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.