Sustaining partnership

How do we support student partnership to ensure it is sustainable into the future?  As the idea gathers momentum, various universities are already looking at their student engagement processes and instituting new ideas.   The question is how are universities and student organisations to be supported in their initiatives going into the future.  This is a key theme which is uppermost in my mind and which arises more and more in workshop and other discussions.

Clearly a national presence is required to provide the ongoing impetus and help facilitate processes within universities and nationally.  At the very least this could be a student partnership website, annual conferences and networking for sharing of information and experiences. However, I believe that if there is to be a commitment by universities and by the sector towards embedding a culture of working with students as partners, there needs more in terms of a sector-supported body.  There are various models for this abroad which I referred to often but it will help to run through them here.

In Scotland, sparqs or student participation in quality Scotland is a strong presence in the higher education sector.  Centred on its Student Engagement Framework for Scotland it focuses on course enhancement both in universities and colleges. A look at its website www.sparqs.ac.ukshows the wide range of activities and resources it provides towards facilitating effective student partnership not only in Scotland but internationally also.

In England and Wales following the insertion of Chapter B5 Student Engagement into the National Quality Code for Higher Education, TSEP or The Student Engagement Partnership was formed between the National Union of Students, the Quality Assurance Agency QAA, the Higher Education Academy HEA and the Higher Education Funding Council (now the Office for Students) www.tsep.org.uk.  This performs a similar support and facilitation function.

Ireland has most recently formulated the Student Engagement Principles and, with the help of sparqs and a working group established for the purpose, it is undertaking the National Student Engagement Pilot – a collaboration between the Union of Students, the HEA and Quality and Qualifications Ireland http://usi.ie/nstep.   This has two strands – a national student training programme and developing institutional capacity for partnership activities.  The aim of this programme is to help develop student capabilities to engage at all levels in institutions and in the sector.

Across the Tasman, the New Zealand Union of Student Associations (NZUSA) is active in leading student partnership particularly in the training and support of course representatives in both universities and polytechnics www.students.org.nz.  This body is supported by the sector and is now concluding a Memorandum of Understanding with the Academic Quality Agency AQA.

There are many other examples also from Europe, led by the European Students Association (ESU).

What a fortunate position for Australia – to have this wealth of resources on which to build its student partnership ethos in the sector.  It is my biggest hope that it takes up the challenge and on a national basis it supports the work being undertaken here in individual institutions.

Sally Varnham

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