In this post, Gemma Spencer, a Masters student in Psychology of Mental Health, shares her experience as a student representative…
With The University of Edinburgh being such a large institution — encompassing a sizeable student body of 40,000 — it is easy enough to blend into the crowd. But why should you? Your university experience is often shaped by the opportunities you accept and how active you are in championing the development of learning and teaching practices.
I learnt this the hard way throughout my undergraduate degree in London, often letting opportunities pass me until I built up the confidence to take advantage of them. This resulted in a very busy final year. However, I finished my degree with a new-found confidence and drive to throw myself into any opportunity that comes my way.
Therefore, when the opportunity arose for me to become a Programme Representative for the MSc Psychology of Mental Health (Conversion) programme, I decided to go for it. I am one of four Programme Representatives for my cohort, working collaboratively to represent over a 100 student voices. The role involves gathering feedback to discuss at Student-Staff Liaison Committees (SSLCs), suggesting improvements, and working to enhance teaching and learning practices at the university.
Before beginning my role, I was unaware of how seriously the university attends to the student voice and how central it is for enhancing the quality of teaching and learning. As my degree is a one-year Masters course, the issues that have arisen among students are often in need of direct action. This has required me to have consistent contact with the Programme Director and Secretary to ensure that the students’ needs are met and their voices are being listened to. I have been met with the utmost respect and appreciation from all staff on the programme and was surprised as to how seriously the staff listened to students’ concerns. For example, following students’ comments, I was able to help put a case forward for enhancing the quality of coursework feedback. As a result, the department has been in contact with students and investigating ways of improvement.
Not only have I been able to impact decision-making at programme level, but I have also had the opportunity to represent the student voice at school level. This semester, I became a member of the School of Health in Social Science’s Education Committee and School Board of Studies. With regards to the former, I have had the opportunity to represent the students’ perspectives on academic community, student experience and scholarships. I suggested that it would be beneficial for Postgraduate Taught (PGT) representatives to meet with Postgraduate Research (PGR) representatives at the start of the year to discuss what the PGR representatives found were the best ways to approach students and make changes. As a result, the School is looking to implement a scheme next year to facilitate such communication.
With regards to the School Board of Studies, I was able to provide a student perspective on changes being made within different modules across the School of Health in Social Science. Something that has arisen frequently within student feedback is what appears to be a preference for coursework over exams to allow more opportunities to engage critically with the material at PGT level. I was able to raise this at our SSLC in semester one. Recently, I attended my first School Board of Studies meeting which was initially quite daunting, given the number of academics present at the meeting. However, I was consistently encouraged to provide comments as all staff were very keen to hear how students would feel about key changes being made to modules across the School. For example, one module which my cohort took last semester had an amendment put forward to change the core assessment to a coursework assignment rather than exam. I was able to support this amendment and it was subsequently passed by the committee. Therefore, my role representing the student voice is not only positively impacting my current degree cohort but future year groups to come.
The above experiences have proven to me that the university is not only open to student feedback but actively encourages it. Taking into account the students’ perspectives when making key programme and policy decisions can help to enhance teaching and learning practices to fit those who benefit the most from them: students.
Education ought to be more than the development of knowledge and skills. It should be a means to tell students that the university respects their aspirations, appreciates their perspectives and values their opinions. This is how change ensues – with the confidence to make your voice heard.