethical sign-off is required, and non-disclosure agreements may need to be signed. Carbon credits trading is a complex area, and students should be guided to navigate ethical dilemmas that may arise in this industry.

Experiential learning through collaboration with non-profit organisations, as exemplified by Groundwork, offers an invaluable opportunity for universities to equip their students with practical skills, enhance their critical thinking abilities, and contribute to society. Working alongside non-profit organisations enables academic institutions to bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world, all while addressing pressing societal challenges, such as climate change. As we move toward a more socially and environmentally sustainable future, these collaborative efforts are instrumental in preparing students to become future leaders considering community development, environmental conservation, and sustainability in their work.