ity annually ( 8. 1 percent of GDP), is larger than both the automotive and
Terminology aside, campus clubs offer participants a profound and
subtle learning experience outside the classroom. In a campus club, stu-
dents face multiple challenges. People aren’t showing up to meetings on
time. The mandate needs to be written. The venue doesn’t provide sound
equipment. Students may have never filled out a grant application before.
Either they figure out the answer or else the club, their club, flounders.
When students finally come to an answer, they internalize it for the next
time. As Confucius put it, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do
and I understand.”
What’s more, because clubs may experience significant turnover among
members due to graduation, or simply because of changed priorities over
the summer, this learning has to happen every one or two years. Many
organizations bill themselves as learning organizations, but, because of
the pace of turnover, campus clubs have to fundamentally be learning or-
ganizations, always concerned with learning and relearning a wide array
of skills required for the organization to survive from year to year.
These skills, whether learned willingly or by necessity, prepare students
for a huge range of careers, from event planning and human resources
management to policy and advocacy work, to name just a few. Universities
are also increasingly being pressured to do more to prepare students for
the workplace via career-resource centres, co-op programs and internships.
These are vital, but work-integrated learning opportunities are often limited to certain academic programs and can be difficult and expensive to
scale up. Campus clubs, on the other hand, are available to every single
student and, in most cases, are primarily funded by students’ dues and
overseen by student unions, thereby significantly lessening the burden on
How do clubs connect students with careers? Many clubs are chap-
ters of existing off-campus, non-profit organizations like the Red Cross,
Amnesty International, Plan International Canada, Equal Voice, and ser-
vice clubs like Enactus and Rotary International. These organizations are
often struggling to find and attract new leadership and to bridge genera-
tional divides. Of course, one could simply volunteer at the organization,
but there are some crucial advantages campus clubs have over traditional
The most important of these advantages is that campus clubs present students with low-risk opportunities to take on leadership positions
that likely would not be available to them as volunteers in outside organizations. This gives students more ownership over their work, allows
them more autonomy and flexibility, as well as responsibility for getting
Clubs also provide non-profit organizations with greater capacity, a
recruitment pool and access to university infrastructure and resources. If
more non-profit organizations took advantage of this opportunity, universities would come to play an increasingly central role in the communities
While a lot of this kind of interaction already goes on, it is mostly
ad hoc, depending on the interest and initiative of particular students
approaching off-campus organizations or vice versa. While this sort of initiative is at the heart of what makes campus clubs what they are, it does
not always foster efficient results. Universities have an opportunity here
to take on a much more intentional role in facilitating these relationships
without crushing that core spontaneity.
whether or not a university explicitly considers it, many decisions it makes will directly or indirectly affect the success of campus
clubs. For instance, if universities included clubs in campus tours
and other student recruitment activities, they could get an early start with
the next cohort of incoming students. Getting the relationship right will
take a concerted effort based on a careful assessment of clubs’ individual
and collective needs.
But clubs are worthy of study for more than just practical reasons.
Campus clubs also offer rich, almost completely untouched, ground to
researchers in many faculties. Are you a civil society researcher? Campus
clubs exhibit features of both grassroots associations and non-profit organizations, challenging current typologies. Do you study science commu-
“Terminology aside, campus clubs offer
participants a profound and subtle
learning experience outside the classroom.”