That’s the plan, but first, we need to listen and learn… Cassie Agbehenu reflects on the development of the OfS's student engagement strategy.
Last week, the OfS student engagement team were at Newcastle University, running a workshop at the RAISE Network (Researching, Advancing and Inspiring Student Engagement) annual conference. The workshop was part of our consultation to develop a student engagement strategy for the OfS.
The RAISE conference brings together students and staff from across higher education. It was a great opportunity to share our thinking to date, and to hear from providers, students’ unions and researchers about tried, tested and innovative student engagement methods and approaches.
Why student engagement is a priority for the OfS
Students have been contributing to the OfS’s work since we opened our doors in April 2018. Our student panel advises and influences us on a range of issues. Students are involved in the development and delivery of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), and in our student information programme.
This is a good start. But we want to take it further. The OfS regulates in the interests of students. We need, and want, to be challenged to be ambitious for their benefit – and who better to tell us about their interests than students themselves, and those who work in and think about student engagement every day?
Students are experts in their own experience. Combining their expertise with ours helps us to be an effective regulator. Students should have a positive and tangible impact on our work – we must listen to and learn from them, and work in partnership to build solutions.
It’s vital that our student engagement strategy reflects the diversity of the student population and of higher education. In particular, it must take a considered and systematic approach to understanding the views of underrepresented or often unheard student groups.
The (consultation) story so far…
Our team of three have been travelling the country over the past few months, visiting students and staff at a wide range of universities and colleges. We’ve also been learning from other regulators about their own engagement approaches. Our consultation survey, which closes this Friday (13 September 2019), has had over 400 responses so far.
It’s been absolutely fascinating, and genuinely exciting. Getting into a room with students in Hartlepool, Bristol or London is a constant reminder of how important it is to make space for students to influence our work.
We’re taking a collaborative, transparent and inclusive approach. Our focus is on understanding how it feels to be listened to and respected, and to hold equal power when it comes to influencing decision making.
What students are telling us
Students are telling us a number of things:
- They expect us to be clear about what they can and should expect from their provider if it is regulated by the OfS.
- They are challenging us to work in partnership with students, students’ unions and guilds, and other representatives, and not to compromise when an issue seems ‘just too hard’ for student engagement to work.
- They’re asking how they can be involved in setting OfS key performance indicators and business plans.
- They want to explore what their role could be in scrutinising the funding we allocate, and how they can be in touch with OfS staff – from project design and management to the mentoring of senior leaders.
- They’re urging us to make use of evidence that already exists (such as the National Student Survey) as well as undertaking new data collection – for example, sampling student union officer manifestos.
The views of OfS staff and of academics, practitioners and others have also been critical to the development of the strategy. Their expertise is helping us to understand the support, resources and processes we need for successful student engagement.
All of these groups have emphasised the need for the OfS to make sure we are listening to and understanding the views of students who are underrepresented in higher education and those who often go unheard.
The creative thoughts and proposals we’ve heard over the past months have been fantastic. Our workshop approach has also confirmed something in itself - we should be working in this way as a matter of course: discussing, debating and creating alongside students. We look forward to continuing these conversations as we begin the final stage of our consultation.
Our student engagement strategy will be published early next year. It will be informed by and reflect the views of students, sector experts and OfS colleagues. We will test a range of approaches in our work with students over the course of the strategy, and learn from any challenges that arise. And we will continue to learn from and listen to students.