The fate lies with funding

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, the challenge for the Australian tertiary education sector in advancing and embedding student partnership is largely a matter of funding. My work has uncovered a considerable commitment in individual institutions which needs to be supported nationally.

When we look at the initiatives that took place in the UK, a lot of activity was driven from the quality agenda and there was buy-in from sector associations and agencies. For the most part it seems those agencies and associations had access to funding that made it possible for them to implement programs directed at advancing student partnership. The moves were also driven to a large extent by national student organisations. While a lot of the activity was around training student representatives it was necessary for institutions at the same time to develop their own practices to permit meaningful engagement with trained student representatives. These representatives were ready, eager and able to engage in partnership leading to a more sophisticated interaction with decision making and evaluative processes. As a result, the agenda has widened and the range of activities has expanded with it. There has also been opportunity to reflect on how the UK sector is progressing with student representative training. The recent report Flint et al (2017), provides insights into what has been achieved, what has been learnt and challenges that still need to be addressed. There is also a short blog reflecting on some of the findings available at:

The Australian sector is of course much smaller than the UK higher education sector. Consequently, the various agencies and associations command much smaller budgets than their UK counterparts which in turn may lessen the likelihood that funding can be spared for student partnership programs.

In the absence of a suitable funding source, the way forward through training and support programs may well end up being one of user pays, where willing institutions and associations participate in such a program that will be to their benefit but at the same time will serve to develop student partnership in Australia. A measure of altruism may be needed to resource the necessary support services that will provide and facilitate this program. It is important that institutions see the benefit to be gained through the enhancement of the quality of their courses and the experience they provide for their students.

Consequently, there could be a ‘snowball’ effect with institutions joining other institutions, agencies and associations to contribute to programs for student training and support. In turn these programs may be able to generate some modest funding of their own through hosting events such as seminars, workshops and symposia.

It would be a great shame for the will and expertise within the sector not to be further developed and shared. Consequently, we really need to explore how best to structure our next steps for funding sustainable student partnership.

Students and their representative bodies of course are critical to this process and need to be front and centre in driving this forward. For that reason, perhaps one of the most important steps forward will lie in ensuring that national student associations have access to permanent staffing with responsibility for sustaining this agenda.

Flint, A., Goddard, H. and Russell, E. (2017) Architects of their experience: the role, value and impact of student representation systems in Higher Education in England, TSEP,…/

See also sparqs (March 2017) Celebrating Achievement

Sally Varnham
30 October 2017

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