In this post, Rosie Byrne, a third-year History student, shares her experience of participating in focus groups, a little-known resource available to students who wish to influence university policies…
The student voice is defined through the Student Voice Policy to “assure the quality of learning and teaching and student services, and to enhance the student experience.” Working in partnership with the university as a student can be beneficial for a number of reasons. By taking part in focus groups that occur on campus, you can influence university policy and find out more about the university whilst you do so. Focus groups happen throughout the term but often students are not aware that they can actually participate in them. Focus groups tend to particularly endorse the participation of first-year students, and so this is an ideal opportunity to both settle in and get used to your surroundings, and earn a bit of money whilst doing it – a session may offer a £10 voucher or promotion. First year students are also more likely to have free time, which can be used to attend focus groups that only last an hour or two.
You can get involved in focus groups via the Student Council or MyCareerHub, which offers a variety of sessions with partner organisations. These normally require a simple registration via email and often first-year students are invited by organisations directly. The aim of gathering student opinion in this way is to gather authentic testimony from students who are directly affected by a particular policy or experiencing particular needs or difficulties. These can be within the field of student health and wellbeing or aiming to find out how students cope with arrival at university and possible preparations that can be made. This has been done with inquiries into the way in which students experience pre-arrival reviews that have been trialled in some schools, and whether personal tutor contact has been beneficial in easing students’ entry into tertiary education.
My experience of participation within focus groups has been really beneficial in the sense that, in my first year, I took full advantage of bringing a fresh perspective to aid university policy. Having the odd £10 voucher or even some free food (pizza is always a guaranteed bonus) can really add something positive to your week! If you feel like you are helping someone out, it can also boost your mood a little too. Personally, I found that I felt more engaged with university outside of academic subjects just through understanding how university works behind the scenes.
Settling into university can be a daunting and stressful experience where many can feel very isolated, and can cause concerns for both students and the wider support network of family and friends. A sense of belonging is integral to success, and it can be difficult to discover ways in which to foster this security. My own experience of university was characterised by confusion and a sense of dislocation from a supportive home environment, and living a way away from Edinburgh definitely contributed to this. Making links with your new home is imperative, therefore, and connecting with your university is a good way to start.