The great thing about my work is that there are now so many sectors abroad going down the student partnership path – their innovations and experiences are valuable. This week I will concentrate on the sector development of student partnership principles in Ireland. Their National Project on student engagement was begun in 2014 with the establishment of a Working Group by the Higher Education Authority (HEA). This body worked together with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and the Qualifications and Quality Authority Ireland (QQI) to establish, in 2016, a set of principles, and to begin the pilot National Student Engagement Programme which is currently underway.
The Irish project was assisted by Eve Lewis from student partnerships in quality Scotland (sparqs) and was influenced by the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) which have principles of student-centred processes embedded throughout.
Clearly it is of great value to us in Australia to look at this process and to follow the Irish experience to see what leads we may take. This is both from the development of the principles and the 18 month pilot National Student Engagement Programme as it progresses. The latter has two ‘streams’ – the course rep programme to build student capacity, and building institutional process and capacity for student engagement.
The Chair of the Working group, Professor Tom Collins, said in launching his report which led to the Principles and the pilot Programme:
Student engagement essentially means student involvement in governance and management, quality assurance, and teaching and learning. While students are ultimately responsible for their own learning and level of engagement, effective student engagement also depends on institutional conditions, policies and culture that enable and encourage students to get involved. The benefits of effective student engagement can include better retention rates, higher levels of satisfaction with educational outcomes, and better student/staff relationships on college campuses. (http://www.hea.ie/news/working-group-student-engagement )
I would also add to this the value in assisting the professional development of students as critical thinkers, innovators, leaders and citizens.
Now I focus on Cat O’Driscoll, a key initiator of the Irish initiative and now the Co-ordinator of the pilot. Her path demonstrates the sequence which became clear to us time and time again in our project research overseas. Cat, who I met at the sparqs conference, began her journey as a course rep in the early days of her studies at University College Cork. She then chaired that university’s Student Council, becoming sabbatical Vice-President for education. She took the knowledge, experience and confidence she had gained there into the national and international contexts – becoming first a Vice-President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) later working with the European Students Union (ESU). Her motivation for starting out of this path she gives as ‘wanting to fix things’, and as she moved up through the system she found that her roles all fed into each other: ‘… though each level is not always aware of the others. For instance, course reps don’t always understand the national structures, and national representatives tend not to understand the international dimension’. But, she says, while there are differences between disciplines and countries students generally face the same issues and challenges.
Cat acknowledges that there is still ‘variable practice in the sector’ and there is much work to be done in the programme. She looks to student reps and student organisations to be instrumental in working with universities to drive engagement practices to wider implementation and embedding.
For the interview see: www.sparqs.ac.uk/news-detail.php?page=568
Further resources for the Irish process:
‘Embedding the Principles of Student Engagement’ http://www.hea.ie/…/principles_student_engagement_insert_fi…
A Vision for Partnership – USI Student Engagement Policy usi.ie/wp-conte…/…/2016/03/A-Vision-for-Partnership-USI.docx
The National Student Engagement Programme http://usi.ie/nstep/