Students must be centrally involved in decision-making processes in higher education institutions. In April 2016 the Higher Education Authority (HEA) published the report of the Working Group on Student Engagement in Irish Higher Education.
The Working Group was established by the HEA in 2014 to develop a set of principles to assist higher education institutions in enhancing student engagement. It was chaired by Professor Tom Collins.
Launching its report at a conference on student engagement in the Department of Education and Skills, Professor Collins said: “Student engagement essentially means student involvement in governance and management, quality assurance, and teaching and learning.
“While students are ultimately responsible for their own learning and level of engagement, effective student engagement also depends on institutional conditions, policies and culture that enable and encourage students to get involved. The benefits of effective student engagement can include better retention rates, higher levels of satisfaction with educational outcomes, and better student / staff relationships on college campuses.”
Students as partners, not consumers
Professor Collins said that the Working Group favoured the “developmental model” for Irish higher education institutions, over the “market model” common in many jurisdictions. The market model is based on a view of the student as a consumer while, in contrast, the developmental model sees students as partners in a learning community, with both the rights and responsibilities of citizens.
The report of the Working Group recommends that all higher education institutions complete a co-led (staff and student) evaluation of formal and informal student engagement practices and opportunities at every level. Once the self-evaluations are complete, institutions and students should co-author a student engagement policy that places the principles included in the Working Group’s report at the heart of each institution. The principles include: democracy, transparency, inclusivity and diversity, feedback, professionalism and collegiality.
At the launch Tom Boland, Chief Executive Officer of the HEA, said:
“Achieving successful student engagement is not about enforcement and compliance; it’s about building up a meaningful culture and two-way communications.
“Student participation in higher education governance in Ireland is a legal requirement, but representation on various governance bodies is not sufficient on its own. Both formal and informal mechanisms, as well as parity of esteem between students and staff, are extremely important. The culture of engagement must incorporate all staff and students, and reflect the diversity of the student body, incorporating mature, part-time, distance learning and international students.”
Speakers at the conference included Professor Stuart Brand, Director of Learning Experience at Birmingham City University, and Marese Bermingham, Head of Strategic Student Engagement and Retention at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). Both institutions were consulted by the Working Group on Student Engagement due to the high quality of their existing student engagement practices.
The full report of the Working Group on Student Engagement, including the principles developed by the Group, is available below.