As I am working to put in place the necessary steps to embark on the Student Voice Australia pilot program, I am closely following the Irish example. Their National Student Engagement Programme (NStEP) was launched in March 2016 by the program partners, the Higher Education Authority (HEA), Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). The 2016 pilot stage involved five higher education institutions and by April 2017 the program had grown to include 23 higher education institutions across the public and private higher education sectors. The aims of the program are:
• To develop student capabilities to engage in quality enhancement and assurance activities at all levels of the higher education system.
• To assist institutions to develop processes and activities, which support/facilitate the meaningful engagement of students.
• Strengthen the value placed on student engagement across Ireland and develop tools and resources to support a common understanding and build effective practice.
The Irish program and these aims provide the inspiration for the work here. Reports are now coming out from the institutions involved as they review their progress – check out the NstEP site http://studentengagement.ie/ and also those of the participating institutions – for example that of Maymooth, the National University of Ireland https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/dean-teaching-learning/national-student-engagement-programme-nstep.
The program in Ireland is fortunate to work as a partnership between sector agencies. Although in Australia the work has the support of such agencies such as TEQSA and the separate and combined peak student bodies, it will exist essentially as a collaboration between the 10 participating institutions.
It will be hosted at UTS and, as I am discovering, working through the processes required to put such a program together is no mean feat. I am lucky to have the support and advice of representatives from the pilot institutions here.
It is important to get it right. It will play no small part in the sustainability of student partnership here. This is particularly the case in the appointment of the Student Voice Project Officer. This person will fulfil a central role in the pilot in working with the participating institutions in facilitation or progression of student partnership processes. They will perform many functions one of which may be, where required, helping institutions in developing processes for training and support of student academic representatives at all levels, and working with student leaders to this end. Evidence from comparative sectors abroad points overwhelmingly to the importance of these representative systems to develop capability and confidence in students to have an effective voice up through all levels of an institution’s decision-making.
To quote from a tweet congratulating an Irish class rep of the year: ‘Class Reps are vital partners in enhancing higher education for all students’.
What is the new UK Office for Students up to? – watch this space