Sally will be posting regular updates on fellowship progress and interesting stories she encounters regarding student engagement throughout the year.
The toolkit we are creating includes a section on student academic representation. This student representative opportunity can begin at course, year or subject level (as appropriate to the course of study students are engaged in). Such a system is seen as having huge value not only in giving a wide number and range of students the opportunity to have a voice in enhancement of quality and their student experience, but importantly also in developing a broad base of students with the experience, ability and confidence to progress through to faculty and university committees and senior governance roles. It provides opportunity for many students to participate in a capacity closely matched with their level of experience and to develop skills in representing fellow students.
The toolkit includes examples around SAR from the symposium initiative sharing session. The first was provided by NZUSA and VUWSA. New Zealand universities, and now some polytechnics, operate a system of course representation which involves having a representative in every class to improve the learning experience for current as well as for future students. Reps provide feedback regarding their own experience as a learner and the experiences of their peers. They are also invited to comment on, and provide input to, proposed changes.
At the University of South Australia, the Academic Student Representative (ASR) Program operates within the Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences (this provided a Case Study for my OLT project reported on my website). This program operates at the year level to assist with improving the quality and experience of learning and the teaching within the Division as well as helping to improve extracurricular experience. The role may also include attending School Board and Divisional Teaching and Learning meetings and non-academic engagement with Campus USASA Representatives and the Student Engagement Officer to discuss ideas for club and student engagement activities.
These are just two examples of how engagement at the SAR level can be put into effect. There is now a body of evidence from sectors abroad of the value for all in such a system (see http://tsep.org.uk/architects-of-their-experience-research…/).
4 December 2017
Creating a student partnership agreement
Last week I talked about the toolkit we are developing as one of the deliverables for my Fellowship. This week I want to continue with that topic.
An important area of focus is the development of student partnership agreements. Their value is highlighted by Eve Lewis, Director of sparqs:
"We believe that Student Partnership Agreements will be a useful tool for institutions and students’ associations alike. They are a practical way in which to talk to the student body as a whole not only about what enhancement activity is taking place, but also about how they can get involved in it. This is an important step in helping students to help shape the quality of their education."
Sparqs has published guidance for development of Student Partnership Agreements in different types of tertiary institutions:
Guidance on the development and implementation of a Student Partnership Agreement in universities
Guidance for the development and implementation of a Student Partnership Agreement in colleges
Although written for a Scottish context they contain many useful ideas and templates that can be used in creating agreements within Australian institutions. There is at least one Australian university that has utilised the sparqs approach and their story featured in the initiative sharing session at the 2017 symposium for my Fellowship.
The ANU Academic Board has endorsed a Student Partnership Agreement developed between the Presidents of their undergraduate and postgraduate student associations, ANUSA and PARSA respectively, and the Pro Vice-Chancellor (University Experience). It was drafted through consultation between the student body, the two Student Associations and the University.
The Student Partnership Agreement consists of two components. Part A outlines the Academic Board’s commitment to working with students as partners to improve the university experience. Part B outlines initiatives that will enhance student engagement. The Chair, Academic Board, Pro Vice-Chancellor (University Experience) and Student Representatives will meet annually to review the Student Partnership Agreement and initiatives.
The ANU agreement provides an inspiring example of what can be achieved in a relatively short timeframe.
27 November 2017
One of the deliverables from my Fellowship is a toolkit that aims to provide you with ideas, hints and resources that may be of assistance in your journey to embed student partnership at your institution. It brings together insights from institutions in Australia that are doing good things with respect to partnering with their students in decision making processes. The Australian examples we draw on were featured during the initiative sharing session at the final symposium for my Fellowship.
In places the toolkit refers to the good work being done by organisations such as sparqs that are further along the road to student partnership and have developed excellent tools that you will find useful. Some of those tools are also mentioned in the Australian examples included in the toolkit.
The key aspects of student partnership that feature in the toolkit include building partnership. Building partnership with students is a challenge for institutions as this may require a culture shift amongst at least some of the institution’s stakeholders.
Developing student partnership in an institution takes time. Time is needed to build trust and common understanding and to address concerns that stakeholders may have around what student partnership means in practice.
Nonetheless institutions are embracing this challenge. The toolkit provides examples of Australian institutions that are doing just that. One example, the Student Partnership Agreement, is from the Australian National University, and I will discuss this further in my next blog.
Another example of a key student partnership initiative is that of the University of South Australia. It has developed a Student Engagement Framework to provide an enhanced student experience and increased student engagement across the University. This involved extensive consultation with staff, students, alumni and industry partners. Student Project Support Officers are working on a range of projects in collaboration with staff in the delivery of an enhanced student experience.
Queensland University of Technology have also been developing student partnership processes.
Pilot projects saw staff and students working together to re-imagine curriculum. Their goal is to embed student partnership across the institution, while encouraging approaches that will complement individual discipline’s cultures. An interdisciplinary Working Party of staff and students was formed to guide implementation across the Institution. The Think Tank-Academic Governance (TTAG) has also been established to improve the way students engage in academic governance at QUT. The Think Tank members include students in representative roles on Committees and Boards, other students who are not in formal representative roles, and professional and Academic staff representing the co-curricular space, faculties and the Learning and Teaching Unit.
The QUT examples highlight the need for flexibility. Clearly a one size fits all approach won’t work. Nonetheless student partnership remains relevant no matter how students engage in learning. Students have a right to participate in shaping their experience and they have much to offer.
20 November 2017
Should institutions review their student engagement?
All institutions are involving their students in decision making processes in various ways and to varying degrees. Would it be useful now for them to ask themselves critical questions around where and how they are engaging their students? Sectors overseas have seen this to be a valuable step as institutions and their student cohorts progress towards student partnership.
During my OLT project we saw examples where institutions lacked an overview of where their students were involved in decision making. Institutional websites with difficult to navigate information about opportunities for engagement are a part of that story. Inconsistencies between survey responses and anecdotal evidence of engagement provided to me at conferences and supported by subsequent follow-up told another part of the story. It is clear that lots of people are doing good things but it is a shame that the message isn’t permeating as thoroughly as it could.
The other side of this dilemma is the question of how students are engaged and there is plenty of evidence that institutions often still see ex post facto consultative models as engagement.
Although it requires an investment of time a good starting point on the road to effective and sustainable partnership for institutions is to examine where and how they are engaging students through a review or audit process. It would be useful to ask all members of institutions where and how they believe students are engaged in their decision-making whether academic or otherwise. That input could then be compared with documentary evidence in policies, websites, statutory instruments. Parameters that could be considered include the number of students engaged, how they are recruited, the duration of their engagement, how they are expected to interface with other institutional stakeholders in the process, what training and support they receive and how successful that engagement is. On the question of success, measures such as students turning up, actively participating and following through on assigned tasks (if there are any) are useful.
Simply sending out a survey is not enough although it is a start. Surveys are typically plagued by poor response rates. It would be of more use to delve deeper and to prioritise this activity as not just another piece of busy work. The time commitment per individual should not be significant but gaining comprehensive feedback would be. Opportunities such as student flash pizza sessions (to borrow from our friends in Adelaide) provide a good way to gather evidence. Brainstorming sessions during faculty, division or school meetings are another.
Armed with this information institutions could start to map how they are interacting with their students and where the gaps are. A picture would form of styles of engagement and where attempts at engagement are not working. This would open channels for a dialogue around how things can be done better.
Opportunities to consider how student engagement is communicated arise and again gaps can be identified. Institutions would also benefit from turning the spotlight on innovative and effective practices occurring in their midst that may have gone largely unnoticed.
The opportunities for improvement, removing ineffective and time-wasting processes and replacing them with more effective options, learning from one another and above all enhancing student experience would I believe make the investment in this process well worthwhile.
Finally, although I have expressed this process from an institutional perspective ideally the process of reviewing student engagement should be carried out as a partnership between all stakeholders ensuring that the process is robust and respected.
13 November 2017
Architects of their experience- what the report found and what it means for us – Student Academic Representative systems (SARs)
In last week’s blog, I briefly mentioned the recent report 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, http://tsep.org.uk/architects-of-their-experience-research…/. This week I want to share with you an overview of some of the key points made in that report and what it means for us here in Australia. While the tertiary education sector of each country has its own special unique character, it is important that we learn from the experience of others. The overall message of this research is that the engagement of student voice is of value to providers, to students and to higher education as a whole. It does however recognise the challenges in implementation of processes for authentic student engagement and offers suggestions from which are useful. The report was published by The Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP), a partnership of the National Union of Students, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), the Higher Education Academy and the funding council HEFCE (about to become the Office for Students). This group champions and develops student engagement practice in the English higher education sector. The research was undertaken by a team led by Abbi Flint, an independent educational developer and researcher who is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy with specialist interest and experience in student engagement and partnership.
The research was born out of TSEP ‘s recognition of the importance of student representation in quality enhancement and learning and teaching and the absence of current analysis of English student representation systems. TSEP promotes the view that “the continued success of representation systems is rooted in collaboration between the provider and their student body”. The report analyses a limited qualitative research study exploring how higher education providers and their students’ associations perceive the role, value and impact of their student academic representation (SAR) systems.
What does Student Academic Representation (SAR) look like?
There is no universal model in England- both strategy and operation are diverse ‘… it is adaptable and flexible to different contexts and organisational cultures’. Important influences are the culture and ethos of the institution and students’ association, other organisational factors, individual perspectives and external drivers including institutional reputation and changing national policy. In short it is a system that exists in a complex landscape with many demands impinging on how it operates. Many of those demands resonate with experience here in Australia.
SAR tends to be framed in the broader context of student engagement and voice, with a common purpose around enabling student perspectives to be gathered, listened to, and to inform enhancement and educational change. SAR continues to be valued highly with potential benefits for multiple stakeholders and is perceived to influence change in academic and wider aspects of the student experience. However, there are also common challenges and areas that provide opportunity for future development, and there are numerous local developments underway to ensure that SAR remains relevant and effective in the changing context of HE in England.
Where student voice has traditionally rested on consultation (which is often the case in Australia) there are challenges for institutions in implementing a partnership model. For some the effective exercise of SAR may be impeded by the reality or perception of power imbalances between institutions and student bodies, and by institutional culture. It was seen that there is still a need to build support for and engagement with SAR as a partnership model and for developing strong working relationships between institution, staff, student bodies and student associations is seen as critical to success.
Responsibility for the development of SAR systems tends to lie with students’ associations though often it may in reality be shared with their institutions Training tends to be led by students’ associations. Roles in recruitment and selection processes for representatives vary. Joint activities typically include: promoting SAR, collaboratively acting on issues raised through SAR, recruitment and selection, and developing shared strategic visions and documents relating to student engagement and representation.
The articulated purpose of SAR varied with interviewees. Generally it included dealing with academic matters such as quality, curriculum design, development, validity and delivery, and wider student experience issues. A key question was whether the SAR operates mainly to provide feedback on current experiences, or whether it is permitted to have a more proactive role in areas such as curriculum and course development. Student voice towards quality assurance and quality enhancement was a common element of how SAR was defined and articulated.
While this purpose may vary across disciplines, faculties and campuses essentially it is seen as being integral to gathering student voice, to feeding into discussions and developments, and as part of decision-making processes.
More could be done to clarify and communicate the overarching shared role of SAR as a system:
‘Without a clearly articulated purpose for SAR, there can be misunderstandings and a lack of clarity around the role of individual student representatives and how they work with provider staff at the local level’.
The report questions where the boundaries of SAR lie, and what activities could be legitimately included in the definition of ‘representation’ (a matter which was discussed extensively during my collaborative workshop program).
‘Many participants recognised the inclusivity of SAR as a challenge, in the context of the changing nature of the student body and modes of study, and were thinking about how to address this (in some cases collaboratively)’. Among the challenges there were those relating to student demographics, for example student groups with limited campus contact.
Staff engagement with SAR is essential and currently varies according to their attitudes to and understanding of the system and its value. Factors identified included pressures on staff time and resources, and difficulties in accepting student views which were uncomfortable. Student representation is perceived to be strongest where there is a positive commitment from staff (at all levels) to the SAR process and generally to wide student engagement in the institution. The Report reinforces the importance for staff to be supported, resourced and trained to work with SAR systems (also discussed extensively in my workshops and during my dissemination activities).
Students’ perceptions of SAR were also seen to be challenging: how to encourage students to appreciate they could become representatives, for them to know how or with whom to raise issues, and for existing representatives to see their role in the context of the wider work of the students’ association.
There was also the view that operation of SAR through institutional structures and mechanisms can be problematic in creating power imbalances and a lack of flexibility in promoting student representative participation. Participants reported exploring more informal and interactive models of engagement.
These findings reinforce our view of the huge importance of training and support for both students and staff.
Training for representatives
Training was identified as an area where work needs to be done to ensure that it is delivered effectively to student representatives and that the content delivered is addressing student representative needs. This includes differentiating the training for representatives in more senior roles.
The value and impact of SAR
This area is obviously of most importance to the sector in Australia as we work towards facilitating sustaining student partnership models. The research found that SAR has benefits for institutions through ‘contributing an alternative perspective to ensure the currency and relevance of the offer to students’ and keeping ‘the student perspective at the centre of what the provider does’. It is also seen as an opportunity for sharing practice between disciplines and as having value to the culture and community of an institution.
SAR benefits individual student representatives through personal and professional development, and students’ unions through building reputation and credibility with the provider leading to political benefits. SAR should also benefit the wider student population and there are also developmental benefits to individual provider staff.
SAR was reported to drive and inform change in diverse aspects of academic delivery and quality including teaching quality; module and assessment design; responding to course survey feedback; influencing plans for course moves, closures, and redesigns; influencing changes in module selection processes; changes to the academic framework and timetable; input into specific learning and teaching projects; and informing Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) submissions.
What this means for us
The importance of this research is the value it places on the exercise of student voice through student representative systems. Of equal importance is learning from the challenges the research identifies and the responses it suggests.
The strongest lesson is the importance of building relationships and embedding an ethos of partnership, and supporting all participants within the system. Partnership models that seek to address power imbalances are essential.
It is important to recognise that student representative systems are neither static nor can they be uniform across our diverse tertiary education sector. They need to be adapted to institutional context and to a changing landscape.
This research is both timely and encouraging.
6 November 2017
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: http://tsep.org.uk/academic-representation-research/.
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, http://tsep.org.uk/architects-of-their-experience-research…/
See also sparqs (March 2017) Celebrating Achievement
30 October 2017
Reflections on Australian universities and embedding student partnership
The 2013 Newman Lecture delivered by Glyn Davis at Monash University’s Mannix College provides an important reminder as to the history of Australian universities. Titled The Australian idea of a university, the lecture traces the origins of Australia’s universities and the philosophical debate that preceded them regarding purpose and culture. The result was that Australia’s universities in their early days presented a hybrid persona drawing from English, Scottish and Irish traditions, eventually also recognising the German research promoting ethos.
It could be argued that today those origins have been surpassed by global influences and the market demands of which Glyn Davis also spoke in his lecture. Nonetheless it is important to recognise that even as universities globally become more similar to one another, Australian universities are still diverse and unique with some significant differences to universities such as those which make up the English, Scottish and Irish sectors. At the same time, there are sufficient similarities for comparisons to be drawn. The same may be said for student representation here which has differences in its history from other parts of the Commonwealth and from other parts of the world.
Throughout my student voice project and Fellowship, I have looked to the experiences of the UK sectors and others who are more advanced in student partnership. They provide insights and expertise on how it can develop in Australia. Many Australian universities have benefitted from institution personnel from overseas joining their ranks and bringing with them their experiences of student partnership. This was reflected in the range of activities I encountered during my Australian research. I have seen a national community ready and willing to share information and expertise to assist others in promoting student partnership.
So, as we move forward with endeavours to embed student partnership across the Australian tertiary education sector it is important to bear in mind the uniquely Australian aspects of our sector as well as its diversity. These factors will play a significant role in how we adapt what we know to the Australian landscape. We start from a position where funding to progress student partnership must be found. We start without government agencies with a clear mandate to progress student partnership. We start with the various national student representative bodies showing a clear interest and enthusiasm for working together to promote student partnership, but we need to focus on the resources needed to allow them to make it happen. We start from a position where it seems that, rather than a national approach as elsewhere, the best road to buy in from institutions is one at a time.
We are driven by the body of evidence from abroad showing clear benefits of authentic student partnership for sectors, for institutions and for students. We are heartened by the evidence developing also from initiatives underway in individual institutions here. So, while acknowledging the differences in the Australian sector, particularly the lack of a national approach as yet, there are many signs that student partnership is progressing here. Importantly we are seeing a will in institutions across the sector to make it happen.
24 October 2017
Walking the talk
I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks but student partnership has remained high on my priorities as we work towards finalising my fellowship and ensuring there is a path forward for student partnership in Australia.
This year has provided some truly inspiring opportunities. It has been really heartening to see the quality of student leadership at the national level and to have the opportunity to work with these amazing young men and women. At the institutional level, again there have been some fabulous student leaders that I have had the pleasure of working with. It has also been impressive to see the number of Australian tertiary institutions that have student partnership programs up and running or who are working hard at developing them. The sizable group of initiatives presented at my recent symposium bore testament to that. There is a dedicated cohort of staff working in the student engagement space both in institutions and their student associations to make this happen. My aim is to ensure that they receive assistance and support in terms of resources and training. Congratulations to ANU, I believe the first university in Australia to work with their student leaders to develop a Student Partnership Agreement. Also to TEQSA who have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding for partnership with students in their processes.
Collaborating with our colleagues in Scotland, England, Ireland and close to home in New Zealand provides great insights. Recently we sent Sophie Johnston, the current President of NUS, to attend the New Zealand student voice summit for student leaders and to bring back ideas for what can be done here. This summit is held annually as a collaboration between their Academic Quality Agency and the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations. The focus is on the professionalism of student leaders and student representatives in terms of knowledge transfer from current to new officers following national and university elections. To my mind to institute a similar event in Australia would go a long way towards addressing the issue of transient student leaders and student representatives and would help to create similar opportunities for student leaders to develop processes for succession to build experience and expertise here.
All in all, I feel that our achievements in working with the sector have been considerable and the capacity to truly embrace student partnership is steadily growing. That said we need to remain vigilant regarding the challenges we face going forward. Rather than simply congratulating ourselves on our progress we need to make sure that we really walk the talk when it comes to student partnership. The first challenge is to make sure that student partnership in decision making is really understood by the sector as an ethos where students are part of all decision-making processes from the beginning – from deciding what the issues are through to determining how to solve them. While I feel we have gone a long way towards this in our engagement with individual institutions, national engagement is needed.
I have learnt from colleagues abroad the importance of sufficient time and resources to enable students to participate in this way. With effective training, mentoring, support and briefing there is no reason why students cannot be part of all decision-making processes even those that may be deemed too time sensitive or complex. My research shows that authentic student partnership is a win-win – for institutions and the sector the enhancement of quality and the student experience they provide; for students a valuable opportunity for professional development as readily employable critical thinkers, innovators and citizens.
Students are experts in their leaning experiences and they have plenty to teach us. I have worked with some incredibly confident and talented young people during my three years of the Project and the Fellowship and they have definitely enhanced the ways in which I have been able to carry out my fellowship activities.
It is important to recognise that the future of student partnership will be best served by working together and utilising the experience and expertise that has already been developed.
Promotion, development and exploration of student partnership remain important pursuits, best carried out collaboratively in the sector, in a spirit of sharing between institutions and students, and institutions and institutions. I have been so impressed by the work being done in a large number of institutions to establish student partnership processes. We need now to build on this progress for such a culture to be established as ‘the way we do things’ in institutions and nationally.
16 October 2017
STEPUP for quality enhancement
Hot off the press (Twitter actually which these days comes close) …
Sophie Johnston, President of the National Union of Students (NUS), has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TEQSA ‘ensuring we’re listening to student voices from around the country’. The primary objective is to ensure student voice in TEQSA’s activities. Great work from all involved – particularly Anthony McClaran and Sophie. The New Zealand Academic Quality Agency has done similar, ensuring student presence on audit panels. This move there is followed up with a joint summit on student transition and knowledge transfer (below).
Student leadership is key to student partnership. My research abroad points strongly in this direction, this was mirrored in input from my Fellowship collaborative workshops and is a strong feature of the STEPUP principles and framework (on this page under Principles). I am particularly impressed with the fantastic group of student leaders I have been working with during my Fellowship, and their moves to collaborate as a joint body promoting student partnership. Sadly it hasn’t always been like that. Excitingly now however thanks to the work of these highly motivated students (nationally and within institutions) there are strong inroads into the development of the professional role of student leaders and a realisation that this can exist alongside the political role (which it would be sad to lose).
A concern with student leader involvement in matters such as review and enhancement at institution and national level has always been the transitory nature of elected student officers and often the lack of knowledge transfer and handover. There are two ways we can work towards changing this in Australia. One would be the appointment of an executive officer for the joint national student bodies. This person should be more than administrative but rather his or her role would be the ongoing support and training for student leaders, and research agendas towards promoting the role of students in working together with institutions. The other would be a summit such as one being held next week in New Zealand following the MOU as a joint exercise between AQA and the New Zealand Union of Students Associations http://www.students.org.nz/uni_summit_2017. Sophie is attending this summit and will bring back the ideas so we can institute similar events in Australia.
22 September 2017
Outcomes from the symposium
This week Sally is taking a well earned break back home in NZ so we will continue putting up photos from the symposium but in the meantime wanted to share this one of the great outcomes of Sally's fellowship- the leaders of the four national student associations: NUS, CAPA, CISA and NATSIPA engaged with and committed to working together to facilitate student partnership. Sophie Johnston, Peter Derbyshire, Bijay Sapkota (and his predecessor Nina Khairina) and Sadie Heckenberg are all great champions of student partnership and have contributed intelligently, articulately and thoughtfully to this issue.
What participants had to say at my Fellowship symposium
It was a full house at my symposium on Friday – so exciting to have reached the quota of 120 participants with so many students there. It was great to hear of the Irish experience from Cat - hopefully we can follow their path with an Australian ‘flavour’. I thought the ‘speed dating’ session worked very well thanks to the organisers - Aaron and Ann. Everyone threw themselves into the networking and sharing of experiences of student partnership initiatives in their institutions – wonderful to see. We now need to work on the ideas which came out of the panel …
Over the next couple of weeks, I will share some of the great content from the day with you but in the meantime, check the Fellowship website www.studentvoice.uts.edu.au.
For now here are some of the tweets from the event. Thanks to everyone who came and to everyone who tweeted.
Exciting day in Sydney for the National Framework for Student Partnership symposium in @UTSEngage #ozstuvox
So excited @UTSEngage Sally Varnham's #oltphoenix Fellowship on Student Partnership #ozstuvox Sellout crowd. Real impact! @UniSTARSConf
Sally Varnham at #ozstuvox, Why student partnership? One way to develop critical thinking, innovation, leadership, citizenship skills
No lack of enthusiasm + goodwill in the room #ozstuvox as there is common ground. So to invoke Geoff Scott, what are U going to do on Monday
Listening to insightful and evidence based observations at Sally Varnham's symposium #ozstuvox on students as partners across the sector
Our fabulous Aust student leaders @CAPAPresident @NUS_President @CISA_National @natsipa_edu_au #ozstuvox And @SalVarnham Our future assured.
"If you actually want something to be sustained and enduring it has to be embedded into institutional capabilities"-SheelaghMatear #ozstuvox
#ozstuvox panel: Where to from here? Enhancement agenda is the key and @TEQSAGov has a role to play
Absolutely privileged to be elevating the future of education - where every voice counts! #StudentVoices #ozstuvox Thank you @UTSEngage !
A question from the floor: should students be on promotion panels? Be involved in uni financials? Yes! [Still full house here] #ozstuvox
Panel agreement that consultation with students is not partnership with students #ozstuvox
#ozstuvox pres of capa says most useful thing he's been to all year - almost better that ua
@NUS_President: we need to build trust between Unis & students to transform HE partnerships with students #ozstuvox
Great to be @UTSEngage at the symposium on creating a National Framework for Student Partnership in University Governance #ozstuvox
If we want to be #fairdinkum about including students in our meetings we need to schedule them for when they can come @Oddzer #ozstuvox
Accurate, balanced, constructive, depersonalised - elements of effective student feedback. From sparqs @Oddzer #ozstuvox
4 September 2017
Symposium this Friday 1 September 2017
This Friday the final symposium for my fellowship will take place at UTS. The national interest and enthusiasm for student partnership shown by all members of the tertiary sector - managers, academics and students alike - is evidenced by the over 100 registrants for this event.
The symposium focuses on the way forward to facilitate and sustain student partnership across the sector. It has four parts (five if you include the networking drinks at the end). First, we will reflect on the draft principles and framework created from the input of participants at 6 national workshops and other events. We have seen 43 institutions and around 300 individuals - both students and staff - engage in valuable open dialogue on the ‘what, why and how?’ of student partnership in all manner of an institution and the sector’s operations.
Next we will hear from Cat O’Driscoll, National Student Engagement Coordinator from the National Student Engagement Programme, Ireland. Cat began as a course rep at University College Cork, progressed to national student leadership and worked with the European Students Union. She then worked with the Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), the Union of Students Ireland (USI) and the Higher Education Authority (HEA) on a working group to develop the student engagement principles which led to the inception of the National Student Engagement Programme across Irish institutions.
During the workshops there has been a strong call for sector-wide networking on ideas and initiatives. So the third part of the Symposium is devoted to beginning this process. There are 20 different groups comprising institution staff and students who will take part in an initiative sharing session. Each one has submitted an abstract setting out the student partnership processes they have instituted, and they will be available to discuss their insights and experiences.
Finally, a panel of 8 experts: Karen Treloar, Director, TEQSA; Geoff Crisp, PVC(Education), UNSW; Sheelagh Matear, Executive Director AQA (NZ); Cat O’Driscoll; Sophie Johnston, National President, NUS; Peter Derbyshire, President, CAPA; Bijay Sapkota, President, CISA; and Sadie Heckenberg, President, NATSIPA, will lead a discussion on the way forward.
There will be networking opportunities for participants throughout the day including at the drinks at the end.
In the past few weeks I have received feedback from a number of groups on the draft principles and framework that I sent out to stakeholders. In the next week, I will be looking closely at that feedback and how it fits with the input that gave rise to the draft. From there I will be able to prepare my final fellowship report and present the final version of the principles and framework. These will provide a very good start – we need then to look at support for facilitation and sustainability across the sector.
While my fellowship is coming to an end, the initiatives that will be discussed at the symposium show that there is a widespread will to help progress the student partnership agenda.
28 August 2017
Flexibility is critical
One of the concepts recognised in developing a framework for student partnership in decision making is the need for flexibility. This need was high on the agenda during my recent visit to Holmesglen College which I mentioned last week.
There the length of stay for students can vary between weeks and years and the formal contact between the institution and the student may be by distance, infrequent face to face sessions (for workplace apprentices), par...t time through to full time class based tuition. However, even very short-term students may be experienced participants in higher education, enrolled to gain a needed diploma or broaden their skill base.
It is also important to recognise that the line between staff and students is often blurred as staff enrol as students to gain further skills and qualifications and students are employed by institutions in diverse roles.
Clearly a one size fits all approach won’t work. Nonetheless student partnership remains relevant no matter what way students engage in learning. Limiting a student’s opportunity to have a say regarding his or her higher or further education experience to an end of experience feedback survey is missing a valuable opportunity for enhancement, for both students and the institution. Students have a right to participate in shaping their experience and they have much to offer.
The challenge lies in co-creating opportunities for student partnership that are not only authentic but are also relevant to different student cohorts. Class, course and school representative systems remain relevant irrespective of the form of tuition taking place. They can cover a range, stepping up from informal to highly structured to best meet the needs of particular learning situations and ensure that students have opportunity to put forward their ideas in real time.
Student polling mechanisms allow students to participate in identifying issues, concerns and opportunities. There are great examples around, such as ‘what’ boards, flash pizza, UniJam and digital democracy platforms. Project based partnership activities offer another opportunity that can be adapted to different learning environments.
At the other end of the spectrum more formal governance opportunities are still applicable. It is important for students in these roles to ensure that they have ability and opportunity to engage effectively with diverse perspectives on the issues before them.
Whatever the format and role it is essential that students are properly prepared for and supported in the partnership roles they take on.
21 August 2017
Engaging with partnership activities across the sector
One of the great things about my Fellowship has been the interest and enthusiasm shown by so much of the sector, and my interactions with dedicated and innovative members of institutions across Australia. We hope to have 18 institutions presenting their initiatives, ideas and experiences for student partnership on 1 September.
The last few weeks have been very exciting. First I was advised by Jacqueline Lo, the Chair of the Academic Board of the Australian National University, that the Board had endorsed the introduction of a Student Partnership Agreement – the first to do so in Australia. This agreement contains expectations for all members of the university working together in partnership for enhancement of all aspects of the institution, and it follows those which have been initiated successfully in comparative sectors abroad particularly Scotland. At ANU it was worked on jointly by its student leaders James Connolly and Allyssa Shaw, and Professor Richard Baker, the PVC (University Experience), a great example of working together towards the development of a partnership culture.
On 4th August I attended an event at UNSW at which students from all disciplines and cohorts demonstrated the ideas they have researched and developed for the enhancement of the university in all facets of its operations – in learning and teaching, and the student experience. This UNSW Hero Program is a truly inspiring demonstration of what can be achieved by all members of the university working together, and with industry, for the benefit of the institution and the professional development of its students.
It is so affirming to have had so many ‘follow-up’ contacts during the year, all of which demonstrate a keen interest in exploring or furthering student partnership in a wide range of institutions across the sector.
Last week I was in Victoria at the invitation of two very different institutions. On Wednesday I led a very engaged session with the Academic Board of Federation University and invited guests. The invitation followed members of the university, staff and students, attending my Victorian collaborative workshop in May, and my presentation to the Australian Chairs of Academic Boards following the UA conference earlier. Afterwards I met with Jeremie van Delft, the Director of Student Connect, to discuss his ideas for innovations there.
On Thursday and Friday I was at Holmesglen Institute in Melbourne, a public educational provider whose coverage is extensive, from higher education to non-school senior secondary education and TAFE, including wide global reach as a private provider in various countries. It has a strong interest in pursuing active student engagement across their numerous education areas and student cohorts. First, I spoke to their Leaders group, which included Mary Faraone, the Chief Executive Officer. Secondly, together with my Fellowship Manager Ann Cahill, I ran a workshop for 80 – teachers, managers and professional staff from across the institute.
The workshop was strongly interactive, beginning with discussing the questions posed at the collaborative workshops and considering the applicability of the Draft Principles and Framework to their particular circumstances. It was followed by a session led by Ann on training for Course Representatives as they agree that this is a great way to develop a culture of ‘this is the way we do things here’.
Thank you to all the institutions involved for sharing your initiatives.
14 August 2017
Working with student voice
A recent news report covered the story of a high school student who had taken to a fairly extreme form of protest (pooping around the school) over what she perceived as a failure by her school to address inadequacies in the teaching being provided.
The protest was meant to be symbolic of her view of the education being provided. According to the report there was some contention around the veracity of the student’s claims.
Another example is the student at Columbia university who carried a mattress around on campus at all times (including to her graduation) to demonstrate protest at her sexual assault allegation not being taken seriously by the university. While these are cases of desperate and extreme actions, they do highlight an important issue with regard to student voice and partnership - that of disempowerment.
A recurring theme during my Fellowship collaboration and dissemination is a feeling of disconnection and that the institution ‘knows best’ and isn’t really interested in students’ views. Underpinning student partnership in comparative sectors abroad is pro-action rather than reaction - the place student input can play in enhancement of quality and the student experience generally. What has been typified as student apathy is often born out of the feeling of ‘why bother getting involved, the university will do what it wants anyway’. We need to view this differently.
The messages students deliver may not always be ones that institutions want to hear and may even challenge some fundamental aspects of the way institutions operate. Listening to these messages may be challenging. Institutions may become defensive or seek to limit student opportunity to comment in response to challenges. But the better response is to listen carefully, make sure the message is correctly understood and provide a clear commitment to address the concerns raised.
Students for their part need to recognise their responsibilities in this exchange. Firstly, criticisms and complaints need to be delivered respectfully, realising that pro-action works better than reaction. Clear, concise, well-constructed synopses of the matters of concern and ideas as to how things could be done better, presented to the right forum in the right way, are far more likely to be heard than attacking the institution whether through words or acts of protest. While there is a place for protest in some instances it is important to realise that ‘decisions are made by people who show up’.
Sometimes for good reason students’ suggestions will meet a negative response. This may be because their perception of the issue is distorted or lacks critical information or else action on the demands might disadvantage others in an untenable way. Rather than being a case of students versus institutions sometimes the challenge is what is going to create the greatest good.
The jointly-led ‘Respect, Now, Always’ campaign, and the recently released survey of sexual assault and harassment in Australian institutions provides a clear example of institutions and students working in partnership for common benefit. It is now vital that institutions build on this great model to work with their diverse student cohorts to develop cultures of responsibility and respect to ensure safety for all.
Institutions face a complex landscape where issues of funding and competition challenge their identity and how they operate. But if we are truly committed to students being at the heart of the system then their needs must be paramount and students and institutions need to work together to ensure the best possible outcomes.
7 August 2017
The way forward to safe campuses - let’s ask the students!
Sexual safety on university campuses has finally been recognised as the huge issue it is for the Australian tertiary education sector. In February 2016 Universities Australia launched the Respect. Now. Always campaign. It states the aims as: raising awareness of sexual assault and sexual harassment and lifting the visibility of support services for students, obtaining data to guide further improvement in university ...policies and services, and assisting universities in sharing best practice resources across the sector.
All good, but is something missing here?
Universities around Australia are now prioritising their responses to the Report on the survey commissioned as part of this campaign. This is to be released this Tuesday. If an email of 27 July 2017 from the law firm MinterEllison is anything to go by, there will be a huge focus on damage control particularly in terms of the potential for litigation.
The key point is there almost as an afterthought at the end of the email. That is to use the lessons from the past to change attitudes and cultures on campuses so that such behaviour will not survive. It says:
“Taking a long-term view: The release of the report is an opportune time for universities to reset a culture of respect across each campus in which inappropriate behaviour is not tolerated and students are well educated about behavioural boundaries. Over the long-term, this will help reduce the incident of sexual harassment on campus.”
How best to do this?
Of course, all institutions will be organising forums and seminars to consider this question. It is a community issue but to what extent are they effectively and authentically involving that part of the community most affected?
Our students are out there in a milieu where we are not – on the campus, in halls of residence, in bars and at social events. This makes them the best qualified to come up with ideas for ensuring a safer future for them and for tomorrow’s students at their institution. There has been strong engagement in the campaign from NUS and CAPA and they are to be congratulated on the lead they have taken on this nationally. There is now a great opportunity for each tertiary institution to work in partnership with its students not only on technological innovations designed for protection and safe campuses but most importantly on how campus cultures may be changed. UNSW is one university which seems to have taken the lead on this with their “Tea and Consent” campaign launched in October 2016” https://student.unsw.edu.au/notices/sexual-consent .
Let’s all ask the students as experts to take the lead and work with them in partnership for change.
31 July 2017
The power of auditing existing activities
Throughout my Fellowship and the preceding OLT project, it has been apparent that there are many great initiatives happening around student engagement, partnership and co-creation across the sector. It is equally clear however that often the message regarding these things fails to be heard even within the home institution.
We have seen websites that contain information about opportunities for student involvement that are hard to nav...igate, making it challenging for students to discover what is available. Opportunities may not even be listed on those websites.
There is a strong argument for institutions to conduct university-wide audits of the opportunities that exist for student partnership so that they may be readily apparent to all. Some universities are taking the lead in such an exercise. The benefit of these audits would be to allow institutions to identify gaps, opportunities and unproductive overlaps, and to work towards addressing them.
Auditing is a necessary first step in understanding an institution’s student partnership landscape. Such a holistic view provides the background for a meaningful discussion around where student partnership sits within the institution, its benefits, and how it needs to be developed and refined. It is a necessary precursor for a consideration of whether the types of engagement available are the best options for partnering with students. It allows discussion around how students come to participate in those roles, and who is participating. It provides a backdrop for consideration of important facets of student partnership such as how students are prepared for and supported in partnership roles, and how their efforts are recognised.
Such an auditing activity provides a great opportunity for an institution to consider its commitment to providing opportunities for students to work with it in partnership and the benefits it may gain from this.
24 July 2017
Opportunities to share experiences and expertise
Throughout my Fellowship activities it has been clear that supporters of student partnership in university decision-making are keen for opportunities to share their experiences and expertise with one another.
It has been heartening to hear workshop participants becoming so enthusiastic about the programs and tools others are using and exploring how they could adapt those ideas to their own situations.
Inspired by this enthusiasm, we have decided to promote opportunity for participants at our 1 September symposium to continue sharing their ideas with each other. We know that participants will talk to one another during breaks but we wanted to make that process more efficient.
The first thing we are organising is a workshop session during which we will have groups of staff and students concurrently providing insights and answering questions about initiatives they have been running. These concurrent sessions will be supported by a handbook summarising the initiatives.
Participants will be able to use this handbook as a resource for further developing their student partnership practices. By organising the session in this way our aim is to provide participants with opportunity to engage with projects in which they are interested, and with more projects than a series of presentations would permit. It also allows more groups an opportunity to showcase their work.
The second opportunity we are setting up is a meeting board and meeting stations to assist groups with common interests to get together at morning tea, lunch and possibly after the symposium. Participants can book a meeting place for discussing a particular interest. We will also provide an option for participants to record an interest in speaking with particular participants in the symposium possibly leaving a contact number or email address to facilitate contact.
We hope these opportunities will assist all who attend the symposium to get as much as possible from joining us there. Please email me if I haven’t contacted you particularly to share your experiences and you would like to.
17 July 2017
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]
10 July 2017
Embedding an ethos of student partnership in Australian university decision-making: the way forward
The final symposium for my National Senior Teaching fellowship will take place on 1 September 2017 here at UTS. This symposium will showcase the principles for student partnership in university decision-making and governance developed through national collaborative workshops with stakeholders from all aspects of the sector and provide opportunity for their discussion.
Cat O’Driscoll: National Student Engagement Coordinator, National Student Engagement Programme, Ireland, is our invited international speaker. Cat will be providing insights into Ireland’s higher education sector’s development of their principles for student partnership and the National Student Engagement Programme which is a collaborative initiative under development by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Quality & Qualifications Ireland (QQI) in consultation with Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland (sparqs).
Initiatives from around Australia will be presented by students and staff to promote the ongoing sharing of ideas and experiences. This process was identified during the fellowship workshops as an important aspect of sustainable student partnership.
The symposium will be held at Aerial Function Centre 235 Jones Street, Level 7, Building 10, Ultimo NSW 2007.
RSVP and enquiries: Ann Cahill at Ann.Cahill@studentvoice.uts.edu.au
3 July 2017
Workshop program draws to an end
Between April and June we have run 7 workshops around the country involving around 250 participants from 37 higher education providers and including student representatives from a significant number of institutions. Our workshops have engaged senior university managers, and university employees particularly those who have student engagement roles, as well as national student associations. We have also received a good number of written response...s to the workshop questions via our Survey Monkey portal.
Workshop participants have readily engaged with and supported the need for student partnership in university decision making across all aspects of university decision making. Notions that there may be areas where student input might be inappropriate have been challenged. The capacity for students to participate as thoughtful and responsible partners has been readily displayed. At the same time, students have shown great courage in raising tough issues and challenging positions that may not be universally true. The workshops have again demonstrated the wide range of student partnership practices that are already happening within the sector.
There is still a lot of work to be done in translating the input we have received from the workshops and online into a draft set of principles for consideration by the sector. However, at this stage there are some clear messages. The first is that the Australian higher education sector shares many of the challenges observed elsewhere in creating a sector wide approach to student partnership in decision making.
Communication and culture are hurdles that need to be dealt with. Training and support are clearly critical elements of success as is providing for continuity amongst a necessarily transient population of student representatives. Key challenges are ensuring that there are processes for all student cohorts to be heard, and the consideration of a range of incentives for those in representative roles in order that their efforts are recognised. A very clear message from the workshops is that for a culture of student partnership to continue its development and be sustained there is a need for support from the sector as a whole. How this may be achieved is a key consideration.
The input from participants will provide not only broad principles but also rich discourse underpinning those principles. It will also make available an invaluable array of examples of these principles in practice that will benefit all within the sector.
26 June 2017
A national body supporting local and national student associations
Universities exist for students, and student leaders play a key part in maintaining and progressing that focus. The Project and now the Fellowship have uncovered so much interest and enthusiasm for student partnership by all members of the sector across Australia – students and staff alike. There is now an opportunity to build on this momentum to create something very special which would benefit all by providing support and allowing further development of existing national student representation bodies.
At present Australian university students are represented at the national level by a number of different bodies, in particular: NUS, CAPA, NATSIPA and CISA. These entities are either focused on particular interest groups (CISA, NATSIPA and CAPA) or do not have buy in from all student associations (NUS). This is not a criticism of NUS or any of these entities. The focus and operations of these bodies have developed over time to address particular needs. However, it is fair to say that NUS had suffered in popularity. Interestingly, the current executive is pursuing a professional and more holistic approach. It is to be hoped that this change is sustained and it will build up its membership once again. In addition to addressing issues of interest to all students, it is important to note that NUS has a number of specialist representatives focusing on the needs of specific interest groups.
Regardless of popularity, there are definite challenges that these bodies face. Their executives are elected representatives and, in some instances, they need to balance their representative activities with continuing their studies. The term for these reps is typically 12 months which leaves limited time to achieve particular outcomes, even where hand over is thorough. For a variety of reasons this isn't always the case.
Furthermore, the issues these bodies need to address are wide-ranging and increasingly complex as they seek to deal with diverse student cohorts and the changing landscape for tertiary education. For these bodies to be heard there is a need for them to be seen as professional partners in addressing issues affecting the sector.
Provision of a non-partisan national body with permanent staffing to assist student representative bodies across institutions would be strongly beneficial. This body could act as a source of continuing knowledge, support, training and resources which would enhance their professionalism and allow their reps to focus effectively on their key mandates. Moreover, by providing a vehicle for engaging with other sector agencies as well as all student representative bodies, this body would function as an important aspect of promoting student partnership in university decision making at the local and national level. Evidence from comparative sectors abroad shows this to be of benefit to all institutions and their students and the sector as a whole.
There are examples of this type of national entity elsewhere. Sparqs in Scotland for example operates as a partnership between students, institutions and quality agencies. It provides a particularly desirable model that could potentially be adapted to the Australian tertiary education sector.
19 June 2017
Training and support for student representatives
Training and support for student representatives has attracted a lot of discussion in all the workshops. It is clearly emerging that if student engagement towards partnership is to become embedded there needs to be more along these lines, than that currently offered by most universities. It has been generally accepted that the best way to build capacity, knowledge and confidence is starting from course, class or year group representation which creates a wide base of expertise in students to move into faculty and university roles.
To be able to act in a truly representative capacity is not easy. It requires an understanding of whose interests you are representing as well as a knowledge of university and meetings processes and procedures. It is seen as a hugely daunting task for example for students with no prior experience and very little in the way of orientation to make a valuable contribution to faculty or university boards or committees. They are required to assimilate often the vast amount of paper provided, to understand what is important and what is not, and to recognise when and how they should or could make a contribution. Students need to gain confidence to speak on issues, and this can only be achieved from their having this understanding. It can be hugely assisted by their having support and mentoring and it has been suggested that senior management could have a role in this.
Generally, it has been felt that this training and support could be undertaken as a partnership function between student associations or SRCs and the university, and this is borne out by evidence from abroad (see for example www.sparqs.ac.uk) This joint activity helps to build a culture of members of the university working together. There are very good examples of initiatives along these lines being introduced in some Australian universities, in addition to those reported in the OLT Report case studies (in draft on this website). We will be gathering these ideas as the Fellowship progresses.
12 June 2017
Issues relating to true representation have received some attention in the workshops so far. It has been noted several times that the term ‘representative’ presumes that students who participate in decision making processes represent the views of the student cohort. This is followed by doubt as to whether this is actually the case.
This is a complex issue and one that some might dismiss as a question of semantics. However, it is one of the central co...nsiderations of student engagement towards partnership.
Student representatives should not be perceived as representing certain groups. Student cohorts are heterogeneous and for many issues different groups within the student body may well hold different views.
The role of student representatives is to represent their fellow students to the extent of the impact the issue under consideration is likely to have on the student community as a whole. This should include the particular impact the issue may have on specific groups.
A key principal of authentic student partnership in decision making is ensuring that every student has opportunity to present their views on issues that affect them. There will be situations where students are provided with precisely that opportunity but clearly if every student were to participate in every decision, decision making would grind to a halt. The role of the representative is to gather opinion so that they can fairly stand in the stead of all students in decision making processes.
Decisions have to be made in circumstances where there may be a range of conflicting views as to the best course of action. Reaching a decision requires a careful evaluation of as many views as possible and the consequences of pursuing a particular course of action over another. Student representatives are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that they understand the various perspectives of the student body as a whole. The well-prepared student representative is able to articulate specific concerns so that they can be taken into consideration into the decision- making process.
The critical factor of course is to ensure that decisions do not discriminate unfairly against one or more stakeholder groups and it is in this context that capturing pertinent views is essential. Representation may involve a political element but it is not about factional politics.
Being an effective and professional student representative is not easy. A key challenge is to ensure that student representatives are well trained, supported and equipped to gather the input they need from fellow students and to decide on a rational view to take. The training function could well be undertaken by student leaders and their institutions working together, thus both acting in partnership and progressing a partnership culture. Experience abroad has shown this to be the case.
5 June 2017
Let’s ask the students: higher education policy
Once again the sector and the government are embroiled in dispute over proposed funding cuts. ‘Corporatised sector hands students a raw deal’ (The Australian, 03 May 2017) points to the chance of universities economising on what they provide to students.
Universities Australia have issued a statement voicing the deep concern of Vice-Chancellors about the impact of cuts to public investment in universities and fee rises on their students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Crucially, VCs point to the possibility of a detrimental impact the proposals may have over time on the broader viability of Australia’s university system – and the cost of that risk to Australia’s future growth and prosperity. (Universities Australia, STATEMENT ON HIGHER EDUCATION PROPOSALS, Tuesday 16 May 2017.
Universities owe their existence to students so here’s a question: where in the equation are their voices? Does anyone ask for those at the heart of the system to be part of the deliberations towards formulating higher education policy? As pointed to in the VCs’ statement, Australia’s future economic prosperity and the health and welfare of Australian society depends upon these bright young people and their development as critical thinkers, leaders, innovators and citizens. The mixed messages are clear. On the one hand there is a buzz about the innovation and business development potential of our young people and the benefit to Australia of the nurturing of this development by universities and by industry. On the other, we are treating higher education as something done ‘to’ students rather than ‘with’ them. We are missing a valuable opportunity to assist their professional development as well as including the voices of those who matter.
The nature of learning and teaching in higher education has changed from that of our youth, it is now student-centred and based on real world problem-solving, innovation and development. Learning and teaching specialists now talk in terms of blended learning and flipped classrooms. Indeed any academic is now working in a completely different classroom environment to one they experienced.
So here’s an idea, why do we not ‘flip’ the question of an inclusive and sustainable higher education sector to those who are most concerned by lifting the modern approach to problem solving out of the classroom and into the national arena. Elsewhere and increasingly in the Australian sector there are strong moves towards students as partners working together with their institutions to enhance quality and standards and the university experience, not only for them but for future generations of students. The ethos of student/university partnership is now becoming embedded in classrooms, and in university decision making and governance, strategy and direction. The evidence points strongly to benefits for all. If students are recognised as partners in higher education institutions and the sector nationally, should they not have an authentic voice also in policy and in the funding question?
29 May 2017
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.uk shows 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.
22 May 2017
Student partnership is an ethos not an activity
All my research internationally and in Australia stresses the importance of building a culture of universities working in partnership with its students. All members of the institution share the same aims of enhancement of courses and what the university provides, and the university experience. Clearly this is best achieved through acting as a community. However the thinking and the initiation of processes must start somewhere. For universities to develop partnership as their ‘way of doing things’ requires a commitment to take a serious look at their current student engagement practices and policies and work towards implementing measures based on true partnership. For students it requires the adoption of a positive and professional approach to engagement, not only in their studies but in all the university does – a sense of ownership. Many of the moves in this direction being undertaken by Australian universities currently were highlighted as case studies in my OLT project and appear as an appendix to the Draft Report on this webpage. Many more great ideas are now being thrown up in discussions and online input as my Fellowship collaborative workshop program progresses. These are things which are already being done or are ideas for implementation. This is exciting! In this and future blogs I will be highlighting many of these ideas:
The sharing by universities and student organisations of success stories of student involvement which have made a difference and experiences of students with partnership generally.
University Vice-Chancellors making student leadership more visible to the whole community by introducing student leaders at commencement ceremonies, and explaining to all students how they may become involved.
Institutions inviting students to be part of the identification of issues in the wider university, and to be instrumental in working out solutions.
A recurring theme which stands out above all is the importance of a course representative model forming the foundation stone of both developing student leaders and embedding the principles of partnership from the early stages of a student’s university experience.
In the words of one DVC Academic who attended my workshop launch: ‘Universities are the students and the students are the university’.
15 May 2017
Embracing student partnership
I feel that concept, practice and enthusiasm for student partnership has taken a big leap after the first two workshops for the sector-wide collaboration. We have gathered ideas and input through what participants have said at the workshops and through what they have written online. We are working our way through this input and identifying themes and ideas emanating from the wide knowledge and experience of workshop participants.
Clearly however, from the hugely valuable workshop discussions and online input, establishing trust is a key factor. This has several facets of equal importance. First, if students are going to want to play a part in university functions towards enhancement of both courses and the university experience they must trust that their views will be seriously taken into account. The institution must establish this trust through communication of ways in which it seeks to work genuinely in partnership with students in developing initiatives, strategy and directions. Importantly, an institution also needs to communicate with students that their voice was listened to and how it impacted on the decisions made. The students must be part of the process, not an add-on at the end.
Secondly, and no less important to partnership, is that university staff – professional, management and academic, must trust the authenticity of students’ views. For this students must fully appreciate their role, from course representatives upwards in helping to shape the quality of what the university is and what it offers. It is not about criticism but about positive ideas for improvement.
Staff, particularly course convenors and those in the classrooms are then able to appreciate the value of working with students during the progress of the courses, rather than simply in feedback at the end when positive ideas are too late for the particular cohort providing them.
During the project and thus far in the Fellowship we have worked with a strong cross section of students. They have clearly demonstrated that they are more than equal to the challenge of partnering with universities in this way. Students in workshop discussions and in their online input are already contributing exciting and innovative ideas.
8 May 2017
On Friday I held my Fellowship launch workshop which opened up a sector-wide collaboration towards a shared understanding of student partnership: what it is, why it should be and how it may be facilitated within institutions and the sector.
There was a great attendance of institution senior managers and their nominees, and a large number of students from across Australia. Not only was there a capacity turn out but the enthusiasm and the willingness of all to contribute to the discussion was impressive. It indicated not only an interest but a considerable appetite in the sector for exploring the embedding of student partnership within universities. The students made an overwhelming contribution and were reasoned and articulate in this. Many of those present had already initiated practices within their universities and were able to contribute their ideas and insights from these. We also had the benefit of the experience of senior managers who had come to Australia from sectors overseas where student partnership is more embedded.
The idea of these workshops is to create a forum for open, safe and respectful discussion between all members of university communities and the sector to explore what initiatives mean and how they may be facilitated in their institutions. The attendees are asked to contribute their thoughts in respect of the questions posed in the Briefing document and at the workshops during the session or at any time, on survey monkey https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HQYJH55. The vision is at the conclusion of the workshop program we will be able to put together a draft set of principles and a framework for student partnership based on a common understanding. For this to happen it is vital that the sector has ownership of the ideas and the collaborative process is designed to work towards this.
It is new, and I would really appreciate receiving your feedback and ideas for how it may be done better as it progresses.
During the workshop program we will be collating responses and posting newsletters with themes which have emerged. Please watch this space and have your say.
1 May 2017
This is the week we launch the Fellowship sector-wide collaboration. The aim is to reach an agreed set of principles and a framework for student partnership through engagement. To the launch event here at UTS on Friday 28th April we invited DVC/PVCs or their nominees, and students from around Australia. The attendance is looking very exciting and is almost at capacity.
The invitations are much wider for the state workshops – any university personnel and students who are involved in student engagement or have an interest in the area and wish to be involved are welcome to attend. The dates, times and venues are listed below. There will also be an opportunity to provide input online.
The plan with the launch and the state workshops is to keep them short and focussed with attendees being asked to record their input online during the discussions. We have prepared and sent out a Briefing Paper to all those who are attending so they can get a glimpse of the research which has been conducted in Australia and elsewhere, together with the student partnership initiatives put in place in other sectors such as the UK, Europe and New Zealand. We will be posting the Briefing Paper on this web page.
The Briefing paper also has these questions designed to lead into the discussion:
1. What opportunities should universities be providing for students to participate in decision making in their institutions?
Communication and Transparency
2. How should institutions be communicating with students about those opportunities and outcomes from engagement?
3. How can universities best work with student leaders to develop and maintain effective student representation?
All student voices
4. What can universities do to encourage representation of all student voices?
A national partnership culture
5. On a national level what should the sector be doing to further a partnership culture?
This series of workshops builds on the wide interest which has been shown by the sector over the course of my research and my Fellowship. The idea is to now provide the opportunity for all members of the sector, senior managers and students, academics and professional university staff to share their knowledge, experience and insights on the role of student voice in university decision making and governance.
Fellowship Launch UTS 28 April 1-3pm
Queensland – Brisbane QUT Kelvin Grove Campus 3 May 9-11am
South Australia – University of Adelaide 24 May 1-3pm
Melbourne – RMIT Storey Hall 26 May 10am -12 noon
Western Australia – Murdoch University Perth 2 June 9.30-11.30am
The New South Wales workshop will be at UTS in June – date TBA
While I am encouraged by the enthusiasm shown in the sector, I want to stress that my role is to facilitate a wide discussion on this very important area and it is your views which are central to this exercise.
24 April 2017
From ‘You said, and we listened’ to true partnership
This theme ran through the recent sparqs conference in Edinburgh. It is an important lesson to take as we in Australia move to consider how best to engage student voice in university decision-making and governance.
‘You said, we listened’ relies essentially on student feedback and in reality the university is deciding the terms of engagement of student voice. Of course feedback is a good place to start. Student views... on the learning and teaching that has occurred in their subjects and courses, and on their university experience generally, are obviously important to the university in planning for the future. And it is essential to this process that students are able to see the effect of their input - the changes made by the university in response to their feedback.
This process is however ‘reactive’ rather than proactive. It places the emphasis on students as passive consumers rather than as active and engaged partners. Why not involve students from the beginning of development of courses and curricula; of designing methods of delivery for teaching and learning; and in formulating university plans and strategy? Why not ask students for their ideas and use them as ‘change agents’? A culture of partnership requires the university to work together with students where possible on matters from course content and delivery through to university strategy, and the vast array of operations which affect the university community.
While student feedback clearly has its place, it is controversial. Most universities do take their feedback exercises seriously and use them as a means of adapting to students’ wants and needs. The relatively low numbers of responses may indicate however that the process is looked on by many as ‘box-ticking’ with little real affect in terms of enhancement of their courses and their university experience. Another cynical view is that student feedback surveys are used mainly for university rankings and tuition fees. See for example the student uproar in the UK in relation to the Teaching Excellence Framework which relies to significant extent on the National Student Survey: ‘Universities and NUS plan boycott of flagship teaching rankings’ The Guardian 22 November 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/…/universities-nus-boycott-teac….
Effective and authentic student voice is now accepted in comparative sectors abroad to embrace more than asking after the fact. Rather student/university partnership is embedded as a ‘way of being’ for institutions in all that they do. There is evidence that many Australian institutions are moving towards this ethos also. Student partnership will be explored further as I move towards the sector collaboration.
17 April 2017
Sector development of student partnership principles in Ireland
The great thing about my work is that there are now so many sectors abroad going down the student partnership path - their innovations and experiences are valuable. This week I will concentrate on the sector development of student partnership principles in Ireland. Their National Project on student engagement was begun in 2014 with the establishment of a Working Group by the Higher Education Authority (HEA). This body worked together with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and the Qualifications and Quality Authority Ireland (QQI) to establish, in 2016, a set of principles, and to begin the pilot National Student Engagement Programme which is currently underway.
The Irish project was assisted by Eve Lewis from student partnerships in quality Scotland (sparqs) and was influenced by the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) which have principles of student-centred processes embedded throughout.
Clearly it is of great value to us in Australia to look at this process and to follow the Irish experience to see what leads we may take. This is both from the development of the principles and the 18 month pilot National Student Engagement Programme as it progresses. The latter has two ‘streams’ – the course rep programme to build student capacity, and building institutional process and capacity for student engagement.
The Chair of the Working group, Professor Tom Collins, said in launching his report which led to the Principles and the pilot Programme:
Student engagement essentially means student involvement in governance and management, quality assurance, and teaching and learning. While students are ultimately responsible for their own learning and level of engagement, effective student engagement also depends on institutional conditions, policies and culture that enable and encourage students to get involved. The benefits of effective student engagement can include better retention rates, higher levels of satisfaction with educational outcomes, and better student/staff relationships on college campuses. (http://www.hea.ie/news/working-group-student-engagement )
I would also add to this the value in assisting the professional development of students as critical thinkers, innovators, leaders and citizens.
Now I focus on Cat O’Driscoll, a key initiator of the Irish initiative and now the Co-ordinator of the pilot. Her path demonstrates the sequence which became clear to us time and time again in our project research overseas. Cat, who I met at the sparqs conference, began her journey as a course rep in the early days of her studies at University College Cork. She then chaired that university’s Student Council, becoming sabbatical Vice-President for education. She took the knowledge, experience and confidence she had gained there into the national and international contexts – becoming first a Vice-President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) later working with the European Students Union (ESU). Her motivation for starting out of this path she gives as ‘wanting to fix things’, and as she moved up through the system she found that her roles all fed into each other: ‘… though each level is not always aware of the others. For instance, course reps don’t always understand the national structures, and national representatives tend not to understand the international dimension’. But, she says, while there are differences between disciplines and countries students generally face the same issues and challenges.
Cat acknowledges that there is still ‘variable practice in the sector’ and there is much work to be done in the programme. She looks to student reps and student organisations to be instrumental in working with universities to drive engagement practices to wider implementation and embedding.
For the interview see: www.sparqs.ac.uk/news-detail.php?page=568
Further resources for the Irish process:
‘Embedding the Principles of Student Engagement’ http://www.hea.ie/…/principles_student_engagement_insert_fi…
A Vision for Partnership - USI Student Engagement Policy usi.ie/wp-conte…/…/2016/03/A-Vision-for-Partnership-USI.docx
The National Student Engagement Programme http://usi.ie/nstep/
10 April 2017
Student Partnership Agreements
Last week I talked about the sparqs conference I attended in Edinburgh recently. In this and my next few blogs I will be pointing to the highlights for me in terms of learning opportunities but I recommend you to check out the range of session topics for yourselves (link at the end).
On a personal note I felt that our work towards student partnerships in the Australian sector received a big boost, and likewise for the New Zealand contingent from NZUSA and Ako Aotearoa. There was great attendance and engagement at my two presentations and an interview I had done with sparqs earlier about the project and Fellowship (which appeared on their website in October) was reproduced in the sparqs newsletter in the attendees conference pack (the link: http://www.sparqs.ac.uk/announcement-detail.php?page=562)
This week I want to continue highlighting the value of the conference sessions to my work, devoting this blog to the sessions on Student Partnership Agreements. These agreements have appeared on the sparqs agenda for some time and the conference presented a great opportunity to hear about how they are being developed and implemented.
Presentations from Robert Gordon University and Glasgow Caledonian University focussed on initiatives in this area. Kevin Campbell, Vice President of the GCU Students Association talked about the process for revisiting their existing agreement pursuant to his election manifesto, looking at whether it really reflected partnership, its accessibility and use since development. This involved research groups of both staff and students working separately and together. The key matters identified were a need for new feedback mechanisms to ensure the agreement was simpler, a ‘living document’, working for all and accompanied by a better communication plan. This agreement was to be drafted and agreed to by both 50% each staff and students. A Student Summit was convened with 100s of staff and students attending and the draft agreement was discussed in depth in terms of content and how it would be used. Most importantly it was agreed to be used at all levels in order that it be normalised – student/staff consultative groups, school boards and all occasions when students and staff work together. In Kevin’s words “We want to ensure that this [GCU Community Partnership Agreement] is a living model of how to work in partnership to ensure an excellent student experience”.
The most important message for me from this, the similar presentation from RGU and the sparqs conference generally, was the emphasis on staff and students working together to agree the fundamentals of a culture of partnership. This applies to all the university does – from learning and teaching through to university strategy and governance.
Too often is ‘student engagement’ defined unilaterally by university staff and management. We need to move away from this mindset to an ethos of true partnership.
For the presentations on student partnership agreements, together with the huge range of valuable presentations on all facets of student partnership, see http://www.sparqs.ac.uk/culture.php?page=606 .
4 April 2017
Sparqs conference 2017
It has been very clear from the beginning of my research that the culture of student partnership in universities is becoming well embedded in sectors overseas, and we are fortunate to be able to look to their knowledge and experience. This is reflected in the draft Project report which appears on our website www.studentvoice.uts.edu.au. My work on student partnership in Australia is hugely inspired by the trailblazer - student partnerships in quality Scotland known as sparqs. The presentation of its leader, Eve Lewis, was hugely motivational for those who attended our project final symposium, and this was carried through in the excellent workshops she ran for students and staff the following day. Last week I had the good fortune to attend and present at the sparqs conference in Edinburgh. From the time the conference was opened by the Scottish Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science (Shirley-Anne Somerville) there was a buzz among the hundreds of attendees who represented all parts of the higher education sectors of the UK and Europe particularly the very strong student presence. It was great to be an environment in which student partnership is a reality - accepted as ‘way things are done’ by all from the Minister down.
There were so many really valuable sessions I would like to write about here. Many I couldn’t attend as I presented twice myself, so the other Australian attendee, Kate Walsh from Flinders Uni has made notes to brief me on her return. I’ll pass these on in future blogs. A session which left a strong impression with me and gave me lots of food for thought was the student plenary panel. The members gave a range of perspectives - Rebecca McLennan, a former sparqs Associate Trainer, Vonnie Sandlan the current president of NUS Scotland and Adam Gajek of the European Students Union (ESU) and provided such valuable insights. It felt very validating to hear about the role students are playing and their professionalism when they receive the support of universities. Institutions and sectors who aren’t engaging students in partnership are missing a valuable opportunity both in course enhancement through to university strategy, and in the professional development of students. What was particularly clear was the importance of students in the training and support of others to undertake representative roles throughout the institutions (sparqs works with colleges of further education as well as universities), and nationally. The talk of Adam on the value of student partnerships in assisting in the development of citizens in democratic societies resonated strongly with me. Those who are familiar with my work will recognize that as a consistent driving factor.
Touched with a certain amount of incredulity, there was an enthusiasm and keenness to hear about the relative beginnings of student partnership thinking in Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Our sessions were well attended with engaged audiences, and I was involved in some great discussions during the breaks. I have returned with so many ideas and a heap of valuable contacts.
I also took the opportunity to accept the invitation of the student engagement group to visit the University of Edinburgh. More about those discussions in a later blog.
On a finishing note, we visited Teviot Row House (http://www.docs.csg.ed.ac.uk/…/Teviot%20Row%20House%20(EUSA… ) the oldest student union building in the world which made me want to be a student again. However, I may have been almost counted out by the horrifying fact that women have only been admitted there since 1970. The age and layout of the building also poses huge challenges for disability access (as is shown on their webpage). At least we are lifetimes ahead in both these areas.
29 March 2017
An agency supporting the sector
One of the features of student engagement in university decision-making elsewhere is the presence of sector agencies that support student engagement activities and promote student partnership.
In the UK the national entity which is the forerunner in support of student representation is student partnerships in quality Scotland (sparqs) (sparqs.ac.uk/). In England and Wales in 2011/2012, The Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP) (tsep.org.uk/) was formed between the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) (qaa.ac.uk ), the National Union of Students (NUS), the Association of Colleges (AoC), the Higher Education Academy and the Guild of Higher Education (hea.ac.uk, guildhe.ac.uk/). There is also Wise Wales (wisewales.org.uk ). A couple of examples illustrate the type of support these agencies provide.
In Scotland, sparqs supports students, student associations, universities and colleges to improve the effectiveness of student engagement in quality at the course, institutional and national levels. It provides a national training program and ongoing support, training and resources for institutional trainers, including toolkits for use in developing training. Sparqs also provides representatives with opportunities for collaboration beyond their representative duties and training. Representative forums and conferences allow for exchange of experiences, ideas, clarifications, trouble-shooting and extending knowledge bases. Recent initiatives include supporting the development of student partnership agreements within institutions and reporting of recognition and accreditation of academic representatives.
The Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP) operates in partnership with the sector organisations above to promote students as active partners in their education and student experience. It supports the sector in enabling students to be actively involved in the development, management and governance of their institution, its academic programs and their own learning experience.
An alternative approach is in New Zealand where the National Union of Students Associations (NZUSA) is supported in its student engagement work by the higher education and polytechnic sectors and by the Academic Quality Agency for New Zealand Universities (AQA) (aqa.ac.nz).
In developing a systemic approach to student engagement in decision-making for Australian universities it would be valuable to consider the provision of a sector-supported entity based on one of these models.
22 March 2017
Celebrating student engagement
The sparqs 2017 conference is fast approaching and I am looking forward to talking there about what we have been doing in Australia, and to hearing about the many exciting initiatives that are taking place in student engagement in Scotland.
One of sparqs initiatives that will feature in the conference is their student engagement awards. The awards are for:
- An initiative led by a students’ association in partnership with their university which has made the most impact on the enhancement of the student experience
- An initiative led by a students’ association in partnership with their college which has made the most impact on the enhancement of the student experience
- A co-curricular initiative/project (curriculum design/curriculum delivery/assessment) which has had an impact across the college or university
- A student-led initiative across the college or university which demonstrates a clear commitment to equality and diversity and has had an impact across the organisation
- University course rep of the year
- College course rep of the year
This is a great way to promote sharing of ideas through showcasing initiatives. It is also a tangible demonstration that student engagement is an important and valued activity.
15 March 2017
Taking opportunity to hear what students think
During the Student Voice project and now during my Fellowship I have adopted the practice of including students in ‘conversations’ and as individual speakers in my conference sessions. It makes sense that if we are going to talk about student engagement in decision-making, students should play a big part in those discussions. This inclusion of students has been very well received and they have provided valuable insights and ideas. It has also been inspiring to see that it is not just the project team and the Fellowship that has promoted this approach. At recent conferences, there have been other presentations that have enlisted students as part of the presenting team. The most recent event was the Universities Australia Conference in Canberra where I attended three very successful sessions which involved student panellists.
At the satellite events which followed the Conference I conducted three sessions which included students. For the Chairs of Academic Boards session I was joined by Lizzy O’Shea (former President of the UWA Student Guild) who presented her thoughts on processes for, and the value of authentic engagement of student voice at all levels of university decision-making. At the following two events Winson Widarto (President ANUSA International Students Association), James Connolly (President ANUSA) and Rowan Alden (former student representative on CSU’s university council) discussed their initiatives for engagement of student voice; and Peter Derbyshire (President of CAPA), Nina Khairina (President of CISA) and Sophie Johnston (President of NUS), presented their ideas for the role of student leadership working in partnership with universities. At all sessions the strong themes were training and support for student representatives, and the development of capability and knowledge starting with course representation.
Rowan Alden also talked about the particular challenges in engaging student voice at a regional multi-campus university such as Charles Sturt and her experiences with founding a student leadership conference which brought all student representatives together. Because of its success, the university has continued to hold the event yearly.
8 March 2017
Will student partnership in governance improve the bottom line for universities?
One of the questions that is raised in relation to initiatives seeking to promote students as partners engaged at all decision-making levels within Australian universities, is what is in it for the institutions? The question presumes that this level of engagement will come at a cost, requiring universities to expend additional resources and possibly face new risks. The question also seems to assume that institutions will only commit to such programs if they see them as enhancing their bottom line. While there may be some readily identifiable costs associated with committing to championing student partnership at individual institutions it is unlikely that there would be a clear direct correlation between resources invested in student partnership and the financial performance of the university. There is likely to be a complex interaction between student partnership and financial performance and other programs that may be operating simultaneously. Challenges with implementing initiatives and the changing landscape in which universities need to operate are also likely to thwart attempts to show such a correlation. Is enhancing student engagement still a good business strategy for universities? There are good arguments why this is the case, whether it is viewed as a competitive strategy, listening to customers or a mechanism for improving internal efficiencies.
Importantly, financial performance is not the only way to measure how effective initiatives are. A university is more than a business. A university can be viewed as a community of scholars; an instrument for national purposes; a representative democracy; as well as a service enterprise embedded in competitive markets (this multifaceted view was promoted by Olsen in Olsen, J.P., (2005) The institutional dynamics of the (European) University Working Paper No. 15, March 2005).
The vision of a university as a representative democracy calls for demonstrable participation in decision making by students as a significant part of the university community whose needs must be represented. Such a position is a real world view that recognises the student body as a significant part of the university’s reason for being. While the business vision may dominate the democratic vision of a university a university is more than simply a business.
When the various personalities of a university are combined there is a clear case for ensuring that student engagement in decision making is more than a token representation at lofty heights where the student voice may be drowned out by board and council members of significant authority. The promotion of student voice has capacity to benefit the business operations of the university as well as fulfilling its obligations as a representative democracy. As a regulated body funded by the state there is also a clear role for student voice in promoting quality. Within a community of scholars, the voice of students should not be dismissed as a junior voice but must be reckoned with as the voice of learning experts.
These other functions are equally as important to the role of student partnership in decision-making to a university. The concept of students engaging fully in university governance is not new. There is abundant evidence of this approach in other countries. Australia lags behind in developing and implementing a coherent approach.
28 February 2017
Training and Support for Student Representatives
Last week I talked about the need for engagement with students in decision-making to be authentic, with the university putting emphasis on partnership rather than consultation. I also pointed to the need to support that level of engagement.
The first step in this engagement is to provide opportunity for students to participate in decision making processes from early in their university career. A good way to encourage this is to provide for student representation to begin at course, year or subject level, and progress through to faculty and university committees and senior governance roles. The advantage of this approach is that it provides opportunity for many students to participate in a capacity closely matched with their level of experience. It enables them to develop skills in representing fellow students. They gain experience in raising issues with university personnel and understanding how universities work. They can work out if they like representative roles. If they do, the next level might be to engage in a faculty board or discipline society or committee. From there, students may progress to increasingly more senior roles commensurate with expertise and appetite. However, some may be happy to continue from year to year working on representing their course, contributing their increasing experience and sharing it with new representatives.
To facilitate students taking on these roles support and training needs to be provided. At the course representative level training doesn’t need to be particularly elaborate. We have run a pilot project where the course representatives were provided with a two hour training session which explained the purpose of course representatives, helped students to identify what issues course representatives should engage with (and what issues they shouldn’t), provided some basic training in meeting protocols and communication skills, and provided them with a series of scenarios to discuss to check their understanding of their role. Students were also provided with details of where they could get help if they encountered a problem they didn’t know how to deal with or if the role presented challenges that they needed support with. They were provided with a handbook and contact details for a support officer they could talk to as needed. It was important also to get academic staff on board with the idea of course representatives and to see them as a valuable tool for them in enhancing their courses. I will develop this in a later blog.
We found that the course representatives provided some valuable insights that led to improvement. The course representative engagement also provided an opportunity to disseminate better understanding amongst students as to why some things are done in a particular way. These results were facilitated by the student being prepared for and supported in their role.
As student representatives take on more senior roles their training and support needs may increase but at the same time these more experienced representatives can play an important role in mentoring newer representatives. At the most senior levels, some institutions are already providing opportunity for student representatives to take part in more advanced training such as company director training and financial briefings. This level of investment in student representation is an important indicator that a university is taking its engagement with students in decision making seriously. It is also an investment that can pay dividends though building expertise within the student body that can be shared.
22 February 2017
Authentic student engagement in university decision-making
True partnership with students in decision-making takes time and effort and that is undoubtedly a challenge at a time when universities seek to improve their bottom line. However, evidence abroad shows that investing in creating true partnership with students will enhance a university’s success. Student partnership is not just a feel-good exercise but one that makes good sense in a competitive environment. This week I want to focus on what authentic engagement looks like before exploring how it can be implemented and why iut is beneficial for universities.
One of the best tools I have seen for explaining what authentic engagement looks like is Arnstein’s ladder. The ladder comes from a 1969 paper by Sherry R. Arnstein entitled "A Ladder of Citizen Participation". The citation is JAIP, Vol. 35, No. 4, July 1969, pp. 216-224 and while the paper relates to government rather than education it is well worth reading. The ladder was introduced to me by Professor Gwen van der Velden (Warwick University) and Eve Lewis (sparqs). It looks like this:
The target in university decision making, as in other activities needs to be partnership. Not relinquishing control but empowering those affected by decisions to actively participate in making them. The ladder is also informative for what it reveals about “consultation”. Universities like other institutions may pride themselves on consulting with their constituents but the reality is that often consultation is a tokenistic form of engagement at best. Key problems with consultation relate to who is consulted, when are they consulted, how are they briefed and what is done with their input? True consultation is when affected parties are brought in at the very beginning of the process, or even are asked for their views when ideas for change or innovation are being considered.
Consultation often fails to embrace diverse views, asks for input late in the decision-making process, fails to adequately brief those consulted and disregards views that conflict with the decision that, in reality, has already been made. Not surprisingly this approach actually does more harm than good. Students see this type of engagement for what it is- senseless window-dressing. From a business perspective it makes no sense- it is expensive, time consuming and damages the relationship between institution and constituents.
True partnership is time consuming. It requires investment in ensuring that diverse student voice is captured and listened to. Student voice needs to be part of formulating the brief rather than responding to what the institution has decided. During the OLT project a university shared a great story with us of investing heavily in the development of a student space that nobody used- they hadn’t thought to ask the students what they needed. Ultimately an opportunity arose to redress this situation and students were actively engaged in creating the design brief. They didn’t demand crazy things, they listened to why some things couldn’t be achieved and they vetoed elements that were impractical or a poor use of available funds. The result was a state of the art space that is well used and has become a bench mark that other institutions are striving to emulate.
14 February 2017
Learning and teaching: a key area in which students are being engaged as partners
Australian universities are engaging students in partnership in a wide range of activities. These moves open up valuable and much needed discussions about effectively embedding student partnership in decision making across the sector. One such opportunity was the recent Students as Partners Roundtable held at the University of Tasmania on 31 January 2017 which launched Wendy Green’s Engaging Students as Partners in Global Learning Fellowship. National and international experts including Professor Mick Healey (Healey HE Consultants, UK), Professor Betty Leask (La Trobe University) and Dr Kelly Matthews (University of Queensland) explored how staff and students can work together as partners in learning and teaching.
While the focus of my fellowship extends beyond learning and teaching to embrace decision making at all levels of university activity, the learning and teaching dynamic is clearly an important and central element. Participants provided some thought provoking perspectives.
Betty Leask described the role of education as extending beyond creating economic growth and requiring active and reflective participation, and the development of understanding of the positions adopted by and needs of others in a complex global environment.
Mick Healey reflected on the transformative power of student partnership and its role as a way of doing things rather than an outcome. Mick considers “… it should be the norm, not the exception, that students are engaged as co-partners and co-designers in all university and department learning and teaching initiatives, strategies and practices.”
The skills needed for students to participate as effective partners in learning and teaching processes can be both developed and utilised more broadly in university decision making and governance. Understanding of different perspectives and the complex context in which decisions need to be made is critical to effective engagement of students as partners within processes in institutions – both in the classroom and outside. Building understanding that deep engagement with their university is an important part of student life for all students with far reaching benefits for students as individuals, universities as institutions, and society at large is critical.
9 February 2017