Ever since the mid-20th century, when students became more vocal in defence of their interests and universities started cautiously to include them in decision-making, the question has been asked as to how far this process should go. What, in other words, is a ‘student’?
Are students disciples who sit at the professor’s feet? Are they partners in a learning experience? Are they judges of quality in a university? Should they have a hand in curriculum design? Should they determine a lecturer’s career progression? Should they help to appoint the institution’s chief officer? Are they customers, who pay the money that maintains the institution?
As an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper shows, there is no unanimity in these matters. Some academics are enthusiastic supporters of student engagement, while others are concerned that students do not have the maturity to determine or judge programme content, and moreover are conflicted as they have a vested interest.
But these contrasting views demonstrate that, after a couple of decades of higher education reforms of one kind or another, there is little clarity as to what higher education actually is and what it is intended to achieve. The student voice is, as most will agree, a vital part of higher education. Recognising students as partners in education rather than just the recipients of teaching is a vital pedagogical insight. Perhaps it is time to follow this up with a recognition of students as fellow stakeholders in the universities overall. The student voice, when encouraged, must be a valuable asset.
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