Conferences promoting student partnership

In the last two weeks I have attended and presented at three very well attended and worthwhile conferences. Importantly, all three had a strong focus on students and universities working together in partnership. The theme of the first, HERDSA, was Curriculum Transformation and I was inspired by the volume and quality of the thought provoking work going on across the sector in optimising the learning of our students and their engagement in their education. At STARS the concentration was on student well-being as being everyone’s business, and fundamental to all students’ transitions to university, and their achievement, retention and successful completion of their studies.

The importance of engaging student voice in the classroom, in curriculum transformation and in enhancement of both courses and the university experience holistically, was evidenced by the ‘students as partners’ theme running throughout both conferences. The SaP ‘brand’ has rightly assumed importance in terms of students and staff working together, and in the value students bring to the learning and teaching sphere. My project work and my Fellowship takes a ‘whole of university’ view – that while partnership rightly starts in the classroom the culture of all members of the university working together towards a common goal encompasses all university activities.

The third conference was that of CISA, the Council for International Students of Australia. There was a strong call there among the student delegates and university staff from around Australia for a consideration of the role of international student voice in all facets of their engagement with their education providers. The dialogue also indicated a need for the partnership concept to extend outside universities, to TAFES, Polytechnics and other colleges. This has been the case elsewhere, notably in Scotland and New Zealand.

Much of the input from my workshops at these conferences, and the collaborative workshops I have been running around Australia, suggests that it is timely that universities undertake evaluations of their processes for student engagement towards partnership. Such an exercise could be undertaken in a partnership of students and staff and it will enable them to identify strengths, gaps and challenges. I have heard that this is already underway in some Australian universities.

In Ireland an exercise of this kind was completed in 2016 by a group made up from the Union of Students for Ireland (USI), the QQI and the HEA. This resulted in the formulation of the Student Partnership principles and the inception of the National Student Engagement Programme in Irish universities. In the policy statement ‘A Vision for Partnership’ which guided USI’s representations on student engagement, the Background begins with:

“Engaging students and staff effectively as partners in learning and teaching is arguably one of the most important issues facing higher education in the 21st century. Students as partners is a concept which interweaves through many other debates, including assessment and feedback, employability, flexible pedagogies, internationalisation, linking teaching and research, and retention and success.” [emphasis added]


Sally Varnham
10 July 2017

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