About the Fellowship

A National Senior Teaching Fellowship entitled Creating a National Framework for Student Partnership in University Decision-Making and Governance was awarded to Professor Sally Varnham in 2016.  In 2017 she undertook a sector-wide collaboration to consider the “what, why and how” of student partnership in Australian institutions and nationally.  She held collaborative workshops around Australia and at the invitation of specific institutions and sector organisations (for example, the Council for International Students of Australia (CISA) and Students, Transitions, Achievement, Retention and Success (STARS)).  A wide range of sector members including students and student leaders, academics, professional staff, senior managers and personnel from sector agencies attended these workshops.  Following open, lively and valuable dialogue the input, captured online and manually, was analysed to shape the Principles and Framework known as STEPUP (Students and Tertiary Education Providers Undertaking Partnership) for quality enhancement.  These Principles are in short and expanded form here.

The Fellowship had followed completion of the Australian Government’s Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) Strategically Commissioned Priority Project:  “Student Engagement in University Decision Making and Governance: towards a more systemically inclusive student voice”.    The team for this Project, led by Sally Varnham and including Bronwyn Olliffe, Katrina Waite and Ann Cahill, looked at comparative international jurisdictions and current practice in Australian institutions.  This had identified the need for a sector-wide collaboration which was then enabled by the Fellowship.

The following self-reflective questions were posed to members of individual institutions who attended the Fellowship workshops:

  • To what extent is the student voice embedded in your processes and structures?
  • What evidence shows that the student voice has made a difference to your decisions and the quality of provision?
  • How is an active and independent student voice encouraged at your institution?
  • How does your institution demonstrate that it is listening to student voice? Do you consult students early in decision-making processes?  Do you ask them at appropriate times?  Do you give them enough time to respond?  Do you incorporate their views into the decision?
  • Are student representatives trained, supported, well informed and prepared for their role? How do they work with other students to ensure the views they put forward are genuinely representative?

A Briefing Document containing these questions for discussion, and the Fellowship background, was sent to attendees in preparation for each workshop (the Briefing Document is available here).

The STEPUP Principles and Framework referred to above were launched at the Fellowship Symposium at UTS on 1 September 2017.

The Keynote speaker at the Symposium was Cat O’Driscoll, the National Co-ordinator of the Irish National Student Engagement Programme pilot (NStEP).  Inspired by hearing from Cat and by the twenty institutions who show-cased their student partnership initiatives, the 120 attendees at the Symposium were in agreement that there needed to be a national presence to sustain student partnership and to take it forward.

Both the members of the panel and the audience confirmed this sentiment during the concluding panel discussion.  The Panel, chaired by Sally Varnham,  included Cat O’Driscoll, Karen Treloar (TEQSA), Professor Geoff Crisp PVC Education (UNSW) and a member of the Fellowship Advisory Group, Sheelagh Matear (NZ AQA) and the leaders of the four peak student associations.  These were Sophie Johnson (NUS), Peter Derbyshire (CAPA), Sadie Heckenberg (NATSIPA) and Bijay Sapkota (CISA).  Importantly, following this discussion these national bodies concluded a historic agreement to work together to progress all student matters including partnership.  It is also notable that these peak student bodies have also entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to work together with TEQSA to enhance quality and standards.

A strong theme of the symposium evidenced in the panel discussion and audience interaction was the value to the sector of networking for the sharing of ideas and experiences, and the need for a co-ordinated approach to the training and support of student leaders, student academic representatives and student representatives.  The symposium recognised, however, the diversity of the Australia tertiary sector and thus that institutions had different characters, cultures and needs, and were at different stages in embracing student engagement and partnership processes.

Building on the interest and enthusiasm to pursue student partnership further, Sally Varnham put out a proposal to set up a one-year pilot program.  The aim of this program is two-fold: first, to assist those institutions who wished to participate, to facilitate processes based on the STEPUP Principles and Framework.  This could be by undertaking institution-wide audits of student engagement; by Student Partnership Agreements (such as that concluded at ANU); and/or by developing or building on Student Academic Representative Systems.

Secondly, the aim of the pilot is to set up a national presence for the networking and sharing of ideas, knowledge and experience and to work towards a sector with student partnership as ‘the way we do things’.  To date nine institutions have agreed to join this pilot and work will begin in March on setting it up and appointing a co-ordinator.

I have named this pilot Student Voice Australia, and this website and the Facebook page Student Voice in University Decision-Making aims to capture this process and provide a forum for ongoing dialogue in the sector.

This site replaces www.studentvoice.uts.edu.au and contains Fellowship activities and outputs.  In addition to those mentioned above it also contains a number of resources designed to enable facilitation of the STEPUP Principles and to work towards the embedding of a culture of student partnership – working with students for students – in the sector.  It will be maintained and updated as student partnership activities continue and gain momentum into the future.

The site includes a Forums page (see the Forums tab above) that you can join and use to post questions, comments, experiences and ideas around student partnership.  You are encouraged to sign up to the Forums page and take part in posted discussions.

Support for this activity has been provided by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.  The views expressed in this activity do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Department of Education and Training