The value of student engagement

One of the questions the academic community should be asking itself more regularly is what exactly they think is the student’s stake in the higher education framework, beyond that of a learner. Some of this debate would probably these days focus on whether students are, or are not, consumers or customers, and therefore whether they have a right to insist on something like contractual performance from their institutions and teachers. Others might ask whether students have what we might describe as democratic rights of co-determination – a perspective we pursued a little in the review I chaired of Scottish higher education governance, and which has recently been explored in a very interesting Irish report.

One way or another, all this is tied up with how we can secure student engagement – a commitment to learning going beyond managing the curriculum in order to secure a degree. This is something universities do try to encourage in a general way, but perhaps not always in a principled manner, because we have not really settled what the principle is. Some recent studies have revealed one consequence of student disengagement: what could be a gradual death of the classroom experience, as technology gives students access to material independent of their teachers and the socialising effect of classes is no longer recognised or appreciated. So students simply no longer turn up, many of them opting to undertake what are in essence correspondence courses, with very little if any engagement with the corporate entity of their university.

In an age in which the concept of stakeholders in this and that and everything is ubiquitous, we need to do better in securing an understanding of the student’s stake in his or her learning process and the institution that offers it. We have not yet got very far in this, all appearances to the contrary.

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4 Comments on “The value of student engagement”

  1. paulmartin42 Says:

    When I lectured at Aberdeen University a student stopped me in the corridor and thanked me for smiling at him. Conversely whenever I pontificate to groups of young people I am always flattered when someone says thanks on the way out.

    It strikes me that as students progress through education the willingness to look out for each other diminishes and reaches its nadir around undergraduate level. This may be the natural process of progressing to adulthood but, sadly, I see it every day. I blame feminism.


  2. Hello Ferdinand. Interesting questions raised, and we in sparqs have been engaged heavily in work around this, and indeed in the developments in Ireland you refer to, which is seeing a huge new emphasis on student engagement.

    Scotland’s Student Engagement Framework, which you can find on our website (see the link on my name), outlines different areas in which students can be engaged, and the features such engagement should have. One element is engagement in one’s learning, for instance, and another is engaging in commenting on and shaping the quality of that learning. The elements and features are complementary and often overlapping but they do raise useful questions, and they link to questions and examples of resources under each area.

    The framework is not a prescriptive definition, but a framework that allows institutions and students’ associations to think about, and strategically plan, different areas of student engagement activity. There are some great examples from around the country (and further afield) as to how this has been done.

    We’re happy to discuss in more detail!

  3. Greg Foley Says:

    No offence Ferdinand but this made me realise I need to write about the overuse of the word ‘engagement’, a sort of catch-all noun which along with its’s verb equivalent seems to be used to denote some sort of ill-defined interaction between two people, groups of people or whatever you’re having yourself. My ‘favourite’ is when education gurus say things like “we need to encourage students need to engage with their learning”.

  4. e de c Says:

    Solution to not turning up to lectures is for professors to raise their levels of ‘easiness’ and ‘hotness’ in ratemyprofessors.com, referred to here in the HEA study. Then there will be queues at the door.


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