Quality and the Student Voice

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In this blog post, Nichola Kett (Head of Quality Assurance and Enhancement) and Megan Brown (Development Consultant, Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland – sparqs) explain what is meant by quality, why hearing the student voice in quality processes is so important, and provide examples of how this works in practice. This post is part of the Learning & Teaching Enhancement Theme: Student Voice.

What do we mean by quality?

All universities in Scotland follow the Quality Enhancement Framework. In practice, this means that the University has in place a quality framework of policies and processes which assure academic standards (the set level of achievement to be reached for an award) and enhance the student learning experience (which includes experiences of a course or programme, and the wider support, resources and facilities available to support learning).

How is the student voice involved in quality?

Student engagement is one of the key elements of the Scottish Quality Enhancement Framework, where students are encouraged to work in partnership with staff and an aim is to give students a greater voice.

 Who is sparqs?

Sparqs (Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland) is Scotland’s national agency for student engagement in colleges and universities. Sparqs’ vision is that, ‘Students are partners in shaping the quality of learning, making positive change to their own and others’ experience, however and wherever they learn’. Sparqs supports students to develop the skills, approaches and expertise that enable them to be instrumental in decision-making and supports institutions, sector agencies and decision-making bodies to embed effective practices that enable them to harness this student expertise.

Why is hearing the student voice in quality processes so important?

Students are experts in their own learning and are therefore uniquely placed to identify what is working well, what could be improved, and to identify innovative ways for courses, departments and the institution as a whole to develop and enhance. Students, of course, are not a homogenous group and quality systems and processes need to capture the diverse experiences of the student body. Students’ associations play a pivotal role in capturing this diverse student voice through their representative systems and by working with their institutions to ensure that learning and teaching works for all students. Sparqs supports students’ associations in these activities, including through training programmes such as Course Rep Training  for student reps across Scotland and That’s Quality events for student officers and the staff who support them.

Student voice in quality is at its most effective when students and staff work in partnership together to enhance the student experience. What this looks like in practice is that students are involved not just as information providers, giving intel on their experiences to the institution, but are jointly involved in designing the methods of feedback, analysing the data, identifying issues, and working with the institution to develop action plans and deliver solutions. Through this approach, students are empowered to make changes at their institution through authentic and constructive dialogue with staff, recognised as equal partners in the process and supported to engage in the whole quality cycle.

How is the student voice involved in quality processes at the University?

The Students’ Association and the University work in partnership to ensure that students are central to academic governance, decision-making and quality assurance and enhancement. Here are some examples of how the student voice is involved in quality processes:

Annual programme review

All programmes undergo annual monitoring. Student feedback from, for example, surveys and student-staff liaison committees feeds into this review process and resulting actions.

Periodic programme review

Programmes undergo a significant review at least every six years and students are engaged throughout. Student feedback is considered as part of the reviews, students are invited to propose aspects for the review to consider and to meet the panel undertaking the review, and are involved in follow-up activity.

Student representation

Student representatives are a vital part of quality processes and a key forum for dialogue between students and staff is in student-staff liaison committees (SSLCs), where key areas of feedback are discussed, and students and staff work in partnership to resolve any issues identified.

Enhancement Themes

The Enhancement Themes are a way for students and staff in universities across Scotland to work together on a theme to improve the student experience. We have student representation on groups and projects, consider student feedback, and employ PhD Interns to support our work on the Themes.

Responding to the Student Voice – Resource Pack

As part of the Enhancement Theme, Evidence for Enhancement: Improving the Student Experience, a student-led project on responding to the student voice produced a resource pack, a scan of international practice and examples of practice: Responding to the student voice – Evidence for Enhancement (enhancementthemes.ac.uk)

The responding to the student voice resource pack is based on a set of cards that sets out a series of interrelated principles of practice. Staff and students worked in partnership to design and shape the cards, aimed at improving policies, processes and practices around responding to the student voice. The resource pack was originally produced in 2018 and has been updated in 2023 to reflect contemporary challenges and the importance of gathering student feedback in a tertiary learning environment.   

How to find out more

Get in touch

If you’re reading this and thinking of work, activities or projects that you’ve been involved in relating to the student voice, please do get it touch with Nichola Kett: nichola.kett@ed.ac.uk. We would love to feature more examples in this series from across the University and Students’ Association.

Nichola Kett

Nichola Kett is Head of Quality Assurance and Enhancement Team in Academic Services, where she oversees the implementation and management of the quality framework and manages the quality assurance and enhancement team. Nichola also engages with and contributes to key University learning and teaching activities.

photograph of the authorMegan brown

Megan Brown is a Development Consultant for sparqs, Scotland’s national agency for student engagement in universities and colleges. Her main area of work is supporting students to engage in national policy developments in learning, teaching and quality. Megan oversees sparqs’ equality, diversity and inclusion work, including supporting and training student officers on representing diverse student voices.

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