RAISE Conference Pt. 2

Continuing from where I left the last blog, I’d like to share a couple more highlights from the RAISE Conference with you all.

Many of us spend substantial time within our institutions discussing the value of student-staff partnerships and encouraging partnership approaches more broadly. However, how often do we pause to consider how that discussion might be framed in the context of who we might be talking to? The focus of a workshop delivered by Dr Lucy Mercer-Mapstone on the final day of the RAISE conference was on examining how student-staff partnership can be introduced according to five different entry point narratives. Each narrative was approached from a different theme:

  • Student expertise
  • Employability
  • Alumni engagement
  • Lifelong learning
  • Radical practice

The narratives were developed by Lucy in collaboration with Assoc. Prof. Kelly Matthews from the University of Queensland, to equip practitioners to engage diverse audiences in dialogue around student-staff partnership. Drawing on Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle of Communication approach, each invitation is structured to tap into why someone might be motivated to invest in partnership rather than focusing on the product or process of partnership itself (e.g. partnership agreements, rep structures, assessment co-design, etc.).

After workshop participants were presented with the five narratives, Lucy asked us to consider what the benefits, risks, ideological assumptions, audience, and purpose might be connected with each one. We were also encouraged to think of further narratives to encourage partnership beyond the five presented.

I found this session so illuminating and it made me rethink how I can approach my work and persuade others to take up student-staff partnership in their own terms.  You might also like to consider how you might invite colleagues to begin a journey into partnership by tapping into what motivates them?

A special shout-out to Dr Amani Bell from Western Sydney University (also the current IRU Vice Chancellors’ Fellow) who delivered a wonderful closing keynote on recent research she took part in around ‘understanding the experiences of first generation university students through collaborative & culturally responsive approaches’.

Moving away from a discourse of disadvantage to a strengths based approach, Amani unpacked the culturally responsive and sustaining methodologies used by the researchers, to explore the diverse experiences of first generation students as they transition into and engage with higher education. It was interesting to hear from Amani how first gen students involved in the research demonstrated resilience during their time at university, and how they were able to articulate their successes and challenges. Further consideration was also given to exploring how universities might better serve first gen students, and how we all need to hold our own universities accountable for what is promised in mission/values statements in regards to equity & inclusion. The recently published book Amani co-edited on the above can be found here.

That’s my wrap up from the RAISE Conference. I hope you are able to draw some inspiration, as I have, from the sessions I have chosen to highlight on this blog.

A reminder that the RAISE network also has a peer reviewed journal – Student Engagement in Higher Education – which focuses on publishing research, theory, practice and policy about student engagement. I highly recommend you take a look.

Kate Walsh

Project Manager, Student Voice Australia Pilot

RAISE conference 2018

It’s great to finally begin work as the Student Voice Pilot Project Officer and thank you to all who have welcomed me in this new role! I’ll be posting regular blogs here exploring good practice in student engagement and student voice, sharing examples from Australia and internationally, as well as keeping you all posted with updates on the Pilot as the year progresses.

During my recent trip to the UK to kick-start my work with the Student Voice Pilot, I was lucky to attend the RAISE Annual Conference. For those of you who have yet to encounter RAISE, it stands for Researching, Advancing and Inspiring Student Engagement and is a network of academics, practitioners, advisors and student reps working in researching and promoting student engagement. Definitely my kind of people!

The 2018 conference was held at Sheffield Hallam University over three days and was jam packed with thought-provoking presentations, workshops and keynote speakers, from the UK and beyond.

There are too many to discuss in this short space, however, I will touch on a few highlights here:

It was a great pleasure to meet and spend time with Dr Cathy Bovill, whom many of you will already be familiar with, as a leading scholar on all things student engagement and partnership. Cathy presented on an initiative she began at the University of Edinburgh bringing staff and students together in conversation over coffee and cake. The aim of the initiative being to break down barriers between staff and students and assist students in developing a stronger sense of belonging and engagement with their School. These ‘coffee and cake conversations’ were quite simple in structure – 1 staff member and 3 students were grouped together and given a 25 pound voucher to spend at a café to enjoy some coffee and cake over a conversation. A number of questions were provided to each group to assist with getting the conversation flowing, but there was no limit to what could be discussed. I thought this was a simple, yet quietly powerful way, to bring students and staff together around shared interests and experiences in the classroom and as members of the University community. Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive with a number of participants showing interest in embedding a coffee and cake scheme within their own School within the University.

Perhaps this sounds like something you might like to try at your own institution? For more information about the Coffee and Cake Conversation initiative check out Cathy’s blog.

I know a lot of people, including myself, often wonder if our student representatives are broadly representative of the diversity of students who attend our institutions. Whilst we might suspect that our reps are not as diverse as we might wish (or need them to be as representatives), we often don’t have enough evidence at hand to do anything about it. It was great then, to attend a presentation from Lindsay Isaacs from sparqs and Megan Brown from the University of Edinburgh to hear about their participation in a 12 month pilot around ‘Monitoring the Diversity of Course Reps’. The pilot was coordinated by sparqs who worked with four Scottish institutions (including the University of Edinburgh) to investigate who their course reps are and how they compare with the wider student population. As Lindsay and Megan wisely pointed out ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’.

During the pilot, course rep data at each institution was gathered through a short questionnaire for reps designed by the working group, and in the case of the University of Edinburgh, handed out to reps during class rep training (resulting in an impressive response rate of 77%). The rep data was then compared with data from the University to see how diverse the rep population was in comparison with the general student population. Interestingly, at the U of E, course reps were found to more likely be a Widening Participation student than not (over 2 yrs. data collected so far). I wonder if institutions in Australia would have the same results? The discussion during the presentation also touched on how some students may not want to be a part of a rep system, but that we should always be asking if there is another way to engage these students in other opportunities to have their say and get involved. The sparqs website has more information on this worthwhile pilot here.

I have more to share but will end the blog here today and post more next week! Please get in touch in the comments below (or on the facebook page) and share your thoughts and ideas. I’d love to become an interactive space to share and learn together.

Kate Walsh – Student Voice Pilot Project Officer

Student Voice Pilot Project up and running October 22nd

We’re there! (but now the work begins …)

I am pleased to announce that the much-heralded Student Voice pilot will be up and running for one year from October 22nd.   Kate Walsh has accepted our offer of appointment as Project Officer and will be hosted by UTS.  My thanks to the Selection Committee for their work in making this appointment recommendation and to all the participant institutions for their work to conclude the agreement.

Kate comes to us from Flinders University where she has been working over the past three years as the Student Representation and Development Officer within FUSA.  She is a strong advocate for student partnership approaches to student engagement and has been working actively with students, senior managers and academics at Flinders to develop and embed these practices across the University.

Kate has considerable experience of the tertiary education sector in Australia and has developed strong networks abroad, particularly with Sparqs and NStEP (the Irish National Student Engagement Program), and has been an active attendee of the workshops and symposia held during my Project and Fellowship.  Kate has also taken part in student partnership summits and conferences held by Sparqs and the New Zealand Union of Students Associations (NZUSA).  Most recently, after she had been selected as the successful candidate, but before she could be formally appointed as the Student Voice Project Officer, Kate accompanied me to the Sparqs Student Academic Representation Train the Trainers workshop in Dundee, Scotland.

Kate is knowledgeable, capable and shares my enthusiasm for student partnership, and we are fortunate that she is able to undertake the role of Project Officer.  Welcome Kate!

A holistic student partnership framework developed at the University of the Sunshine Coast; and huge congrats to UNE students

This continues my series of blogs about the great things that our pilot participant institutions are already putting into place (a big thank you to Rhonda Leece from USC for this account (which I have abbreviated)):

The University of the Sunshine Coast are developing a holistic Student partnership framework with the intention of having an overarching Student Senate established by 2019. To encourage authentic student engagement and to encourage students as active partners in shaping their learning experiences, they have adopted a bottom-up tiered model.  This will include Program Representatives and Student Liaison Groups across the institution at school and faculty levels.

The USC Student Partnership initiative aims to transition their students from the ‘consumer’ characterisation, to their proper recognition as representatives of the student voice and as ‘change agents’. This will assist greatly in the students’ personal and professional development in terms of the graduate attributes and in their future employability.

The great thing is that these moves are being student-driven in several phases through a Student Senate Working Party and USC is confident that the new structures will be implemented for the commencement of the 2019 academic year.

On another thing, huge congrats go to UNE student leaders Penny Leary and Koady Williams who have had a poster on their ‘Student Partnership @UNE’ accepted for the RAISE (Research, Advancing and Inspiring Student Engagement) Conference in September at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. The theme of the conference is Working Better Together: Collaborations in Student Engagement. Check out the program to see the wealth of valuable material coming out of that conference. We will be there and bringing the knowledge, experiences and insights back here to inform our work on the Student Voice Pilot (http://www.raise-network.com/events/conference-2018/).

Finally, I set sail on Friday first to present on Student Voice in Australia at a higher education conference in Budapest.  Such a great networking opportunity to be in Europe where the European Students Union (ESU) have long been the drivers of student partnership.  Thence to Dundee to attend a three day training event for Student Academic Representatives.  Will try to report along the way.

No ‘one size fits all’ – Individual institutions tailor student partnership initiatives to their particular needs

[Many thanks for the material for this blog to Maxine Courtier and Suzanne McKinnon at Holmsglen]

A big shout out for Holmsglen – now signed up to the Student Voice Pilot Project.  It is so great to have them with us as it is so important for this work to embrace each of the diverse wide-ranging institutions which make up the Australian tertiary sector. This is the case in our comparative sectors of Scotland, Ireland and New Zealand, and is as it should be for partnership to become embedded as a way of doing things across the whole sector here.
While confirming their involvement in the Project, Holmsglen have been working strongly to progress their student voice/partnership agenda through many major initiatives driven by a strong focus on student engagement and experience in the Institute’s new ‘Vision 2020’ Strategic Plan.
They have created a new role of student engagement manager with responsibility for liaising and co-ordinating initiatives with the Student Voice Pilot Project Officer. The person in this role will have responsibility for the training and support of members of a Student Council to be up and running by the end of 2018.   The members of this Council will come from each faculty’s student representative committees and two of its members will sit on their highest academic governance committee, the Council of Education and Applied Research.
In recognition of the diversity and particular nature of their student cohorts, they are working with an external company to provide a student online community platform. This aims to provide a forum to engage current and prospective students across a wide range of student voice and engagement initiatives. In addition, their student ‘buddy and mentor’ system, already highly successful in a couple of their programs, will be extended as a pilot across other of their higher education and their vocational programs.
As we explore student partnership possibilities in Australia, a recurring theme in all discussions is the diversity of the sector and the fact that there can be no ‘one size fits all approach’. It is of great interest to see how Holmsglen is furthering their commitment in ways which are particularly relevant to the nature of their institution. Hopefully their experiences will inform moves towards student engagement in similar bodies.
It is so interesting to see how this networking and sharing of experiences between institutions with similar characteristics is already underway with the recent visit of UNE student leaders to Federation University.
As I embark up a series of presentations in Scotland and Europe in the next few weeks, there is lots happening here for me to report on.

Students driving initiatives: Student Partnership @ UNE – A holistic approach

This blog was kindly written by the wonderful UNE student leaders, Penny and Koady:

The need for effective institution wide participation by students in decision making at the University of New England (UNE) was the catalyst for the development of a student-led top-down-bottom-up framework. This student partnership initiative is built on the principles developed by Professor Sally Varnham (University of Technology Sydney) to include genuine student involvement in decision-making processes from start to finish, increase and create value in student contributions, develop ownership of institutional decision making, and provide and support student leadership opportunities.

Members of the team had the opportunity to showcase this project as an emerging initiative at the 2018 STARS Conference in Auckland, New Zealand (8 – 11 July 2018). The presentation (delivered by students Penny & Koady) was well received by conference delegates.

The Team is student driven

Driving this project are the UNE student leaders, Penny Leary and Koady Williams. Penny and Koady are undergraduate students of UNE who are proactively engaged in student voice at the University. Both are current members of the UNE Academic Board, and have a portfolio of positions that engage them in University decision-making. Passionate about student partnerships, this project has enabled Penny and Koady to engage with students and implement the principles they helped develop as part of Professor Varnham’s fellowship.

Behind these students is a motivated team of staff within the Faculty of Science, Agriculture, Business and Law (SABL). Assisting with resourcing, project management and development, and mentoring, Professor Darren Ryder – Associate Dean (Teaching & Learning) – SABL has been a major support throughout the development and implementation phases of this project, allowing the student initiated project to evolve. Providing further support, Education Designers Neelam Narayan and Adam Landow have provided expert assistance in the development of feedback strategies and implementation of the pilot into the online platform. Working in partnership, our team of five enabled the project to be delivered successfully.

Pilot Project

A student-led approach to representation is new to many institutions, including UNE, so we designed a Pilot Project to test an approach that was designed, led and implemented by students. This was conducted in the SABL Faculty with the following aims:

  1. Increase student engagement at unit level through a peer-to-peer online portal
  2. Improve timely provision of feedback on unit quality
  3. Create and support opportunities for student leadership

Aim One: Increase student engagement at unit level through a peer-to-peer online portal

The peer-to-peer online portal was designed as a student only space within our existing learning platform (Moodle) with the ability for students to opt-out. Engagement with students was sought at Faculty (all students) and Unit level, and was measured as any access to and viewing of the peer-to-peer portal. There were 7684 initial enrolments, with a retention rate of 98.67% and engagement rate of 48.36%. Students used the portal at a Faculty level for peer-to-peer communication, non-academic engagement opportunities and peer-to-peer support and mentoring. Examples included the social interaction between online students who may never set foot on the Armidale campus, and students asking questions or making logistical arrangements to attend their intensive schools.

A primary focus of the Pilot was Unit Level engagement across 8 units, consisting of 6 first year and 2 second year from throughout the Faculty. These units had a combined emrolment of 2654 students. Using the framework to guide development, we consulted with Unit Coordinators via a workshop to tailor the student roles to the specific needs of each unit, allowing Unit Coordinators to improve their understanding of the Pilot and its potential benefit. At the commencement of term, an Expressions of Interest process was used to generate student nominations for appointment as Unit Representative leadership positions. All Student Representatives were provided an online training package and support for student leaders in the peer-to-peer online environment, designed and delivered by the Faculty Student Representatives (Koady and Penny). This process of peer-to-peer training proved successful.

The role of the Unit Student Representative was to facilitate communication among students and promote the use of unit feedback channels, as well as to ensure opportunities for engagement in the ‘Social Space’ by students. This was achieved, as can be seen in the graph below where substantial improvements in levels of student engagement were made from a week into the pilot (13/3) through to the final week of the pilot (24/6) where levels of active student engagement ranged from 44% (Business unit) to 65% (Science unit).

Aim Two: Enhancement of quality though improving timely provision of feedback

Traditional unit feedback is received at the end of teaching periods, meaning any changes and improvements can only be implemented the next time the unit is offered. The timely feedback on unit quality in this pilot project was achieved through regular provision of feedback from students to Unit Coordinators through an independent Faculty staff member to alleviate stress of any party in this process. Feedback was received through a designated anonymous feedback tool within the Unit portal. Appropriate feedback was collated by the Faculty staff member and forwarded to the Unit Coordinator as thematic issues that were both positive and constructive. Early intervention was then able to occur to resolve issues and communicated to students through Moodle. An example of this is the provision of feedback regarding tutors failing to cover the required content within the allocated tutorial time. Feedback was provided to the Unit Coordinator through this process that allowed them to rectify this with the tutor for future tutorials. Additional feedback showed an improvement in students’ satisfaction with the tutorial experience.

Aim Three: Increase opportunities for student leadership

The pilot consisted of 6 student leaders, 66% of which indicated they wish to be considered for future leadership roles within the Faculty. A training resource package was developed as part of the pilot, and will be incorporated into training within future initiatives.

Conclusion

The aims of increasing student engagement at a unit level through a peer-to-peer portal and the timely provision of feedback on unit quality and increased opportunities for student leadership were all achieved. The pilot project fits into a university wide model to increase student participation in university governance and decision making through a partnership model at multiple points in the university organisational structure – from units, courses, Faculty to university level. These opportunities will increase students’ individual and collective ownership of their learning experience.

Some of our challenges in progressing this model include:

  • Finding and retaining student leaders
  • Establish and maintain relationships between students and staff
  • Online student engagement, especially as UNE has a large online student body

We welcome your thoughts, comments and feedback!

Penny Leary, Koady Williams and Darren Ryder

e: tl-sabl@une.edu.au

Student voice initiatives underway in institutions – Topic reps at Flinders

This is the first in a series which will highlight initiatives developed in institutions which are part of the Student Voice Pilot Project.  Many thanks to Kate Walsh for this blog.

Topic Reps at Flinders University

In Semester 2, 2017, Flinders University piloted topic level representation in 14 Biological Science topics within the College of Science and Engineering (one of six Colleges within the University). The pilot was a collaboration between the Flinders University Student Association (FUSA) and the College and is modelled on the Class Representative system at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. Class reps are common in New Zealand and in the UK, although rare in Australia (at least across a University as a whole). I recently attended a presentation by Conrad Hogg, Education Council President from the University of Western Australia Student Guild, who spoke about their own successful Class Rep pilot in approximately 20 Units (topics in Flinders language) during Semester 1, 2018. It was fantastic to hear that another University was pursuing a class rep model, led by the Student Guild.

Following a positive evaluation, FUSA will be working with the College of Science and Engineering to expand the Topic Rep model across the whole College (approximately 107 reps across 77 topics), and to run a smaller pilot within the College of Business, Government and Law during semester 2, 2018.

Topic Rep model

As current students, Topic Representatives are ideally placed to provide insight into the student experience of learning and teaching, both what is working well and where improvements can be made. By working in collaboration with academic staff, topic reps are not only able to represent the views of their fellow classmates, but also to work in partnership with staff to enhance learning and teaching for all involved. The opportunity to be involved in continuous, low level dialogue with Topic Coordinators as the topic is rolling out means that the student perspective can be taken into consideration immediately, allowing for small adjustments to be made in real time.

Topic Representatives from the 2017 pilot also reported feeling more engaged with their topic as a result of their role:

“I enjoyed the topic a lot more by being actively involved in it as representing students for issues they had. It has made me more aware of our ability to change things and enjoy the learning experience more, rather than accept and struggle through leaving a less pleasant and rewarding experience. Also being able to get to know and communicate with the topic coordinator and other students brought a sense of community into it” (2017 Topic Representative).

Training

An important element of a Topic Rep system is comprehensive training. All Topic Reps are expected to attend a 2hr training session to ensure that they understand their role and how to be as effective as possible. FUSA has recently recruited and trained a pool of five ‘Associate Trainers’ to deliver training to incoming Topic Reps during Semester 2. These Associate Trainers are former Topic Reps (students) who participated in the 2017 pilot.

Recognition  

All Topic Reps receive formal recognition for their role through the Flinders University Horizon Award program and a certificate of acknowledgement at the end of the Semester signed by the DVC (Students). Being a Topic Rep also develops skills in in decision-making, leadership, communication, negotiation, organisation, delegation and advocacy. Students are also motivated to get involved by the opportunity to make a positive difference within their course of study.

Please feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss the Topic/Class Rep Model in more detail or share your ideas/thoughts in the comments below.

 Kate Walsh  Kate.walsh@flinders.edu.au

Student Representation and Development Officer, Flinders University Student Association

Engaging student voice in strategic planning – a shout out for UTS!

Student voice is central to hearing the views of all the university community in the strategic planning exercise currently underway at UTS.

The university recognises that its staff and students are their beating heart and need to be placed at the centre of all they do”.

Last week I attended a vibrant and energetic workshop of students aimed at gaining their ideas for the university’s future strategy, known as 2027.

In order to engage the views of as many and as diverse a range of students as possible the university has enlisted the expertise of the Design innovation Research Centre. This was the first in their series of workshops and they have just released their report for this stage: UTS2027 Strategy: Student Engagement Workshop Playback and Insights Report.

A snapshot from the Report:

Students’ ideas for strategy broadly fell into three themes:

  • Connect university experience to the real world: make university experiences practical and relevant for the real world, along with developing closer ties to industry, alumni and community;
  • University as a mentor: facilitating opportunities for personal growth and exploration within the university setting to help students find their purpose and realise their potential;
  • University-sector interface: finding opportunities to have real impact on broader society through core university experiences as well as extra-curricular activities.

 

Importantly, the students were keen to know at the outset why the university was engaging with them and what it would do with their input. This reflects a theme which came through all my Fellowship collaborative workshops.  Transparency and clear communication are seen to be essential elements of building the trust and respect necessary for authentic and effective student engagement by institutions across the sector.

The buzz which was immediately obvious at the workshop, and the professional approach taken by the students to the task in hand was incredibly affirming. Well done to UTS management for this initiative and to the students who participated for your enthusiasm for being involved.   I look forward to such university/student partnership initiatives becoming further embedded as ‘the way we do things’ at UTS.

It would be great to hear of similar things happening in other institutions…

WISE Wales

WISE Wales – the Welsh student partnership initiative – held their conference in Cardiff on 23rd May and I have been following it on Twitter. What a great acronym – WISE stands for Wales Initiative for Student Engagement. Its partnership approach, said to be a defining feature of further and higher education in Wales, ‘engages students as active participants in the leadership, management, development and delivery of their own educational experience’. It is built on three pillars: Working in Partnership, Valuing Feedback and Harnessing Expertise. In common with its near neighbours, WISE operates as a collaboration between sector groups: ColegauCymru/Colleges Wales, the Higher Education Academy (HEA), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Higher Education Wales, the National Union of Students in Wales and the Quality Assurance Agency (see wisewales.org.uk/). How good would it be if the whole sector here could pull together in this way to embed student partnership nationally and in institutions across Australia –definitely top of my wish list. In the meantime however I am happy with the strong support Student Voice Australia has been shown by so many members of the higher education community – students, staff, senior managers and nationally, TEQSA.

Just a few points from the WISE Wales event:

@KatieDavorn of @HallamUnion introduces ‘partnership in practice not in principle’, in talking about how Sheffield Hallan SU has recently developed a partnership approach to student representation with SUs, student representatives, University directorates and Faculty Staff. Danielle Barnard @Bangorstudents states: ‘Partnership is not a transaction, it must be done with mutual respect,’ and Jeremy Harvey @TSDSU emphasises that collaboration is a necessity for good partnership. His gem is:

‘We come into the room with different values and priorities, but we come out with a united goal and direction’ #PartnershipWales18

This just about perfectly sums up what the approach to a true authentic partnership between students and institutions should be.

Back at home, I believe partnership is developing …

Yesterday I attended a Workshop of students brought together to provide input into 2027, the university’s strategic plan exercise. It was once again clearly demonstrated that students have great ideas and want to become involved if their input is sought and they feel they can make a difference.

Importantly, the students pointed to the value of engagement for their own professional development.

I look forward to reporting more on this in my next blog …

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Student voice highlighted in print

This has been a great week for focus on student engagement and student partnership.

First was in the May 21 issue of Campus Review in an article entitled: ‘Leading the Culture Change from the east of England’ (https://www.campusreview.com.au/2018/05/leading-the-culture-change-from-the-east-of-england).  David Richardson, Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia (UEA), discusses the shift in the university/student relationship in the UK to that of students as partners and co-creators in education.  He refers to the change as happening ‘at a revolutionary rather than an evolutionary pace’ (for Kate – this may have led me to rethink how I refer to the pace of change in Australia). Like David,  I have long found the ‘students as consumers’ characterisation of the relationship disturbing.   It encourages passivity and a ‘getting what they paid for’ mentality rather than viewing higher education as a joint enterprise for the common good. He agrees that we ‘shouldn’t fall into the trap’ of seeing students as consumers and points to the positive side of the increased cost of education as students having more at stake and wanting to be at the table as ‘co-producers’.  The needs and expectations of students have changed and students more and more feel they can contribute by ‘co-decision making at all levels’.  David shares the thoughts of two student union officers at his university online through the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIosLt9hCUk. I was on the panel entitled: ‘Nothing about you without you’ with Professor Richardson at the UA conference – and I can vouch that this video is worth watching.  In summarising the partnership relationship which has developed at UEA, David says: ‘We have to have mutual understanding, we have to be honest, we must communicate, and as a university we have to listen to our students and act on their views”.  Importantly he recognises that such a culture change may be uncomfortable initially for many staff and stresses the importance of bringing all the university community along on the shift.  He concludes: ‘If you work with students, the solutions you get may well be more creative and more impactful than you expect.  And that’s part of the tremendous value they bring. Students will help you make change happen’.

A perspective on student voice from an international student leader is featured in the HERDSA News, (2018) Vol 40 (2) – the magazine of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia. This is in an interview with Bijay Sapkota, UTS student and current president of CISA.  In response to the question of what drives him to work so hard for student engagement he says: ‘Students who are engaged will be proactive and this will impact on the quality of university education and ultimately benefit the education system as a whole.  Engaged students develop into great graduates.  It is not my books that created me as I am now – it is conferences, being on boards, meeting with different committees.’  Bijay has prioritised engagement of the voice of international students and his support and input has been so important, especially as a member of my various ‘conversations with students’ presentations.

In the same issue of the HERDSA magazine there is a short report of a project to hear student voice run by universities in Hong Kong (‘Redesigning Student Learning Experience in Higher Education Project: http://sub.cedars.hku.hk/cms/htdoc/upload/other_file/ef79f3b2e4a28f5618fd501714be9071.pdf).   Full-time undergraduate students across Hong Kong institutions were invited to propose and carry out a team project to inform on ‘their needs, their ideas and views on optimal arrangements of university education processes’.  The work of eleven teams was presented at a symposium held in August 2017.   The project was a great success – as an organiser concludes: ‘Local examples of student-centred, student-initiated, future-orientated teaching and learning experiences have been created and shared.  Student voice and ideas on optimal learning arrangements in higher education have been brought up and discussed’.   She points to impact: ‘As a result, one project has been awarded funding for continuation in the university while another project has attracted collaboration among different universities.’ (Anna Kwan, Chair of Hong Kong HERDSA).  This is not unlike the UNSWHeroes initiative showcased at my September 2017 Symposium.

These programs provide a clear demonstration that students are such a rich resource of ideas. As institutions like UEA and as a sector like the UK, we need to embrace the cultural shift to embed their voices in all that we do – for enhancement of quality and relevance and the professional development of our students.

On another note: last Friday I took part in a panel run by Flinders University which asked: Work Integrated Learning- are ‘students as partners’ possible?  A great forum for sharing a wide range of insights, experiences – not only but also from the many students present.  More on that later.

Changes to the UK National code – fixing what’s not broken?

I have always held out Chapter B5 of the UK National Quality Code as something to which we should aspire – in terms of a philosophy and an expectation of institutions working together with their students – rather than as a compliance tool. I wholeheartedly agree with the words of Tom Boland, Chief Executive Officer of the HEA, who said in launching the Irish National Student Engagement Pilot Programme: “Achieving successful student engagement is not about enforcement and compliance; it’s about building up a meaningful culture and two-way communications.” To place student partnership beside regulation would in mind view further encourage box-ticking and tokenism rather than genuinely embracing student voice as key to enhancement and quality and integral part of the way things are done in the sector.
Wording is important. It was a feature of Chapter B5 that it was phrased in terms of expectations and indicators which clearly indicated its spirit. For example, Indicator 1: ‘Higher education providers, in partnership with their student body, define and promote that range of opportunities for any student to engage in educational enhancement and quality assurance’; and Indicator 3: ‘ Arrangements exist for the effective representation of the collective student voice at all organizational level, and these arrangement provide opportunities for all students to be heard.’
The spirit of a community working together was clear from the setting up shortly afterwards in the UK of The Student Engagement Partnership between sector agencies and the National Union of Students. Together with Chapter B5 this inspired my project which was to develop a view of how in Australia we could take a lead from abroad and work together as a sector. How we could develop the means of embracing student voice authentically and effectively in decision-making at all levels of an institution’s operations. I found the research of Gwen van der Velden and others at the University of Bath hugely valuable (G M Van der Velden & ors (2013) “Student Engagement in Learning and Teaching Quality Management’) . This research was undertaken in conjunction with the UK QAA and was underpinned by Chapter B5. I began to look at how we could do student engagement better by talking with Gwen and student leaders in the UK. This, together with my discovery of the great trailblazing work undertaken by Eve Lewis and student partnerships in quality Scotland (sparqs), made me even more convinced that this was the path we needed to take in Australia. Even more affirming was the replacement of the Higher Education Funding Council by a body known as the Office for Students (OfS) which seemed to convey the message of putting students in their right place – at the centre of higher education.

So why the changes? I was puzzled and more than a little alarmed to hear of the intention to remove Chapter B5 in the replacement UK-wide Quality Code. The draft document, circulated for consultation, significantly downgraded the place of student voice in quality assurance and enhancement in the sector to be implied within the term ‘supplementary practices’. To quote from the Wonkhe comment of 27th March by Catherine Boyd this was despite the fact that: ‘… the development of student engagement in the UK has been internationally renowned and hard fought.’ She says: ‘ For many, this was too much of a demotion’. The sector’s response was strongly against the proposals. The opposition was not only to the proposed new Code but also to the lack of student engagement in the new OfS. As Catharine continues: “Furthermore, the strong reaction from the sector to the limited function of students in the Office for Students seemed to send a clear message that students remained at the heart of the system” (https://wonkhe.com/blogs,uk-quality-code-2-0).
A strong pushback was to be expected from the sector bodies – sparqs and TSEP- which have worked long and hard and with huge success to embed student partnership across the system. Most heartening however was concern at the removal from of the expectation of student engagement from the new Code expressed by the peak university bodies comprising senior management in Scotland and England.
So much so in fact that student engagement has re-entered the new iteration of the Code published recently by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA). This is out now for consultation. It is in much lesser form however.
The new Code aims for succinctness and brevity and the proposed student engagement provisions are definitely brief. While it is clearly a huge step forward from the previously drafted version, it is arguably still a major step back from the original philosophy and intent behind the wording of Chapter B5. The proposal now is for the expectation of student engagement to be found in the new idea of Core practice (for all UK institutions): ’The provider actively engages students, individually and collectively, in the quality of their educational experience’; and Common practice (for all institutions with enhancement led approaches or combination approaches) ‘The provider engages students individually and collectively in the development, assurance and enhancement of the quality of their educational experience’.
For the UK, time will tell as the consultation process proceeds. Importantly, the sector’s strong reaction to the removal of the clear expectations in Chapter B5 shows the weight which it places on student engagement as a way of doing things – from learning and teaching to university governance. Hopefully this ethos is there to stay despite what could eventuate as a lack of reinforcement in the national code.