Student engagement in university decision-making and governance- towards a more inclusive student voice

An OLT Strategic Priority Commissioned Project led by Sally Varnham UTS

by Sally Varnham and Bronwyn Olliffe

The “student voice” project was born out of experience with student engagement in university governance bodies and a recognition that in a changing tertiary education environment students expect a greater say in how they experience tertiary education.

As this study unfolded it became apparent that there is a wealth of experience with student engagement and partnership in other countries that we can draw on. At the same time, we have seen that some Australian tertiary education institutions are already implementing similar practices with their own student cohorts.

A challenge in embedding good student engagement practice here in Australia arises from the different types of institution providing tertiary education. A one size fits all approach will not suffice.  However, whatever the specific needs and constraints of particular institutions, we believe that there are lessons to be learnt from international experience and our collective Australian experiences in engaging students in decision-making.

To encourage engagement, a sincere culture of partnership must be developed through demonstration by universities and the sector of a commitment to and respect for student voice.   Communication is central: first, of the representative opportunities across the institution and secondly, how the views of student representatives are integral to decisions made. Essential components are:

  1. Effective, valued and supported student leadership in partnership with universities.
  2. A developmental approach to student representation from course/ subject level through to high level institutional bodies.
  3. Resources for training and support of student representatives.
  4. Formal and informal processes for the engagement of students at all levels for continual enhancement of courses, their university experience and their personal development.
  5. Capturing every student’s voice – engaging underrepresented student groups to ensure engagement of the whole student cohort.
  6. Appropriate financial and nonfinancial support and incentives for student representation.

The Project recommends a sector-wide collaboration for the sharing of knowledge and experience of the benefits and challenges of effective student engagement for the diverse Australian sector, ultimately working towards framing a set of principles. An Australian Learning and Teaching National Senior Teaching Fellowship has been awarded to the Project leader, Professor Sally Varnham (2016/2017) during which she will engage senior university leaders and government policy-makers, student representatives, professional and academic staff, university management, and government agencies in a sector wide discussion aiming at a shared understanding.

You can join us in continuing the Student Voice Conversation via our Facebook page: Student Voice in university decision-making and follow our activities via our web page: studentvoice.uts.edu.au.

 

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