Finding the student voice
It has become a common argument that, as tuition fees return or at least are being discussed, students will become more demanding; if they are paying, they expect to see some service. As a theoretical perspective that sounds reasonable enough, but the experience of higher education systems with fees doesn’t necessarily bear this out. On the whole, the student voice has not become louder or more demanding.
And actually, that’s a pity. These days students are generally so focused on navigating their courses and coming out with a good grade that they don’t spend much time arguing about university policies – not even catering, for heaven’s sake. Even where they have representation on decision-making bodies, they often do not use this very actively. There are of course exceptions to the rule, as for example in the attempts here and there to stop Bertie Ahern speaking on a campus, but frankly these little outbursts are of no great significance in the scheme of things.
Over my time as President of DCU I spent some time thinking about why this might be so. One possibility is that we – meaning the universities and their students – have arranged student representation on a kind of ‘social partnership’ model, which in the end simply parachutes student representatives into what are essentially staff discussions, which may not always be of direct significance to them. It’s not that I think we should discontinue this – I don’t, emphatically – but rather we should become more skilled at making the students’ narratives a more recognisable part of the university communications.
One interesting experiment in this context is being conducted in Arizona State University, which now runs a student blog page on its website, where new students are given an opportunity to write about their experiences, and thereby perhaps highlight what is good and not so good about the university and their programmes of study. There are no doubt also other ways of giving space to student voices and encouraging them to engage in constructive critique. It can and should all be part of the earning experience, and perhaps will encourage students to take an active part in charting the direction of their university.Explore posts in the same categories: blogging, students, university
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