The worlds of student engagement and quality assurance often collide, and the success of one depends on the success of the other.
The Association of University Administrators recently asked me to speak at a joint network event on this topic and I was struck by the sheer density and, at times, latency of supporting resources in each area.
I have not found my way through these resources with a trusty roadmap, but with a rather clumsy Luke Skywalker style approach of trying to feel the force and just blundering in anyway. This AUA network event was partly about the finer crafting of such a roadmap to give us all an even chance of finding our way and stumbling across the new and little known more gracefully.
Accepting that there are few of us who are hell bent on a career in quality administration, once in these roles, our capacity to add value and find job satisfaction should not be based on luck. Being aware of wider policy developments is not just a young wonk’s game, and this is where making effective use of Wonkhe can be invaluable. Although you might need a way in through your own institution first, to get a sense of what matters to you – in your role, to your colleagues, and importantly, to your students.
You are here
An understanding of the regulatory landscape is critical, but perhaps not easy to acquire overnight. There’s the role of the OfS (in England), the impact of the shift to a greater risk-based, data driven approach to quality assurance and the expectation that TEF should deliver as the key mechanism for continuous improvement. And these all come with a solid and not easily digestible set of reports and other publications. It’s also worth being aware of differing perspectives across the UK and beyond.
In terms of student engagement, the role of the Office for Students might be seen as a sharpened focus for, and the natural culmination of an established tradition of, the importance of student involvement in quality. As a returnee to the sector, it would be heartening to see this as an unbroken chain linking back to the work of the Quality Assurance Agency, and representative of the sector embedding a culture of active student engagement in quality systems across the UK.
But the field has lost two organisations: Wise Wales and TSEP (the latter of which seems to be on a pause), both student partnership organisations which did sterling work. The loss of these active participants in the student engagement arena is painfully felt in attempts to make effective links between policy and the implementation of good practice. Their resources, and one hopes their spirits, live on in the ether.
Sparqs (Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland) continues to provide this kind of sector leadership through promoting the benefits of active student engagement. Sparqs develops partnerships between funding bodies, regulators and the rest of the sector and contributes to a vibrant, student-informed culture of quality assurance.
Networks such as Raise, (researching, advancing and inspiring student engagement) also continue to be actively engaged in promoting student engagement in its widest sense – in terms of the quality of the student experience, but also its academic content, purpose and outcomes. And in an increasingly data-driven quality landscape, it’s not surprising that Jisc’s work on digital technologies continues to demonstrate the value of learner analytics in improving the quality of teaching, boosting retention and empowering students to take control of their own progress.
Make your own kind of music
There’s no one way in to this work, and to the support and resource networks, and I would suggest not confining yourself to only one route. We have a plethora of supportive and informative networks and resources provided by Universities UK, the mission groups, membership bodies such as AdvanceHE, Jisc, HEPI and QAA, and of course, we have each other, via organisations such as AUA, QSN and AHUA.
For those who straddle the worlds of quality assurance and student engagement, we are in a unique position: we can ensure access to and engagement with this wealth of data and information for our professional, academic, student and governor colleagues. Not just to meet the demands of our regulatory landscape: yes, we know we must do this, but so that we can learn collectively and individually about our strengths and our areas for improvement. And, importantly, so we can encourage debates and problem solving – not just because we have to – but because we want to.