April 29, 2014, by Teaching at Nottingham

Perspectives on students in partnership

Audio >>
Prof. Wyn Morgan, Prof. Julie Sanders, Prof. Stephen Doughty and Dasha Kurzunina talk about what partnership means to them.

Perspectives on students in partnership was a plenary session at the Students in Conversation conference (April 2014).

The transcript from Dasha’s presentation is available below:

Dasha Karzunina: “Hello and welcome. I’m here to talk to you about Students at the Heart of their Educational Experience – this isn’t simply about positioning a student in a certain relation to the university – this is about empowering students and the university by allowing students to own their experience.

“This focus is of course on student’s educational experience but I would argue that every aspect of a student’s life has an impact on their educational experience. We therefore need to consider a wide range of levels on which the university and students can work together.

“As we look to establish the University’s next strategy, a number of terms are being used: “Students at the centre”, “Students at the heart”, “Students as Change Agents.” These phrases are becoming shorthand for partnership, which is based around the ethos of students taking a proactive approach to influencing all parts of the University that matter to them, supported by the University and the Students” Union. Staff and students take pride and ownership in the institution to ensure that the University is the best it can be in every way possible.

“We have therefore come up with 4 principles that are the broad guidelines the University and the members of the Students” Union will strive to live out to ensure that they are working in true partnership.

“It may be useful to consider real-life examples as we go along to bring the ethos to life.

1. Our partnership considers openness, trust, and mutual respect as key components for ensuring success.

“Partnership is a way of collaborating between two parties with an equal amount of respect for each other. There are over 43,000 students on Nottingham campuses, worldwide; they can all be involved in the university processes that directly impact them. The definition of partnership in a larger sense is based on the values of openness, trust, agreed shared goals and regular communication between partners.

“The Peer-mentoring Project is an excellent example of partnership between the university and the students where we, as a union, play a key part communicating message from students and to students. The lack of peer mentoring is the number 1 concern that our Welfare Officer has been facing; students have been telling us that what they would most like to receive support from other students. As a consequence, a variety of mentoring schemes have developed across the university. It became apparent that there is a need for a centrally driven university project on peer mentoring.

“And so our Welfare Officer had a conversation with the head of Student Operations and Support Division, Stephen Dudderidge. It is this conversation alone that sparked off work in partnership between the university and the students, it made all the different ideas both parties had, become reality. It is because the university were open to us and we trusted it, the university respected the evidence we brought to them and we respected the university’s ability to deliver a successful scheme for students.

2. Our partnership believes in equality of commitment and contribution from all parties regardless of their experience or expertise

“Different parties have different strengths that they bring to the table and partnership recognises these differences and puts students and staff on equal footing. Partnership recognises that a first year student will not have the subject knowledge of a professional academic nor will a professional academic know what it is like to enter the university as a first year student in this day and age. Both have significant contributions to make from their perspectives and experiences. Partnership is about drawing on those differing strengths and celebrating working towards the same goal.

“So going back to our Peer Mentoring example, this first open conversation was followed by a number of further open conversations between different parties of different influence. As a result, it was agreed that having a consistent peer mentoring approach is in the best interest of the students and the university.

“Realising the value of different perspectives, we scoped out mentoring schemes already in existence across the university and learnt about their worth from the student and staff perspective. This led to a jointly submitted paper to the University Executive Boar. It was because welfare is important to students and the welfare of its students is important to the university that action had been taken.
We are currently working out the best model that would both fit in within university structures and satisfy the student need for mentoring.

3. Our partnership empowers all partners to gain equal value from their involvement

“Partnership is empowering students to have ownership over their education, their experience and the institution of which they become a part. It is empowering university staff to share knowledge, develop students and achieve outcomes. This approach to partnership enables parties to explore imaginative ways of making this interaction constructive, as well as participate meaningfully in meetings. Both parties listen, seek to understand each other’s contributions and agree a mutually beneficial course.

“Given that the same goal was established – students need bespoke support – students felt empowered because they were shaping the type of support they were receiving and staff were empowered because they were able to support students adequately. Both parties understood each other’s contributions and hence there are now formal boundaries established around the type of support and there are clear goals outlined that one would expect to achieve from the scheme.

4. Our partnership adopts models of engagement that match University’s goals

“We are a diverse University and our partnership needs to reflect that. Partnership does not mean simply having a student on every university committee – it is about finding creative ways of engaging with students. It is important for students and staff to come together around particular issues of interest in a way which moves beyond traditional committee structures to involvement at inception stages of a decision. Putting students at the centre means their voice is sought as partners at every stage.

“To illustrate this principle, I will go through some of the other positive partnership initiatives that have been taking place…

“The school of Health Sciences are very flexible and creative with the way they are engaging students. They are holding sessions where students are able to come along and interact with staff over coffee and cake. They are informal, relaxed and there are no set agendas. This means students are able to raise anything of interest. This initiative was undertaken by the school due to the awareness that their students spend a lot of time on placements which means there is less of an opportunity for student/staff interaction on a daily-basis.

“Events like this demonstrate that the university is willing to be a proactive partner, work on the relationship and put on activities that fit around a student’s lifestyle. It also shows that they know their students and so adopt models of engagement that would nurture this relationship.

“Complete partnership between students and the university is not going to happen overnight however, it is a process that involves tangible resources in the form of staff and time, continued reflection and discussion, and most significantly- a willingness to change the way both parties approach working together. Partnership might take a different form in different strands of the University’s operation. Through ensuring that they are working to the above principles, any party in the institution ensure they are working in partnership.

“I would like to finish with another positive example of university life that students should be involved with – sport. Here’s a quote from our Sports Officer, Tom Hicks:

“This year, has been the second consecutive year of partnership between the University and the Union in delivering sport. It manifested practically in the housing of many of the University employees within the Union but also strategically. We set up The Sports Advisory Board together to ensure that Sport at University is embedded into the wider context of University life, with discussions focusing on student careers and opportunity. Being included in the interview process for our two new assistant directors of sport was telling of the partnership between university and students as it was an opportunity for the two to shape sport with the ultimate focus on students.”

And here’s how sport can affect the Educational Experience. If I was a student that played in BUCS, I would almost certainly be away at a game every other Wednesday, having to potentially miss either a lecture or a seminar that is scheduled that afternoon. Alternatively, knowing that I want to play sport to a high standard, I may not choose that module at all. This is a clear example of a tension between two conflicting goals – attaining an excellent degree and being excellent at sport. We want our students to be both and a tension like this can only be resolved through working in partnership, with consideration and together.”

Dasha Karzunina
Education Officer 2013-14
Students’ Union

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