What is student engagement in decision-making?

There are many understandings of student engagement, as well as related phrases and concepts like ‘student voice’ and ‘students as partners’. Often these phrases are used interchangeably, even though there are rarely agreed definitions, or even agreement on when they should be used and how. In truth, ‘we could define student engagement in any way we want’ (Finn and Zimmer, 2012) and each of these many understandings are entirely legitimate. For example, student engagement can be perceived as students engaging in their own learning and in the life of their institution, while others will perceive student engagement as staff engaging with students (Bryson and Furlonger, 2018) – effectively, engagement may be viewed differently depending on where you are standing. In truth, it is both of these things and much more. As a result, without an agreed sense of why we use these phrases it is difficult to act in a coordinated way when we talk about student engagement. 

Ultimately, student engagement is a process through which students and staff can develop a relationship that is open, honest, and can lead to collaboration. It allows staff to work with their students as part of the learning environment, to seek their feedback and input, and to build their sense of belonging and connection to their institution. Student engagement should have student-centred outcomes, but also staff-centric benefit (Mercer-Mapstone et al, 2017). It is a mutually important process. 

Student engagement is not confined to any one part of the institution. It isn’t just a learning or classroom-based issue. It shouldn’t simply be perceived as students sitting on committees or influencing institutional governance. It isn’t just about feedback processes, nor should it be seen as an activity that only some students or some staff are involved in. Seeking to improve student engagement shouldn’t only happen through specific projects but be considered as part of both curricular and extra-curricular approaches (Mercer-Mapstone et al, 2017).

It is also vitally important to consider whether student engagement approaches are being designed by staff, rather than with students (Matthews, 2016). With this in mind, ‘All partnership is student engagement, but not all student engagement is partnership.’ (Healey et al, 2014) This does not mean that engagement processes or activities that don’t directly involve students as partners are not worthwhile, but it does require staff and students to actively consider the way in which decision-making works in their institution. 

Partnership denotes an engagement that is shared or equal (Felten, Bovill, and Cook-Sather, 2014), that provides co-ownership, and that creates space to actively work together, but not all students will take up those opportunities and staff may face limitations like workload and time. This requires us to explore why these limitations exist and to reconsider how engagement and partnership can be inclusive.

How we perceive student engagement depends on where it is that we are discussing it. Engagement can happen at all levels of higher education. The issues and the means of engagement will be both different and the same at each level, but the roles and responsibilities of each individual will differ from the module level, to the programme level, to departments and faculties, and ultimately at the institutional level.

Creating an Irish approach to ‘student engagement in decision-making’

As detailed previously, in higher education there are many different terms to describe the ways in which student views are considered and the way in which students themselves participate or get involved in decision-making opportunities. These terms are often used interchangeably without pause to consider what they might mean in different contexts. It is important for all students and staff involved decision-making processes to have a mutual understanding of the phrases that they are using, especially if they are seeking to enhance the role that students play in such processes. 

Three of the most commonly used phrases are student voice, student engagement, and student partnership. While these terms are very much related and inter-linked, they are nuanced, and should be considered individually to fully understand them in practice.

The Steps to Partnership understanding of these terms is as follows:
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These three understandings relate to one another as follows:

With varied opportunities for both students and staff, student engagement is an active process of student-staff dialogue through which the student voice is heard, understood, and amplified, while student partnership builds a sense of collaboration through that engagement process, which can ultimately redefine traditional hierarchies in higher education for the benefit of the entire learning community. This process of student engagement requires commonly understood approaches in order to flourish.

In short, NStEP sets out student engagement in decision-making as the development of steps towards partnership between students and staff in a way that ensures that partnership is sustained. This framework sets out a way in which to take those steps to partnership.

What is student engagement in decision-making?

There are many understandings of student engagement, as well as related phrases and concepts like ‘student voice’ and ‘students as partners’. Often these phrases are used interchangeably, even though there are rarely agreed definitions, or even agreement on when they should be used and how. In truth, ‘we could define student engagement in any way we want’ (Finn and Zimmer, 2012) and each of these many understandings are entirely legitimate. For example, student engagement can be perceived as students engaging in their own learning and in the life of their institution, while others will perceive student engagement as staff engaging with students (Bryson and Furlonger, 2018) – effectively, engagement may be viewed differently depending on where you are standing. In truth, it is both of these things and much more. As a result, without an agreed sense of why we use these phrases it is difficult to act in a coordinated way when we talk about student engagement. 

Ultimately, student engagement is a process through which students and staff can develop a relationship that is open, honest, and can lead to collaboration. It allows staff to work with their students as part of the learning environment, to seek their feedback and input, and to build their sense of belonging and connection to their institution. Student engagement should have student-centred outcomes, but also staff-centric benefit (Mercer-Mapstone et al, 2017). It is a mutually important process. 

Student engagement is not confined to any one part of the institution. It isn’t just a learning or classroom-based issue. It shouldn’t simply be perceived as students sitting on committees or influencing institutional governance. It isn’t just about feedback processes, nor should it be seen as an activity that only some students or some staff are involved in. Seeking to improve student engagement shouldn’t only happen through specific projects but be considered as part of both curricular and extra-curricular approaches (Mercer-Mapstone et al, 2017).

It is also vitally important to consider whether student engagement approaches are being designed by staff, rather than with students (Matthews, 2016). With this in mind, ‘All partnership is student engagement, but not all student engagement is partnership.’ (Healey et al, 2014) This does not mean that engagement processes or activities that don’t directly involve students as partners are not worthwhile, but it does require staff and students to actively consider the way in which decision-making works in their institution. 

Partnership denotes an engagement that is shared or equal (Felten, Bovill, and Cook-Sather, 2014), that provides co-ownership, and that creates space to actively work together, but not all students will take up those opportunities and staff may face limitations like workload and time. This requires us to explore why these limitations exist and to reconsider how engagement and partnership can be inclusive.

How we perceive student engagement depends on where it is that we are discussing it. Engagement can happen at all levels of higher education. The issues and the means of engagement will be both different and the same at each level, but the roles and responsibilities of each individual will differ from the module level, to the programme level, to departments and faculties, and ultimately at the institutional level.

Creating an Irish approach to ‘student engagement in decision-making’

As detailed previously, in higher education there are many different terms to describe the ways in which student views are considered and the way in which students themselves participate or get involved in decision-making opportunities. These terms are often used interchangeably without pause to consider what they might mean in different contexts. It is important for all students and staff involved decision-making processes to have a mutual understanding of the phrases that they are using, especially if they are seeking to enhance the role that students play in such processes. 

Three of the most commonly used phrases are student voice, student engagement, and student partnership. While these terms are very much related and inter-linked, they are nuanced, and should be considered individually to fully understand them in practice.

The Steps to Partnership understanding of these terms is as follows:

These three understandings relate to one another as follows:

With varied opportunities for both students and staff, student engagement is an active process of student-staff dialogue through which the student voice is heard, understood, and amplified, while student partnership builds a sense of collaboration through that engagement process, which can ultimately redefine traditional hierarchies in higher education for the benefit of the entire learning community. This process of student engagement requires commonly understood approaches in order to flourish.

In short, NStEP sets out student engagement in decision-making as the development of steps towards partnership between students and staff in a way that ensures that partnership is sustained. This framework sets out a way in which to take those steps to partnership.

Get Your Free Steps to Partnership Report
To get your free copy of the Steps to Partnership report, just fill in your name and address and we will do the rest! GDPR notice: By providing your name and postal address through this form you are only giving NStEP permission to send Steps to Partnership in the post to you once. Your details will not be used for any other purpose. NStEP will not retain your details after postage.
Please include your Eircode or Zipcode.
What is student engagement in decision-making?

There are many understandings of student engagement, as well as related phrases and concepts like ‘student voice’ and ‘students as partners’. Often these phrases are used interchangeably, even though there are rarely agreed definitions, or even agreement on when they should be used and how. In truth, ‘we could define student engagement in any way we want’ (Finn and Zimmer, 2012) and each of these many understandings are entirely legitimate. For example, student engagement can be perceived as students engaging in their own learning and in the life of their institution, while others will perceive student engagement as staff engaging with students (Bryson and Furlonger, 2018) – effectively, engagement may be viewed differently depending on where you are standing. In truth, it is both of these things and much more. As a result, without an agreed sense of why we use these phrases it is difficult to act in a coordinated way when we talk about student engagement. 

Ultimately, student engagement is a process through which students and staff can develop a relationship that is open, honest, and can lead to collaboration. It allows staff to work with their students as part of the learning environment, to seek their feedback and input, and to build their sense of belonging and connection to their institution. Student engagement should have student-centred outcomes, but also staff-centric benefit (Mercer-Mapstone et al, 2017). It is a mutually important process. 

Student engagement is not confined to any one part of the institution. It isn’t just a learning or classroom-based issue. It shouldn’t simply be perceived as students sitting on committees or influencing institutional governance. It isn’t just about feedback processes, nor should it be seen as an activity that only some students or some staff are involved in. Seeking to improve student engagement shouldn’t only happen through specific projects but be considered as part of both curricular and extra-curricular approaches (Mercer-Mapstone et al, 2017).

It is also vitally important to consider whether student engagement approaches are being designed by staff, rather than with students (Matthews, 2016). With this in mind, ‘All partnership is student engagement, but not all student engagement is partnership.’ (Healey et al, 2014) This does not mean that engagement processes or activities that don’t directly involve students as partners are not worthwhile, but it does require staff and students to actively consider the way in which decision-making works in their institution. 

Partnership denotes an engagement that is shared or equal (Felten, Bovill, and Cook-Sather, 2014), that provides co-ownership, and that creates space to actively work together, but not all students will take up those opportunities and staff may face limitations like workload and time. This requires us to explore why these limitations exist and to reconsider how engagement and partnership can be inclusive.

How we perceive student engagement depends on where it is that we are discussing it. Engagement can happen at all levels of higher education. The issues and the means of engagement will be both different and the same at each level, but the roles and responsibilities of each individual will differ from the module level, to the programme level, to departments and faculties, and ultimately at the institutional level.

Creating an Irish approach to ‘student engagement in decision-making’

As detailed previously, in higher education there are many different terms to describe the ways in which student views are considered and the way in which students themselves participate or get involved in decision-making opportunities. These terms are often used interchangeably without pause to consider what they might mean in different contexts. It is important for all students and staff involved decision-making processes to have a mutual understanding of the phrases that they are using, especially if they are seeking to enhance the role that students play in such processes. 

Three of the most commonly used phrases are student voice, student engagement, and student partnership. While these terms are very much related and inter-linked, they are nuanced, and should be considered individually to fully understand them in practice.

The Steps to Partnership understanding of these terms is as follows:

These three understandings relate to one another as follows:

With varied opportunities for both students and staff, student engagement is an active process of student-staff dialogue through which the student voice is heard, understood, and amplified, while student partnership builds a sense of collaboration through that engagement process, which can ultimately redefine traditional hierarchies in higher education for the benefit of the entire learning community. This process of student engagement requires commonly understood approaches in order to flourish.

In short, NStEP sets out student engagement in decision-making as the development of steps towards partnership between students and staff in a way that ensures that partnership is sustained. This framework sets out a way in which to take those steps to partnership.

Get Your Free Steps to Partnership Report
To get your free copy of the Steps to Partnership report, just fill in your name and address and we will do the rest! GDPR notice: By providing your name and postal address through this form you are only giving NStEP permission to send Steps to Partnership in the post to you once. Your details will not be used for any other purpose. NStEP will not retain your details after postage.
Please include your Eircode or Zipcode.