The National Student Engagement Programme (NStEP) is pleased to launch a series of resources produced by the national Project Team that was tasked with examining the role and recruitment of class representatives in Irish higher education. The Project Team was led by the National College of Ireland (NCI) and NCI Students’ Union, and included student and staff membership from across the country. The release of these new resources will support all those who are working to effectively enhance student engagement and representation systems, especially now at a time of upheaval due to the ongoing pandemic. The importance of well developed and meaningfully supported academic representation has perhaps never been so fundamental to the successful delivery of high quality education for the benefit of students, staff and institutions across Ireland.

The newly published Insight Report and accompanying resources can be found at the end of this article.

The project was identified as a core need for the development of student engagement practice in Irish higher education after the conclusion of the initial pilot series of institutional analysis workshops during 2017. 

The Project Team decided to carry out a number of workshops, as well as gather data and perspectives from key institutional staff, students’ union representatives and class representatives across various roles across the duration of the project. It was clear from this process that there was a need for student and staff leadership to work together to more clearly define the role of the class representative, and to develop effective systems of support around them, ensuring that they can fully realise the potential of academic representation of their peers and student engagement within institutional governance and quality.

Over the duration of the project, the team was Co-Chaired by by a students’ union officer from NCISU and by a representative from NCI, with the final report drawn up by Dr David McCarthy of the Quality and Institutional Effectiveness Office. David reflects on the benefit of this national project, the importance of empowering the role of the class representative, and the need for the co-design of representation systems that can underpin student partnership work:

The NStEP Project provided us with an opportunity to ask our students what engagement really means to them and to listen to their recommendations as to how we can support and empower them to become more engaged with their studies, with decisions affecting the quality of teaching, learning and assessment on their programmes, and with the strategic direction of the institution as a whole.

Reflection on the Project

Developing resources to assist in defining and incentivising the role of Class Reps involved working with students and staff from a wide range of HEIs, of different sizes, different funding models and with student representation structures at different levels of maturity. Despite these differences, it became apparent that in all institutions, a functional, adaptive and co-designed Class Rep system is the foundation upon which any student engagement project, student success strategy or student partnership agreement is built. It also became apparent that the resources committed and the responsibilities delegated to Class Reps provide an immediate insight into the value that a particular institution places on enhancing student engagement. Completing this project proved extremely timely given the profound changes to teaching, learning and assessment in the second semester of the 2019/20academic year. By ensuring that Class Reps are sufficiently supported and empowered to be involved in the decisions that directly affect how academic programmes are delivered in the short-term, institutions can be confident that the requirements, expectations and aspirations of students are duly considered if the alternative arrangements in teaching, learning and assessment are to be implemented on a more long-term basis as part of any strategic movement toward blended delivery, flexible curricula or universal design.

Dajana Sinik, the current President of NCI Students’ Union, detailed the importance of supporting and strengthening class rep systems from the perspective of student leadership and representation:

Class reps play a crucial role in ensuring student voices are heard on academic matters within institutional structures, acting not only as the point of contact for their program, but also providing significant representation and signposting students to the relevant supports. It is best practice for institutions to support class reps effectively engage in their role, meeting key contacts, and ensuring reps are able to play a full part in the life of the institution. It is our responsibility as an institute to support and foster a strong sense of community within the school by engaging, communicating, and involving the class reps in different decision-making levels. 

You can access the Insight Report and accompanying resources below. All NStEP project resources can also be found here.

This project and the published resources were developed in partnership with sparqs (Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland).

Insight Report: The Role and Recruitment of Class Representatives

This Insight Report and accompanying guidance was developed as part of the National Student Engagement Programme (NStEP) project on the Role and Recruitment of Class Representatives. The project team was led by the National College of Ireland (NCI) and the National College of Ireland Students’ Union (NCISU). View and download the report here.

Class Rep System Resources

Accompanying the Insight Report is a range of supporting resources for institutions and students’ unions to collaborate: