Collegiate Commentary: Five facets of the Student Voice

Prisms reflecting blue light on a black background
Image credit: Michael Dziedzic, Unsplash, CC0

In this post, we share with you the Collegiate Commentary from our latest Teaching Matters newsletter↗️: Five facets of the Student Voice that featured the Mar-April Student Voice series↗️. Simon Varwell, Senior Development Consultant from Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland (sparqs↗️), highlights the importance of ‘authentic and constructive dialogue’ in student partnership activities and gives a glimpse into the unfolding future in this area.

Student engagement, student voice and student partnership are some of the many terms that describe the ways in which students can shape their learning and wider student experience, and the task of defining them generates a multitude of perspectives and views. The five facets of student voice↗️ at The University of Edinburgh, highlighted in the newsletter↗️ are a great contribution, and as individual prompts or a collective framework they provide a useful basis for reflection by staff and students. Many institutions have similar approaches to interpreting their partnership activities: UHI’s Student Partnership Agreement↗️, for example, is underpinned by eight themes, and there are seven principles of student partnership at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen↗️Scotland’s Student Engagement Framework↗️ is based on five key elements and six features that are often used as the basis for student engagement strategies.

Scotland's Student Engagement Framework, sparqs
Scotland’s Student Engagement Framework. Image credit:↗️

However you cut the cake, or whatever prompts you build discussions on, what matters most is that you have, as sparqs’ student partnership staircase↗️ states, an “authentic and constructive dialogue”. That means, for example, as highlighted by Nichola and my colleague Megan in their post “Quality and the Student Voice↗️”, doing a survey is in itself merely an information-gathering exercise. What elevates that survey to being part of a dialogic partnership, however, is when students and staff work together beforehand to co-design the format and wording of the survey, and again afterwards to analyse the results, extrapolate priorities, and develop actions.

sparqs' student partnership staircase, sparqs
sparqs’ student partnership staircase. Image credit:↗️

That all, of course, needs to be done in a joined up and strategised manner, and therefore the two facets offered in the newsletter↗️ – horizontality and representation make for a powerful pairing. Just like sparqs’ own tool for mapping student engagement in institutional structures↗️, it is important that student reps speak not only to the staff they work most closely with but also connect the views of students they represent with the activity of senior students’ association officers.

Effective training and support for reps to do this is vital, hence sparqs’ extensive support for course rep training↗️, and one of the key points our training includes is that reps should understand the (increasing) diversity of the students that they represent and can articulate this effectively in decision-making. We are also gathering data↗️ on whether the reps themselves reflect the diversity of the students they represent.

Looking to the near future, it’s an exciting time of change for student partnership in our sector. Our Student Learning Experience model↗️, currently at the heart of our course rep training, and our partnership staircase (above) are both being redeveloped to play a key part in the tertiary quality arrangements↗️ forthcoming in 2024. These will place student-created principles of good learning and an updated model of partnership at the heart of conversations about quality, meaning student engagement will be even more to the fore than it already is in Scotland. So hang on to those five facets of the student voice↗️, because we’ll be developing lots more thinking like that in the years to come.

Photograph of the authorSimon Varwell

Simon Varwell is Senior Development Consultant at sparqs↗️, Scotland’s national agency for student engagement, where he leads on institutional support and staff development. He is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a graduate of the University of Winchester’s Masters in Student Engagement, and is the author of various articles and book contributions↗️ on student engagement and partnership. He can be found on Twitter↗️ and LinkedIn↗️.

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