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Flexibility is critical

One of the concepts recognised in developing a framework for student partnership in decision making is the need for flexibility. This need was high on the agenda during my recent visit to Holmesglen College which I mentioned last week.

There the length of stay for students can vary between weeks and years and the formal contact between the institution and the student may be by distance, infrequent face to face sessions (for workplace apprentices), par…t time through to full time class based tuition. However, even very short-term students may be experienced participants in higher education, enrolled to gain a needed diploma or broaden their skill base.

It is also important to recognise that the line between staff and students is often blurred as staff enrol as students to gain further skills and qualifications and students are employed by institutions in diverse roles.

Clearly a one size fits all approach won’t work. Nonetheless student partnership remains relevant no matter what way students engage in learning. Limiting a student’s opportunity to have a say regarding his or her higher or further education experience to an end of experience feedback survey is missing a valuable opportunity for enhancement, for both students and the institution. Students have a right to participate in shaping their experience and they have much to offer.

The challenge lies in co-creating opportunities for student partnership that are not only authentic but are also relevant to different student cohorts. Class, course and school representative systems remain relevant irrespective of the form of tuition taking place. They can cover a range, stepping up from informal to highly structured to best meet the needs of particular learning situations and ensure that students have opportunity to put forward their ideas in real time.

Student polling mechanisms allow students to participate in identifying issues, concerns and opportunities. There are great examples around, such as ‘what’ boards, flash pizza, UniJam and digital democracy platforms. Project based partnership activities offer another opportunity that can be adapted to different learning environments.

At the other end of the spectrum more formal governance opportunities are still applicable. It is important for students in these roles to ensure that they have ability and opportunity to engage effectively with diverse perspectives on the issues before them.

Whatever the format and role it is essential that students are properly prepared for and supported in the partnership roles they take on.

Sally Varnham

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