Embracing student partnership

I feel that concept, practice and enthusiasm for student partnership has taken a big leap after the first two workshops for the sector-wide collaboration.  We have gathered ideas and input through what participants have said at the workshops and through what they have written online.  We are working our way through this input and identifying themes and ideas emanating from the wide knowledge and experience of workshop participants.

Clearly however, from the hugely valuable workshop discussions and online input, establishing trust is a key factor.  This has several facets of equal importance.  First, if students are going to want to play a part in university functions towards enhancement of both courses and the university experience they must trust that their views will be seriously taken into account.   The institution must establish this trust through communication of ways in which it seeks to work genuinely in partnership with students in developing initiatives, strategy and directions.  Importantly, an institution also needs to communicate with students that their voice was listened to and how it impacted on the decisions made.  The students must be part of the process, not an add-on at the end.

Secondly, and no less important to partnership, is that university staff – professional, management and academic, must trust the authenticity of students’ views.  For this students must fully appreciate their role, from course representatives upwards in helping to shape the quality of what the university is and what it offers.  It is not about criticism but about positive ideas for improvement.

Staff, particularly course convenors and those in the classrooms are then able to appreciate the value of working with students during the progress of the courses, rather than simply in feedback at the end when positive ideas are too late for the particular cohort providing them.

During the project and thus far in the Fellowship we have worked with a strong cross section of students.  They have clearly demonstrated that they are more than equal to the challenge of partnering with universities in this way.  Students in workshop discussions and in their online input are already contributing exciting and innovative ideas.

Sally Varnham

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