I have recently been reflecting on my time as a students’ union president.
March 24 this year marks five years since I was elected. Every student representative’s journey is different, and amongst the usual manifesto items, our executive team saw a new challenge on the horizon – the newly passed Higher Education and Research Act (HERA) 2017.
I was not alone in wondering what this change would really mean for students. And, importantly, how the newly created Office for Students (OfS) – which emerged from HERA – would listen to students in developing its regulatory approach.
I was lucky to find myself with a seat at the decision-making table. In 2018, I had the privilege to be appointed to the OfS board, and the opportunity to chair the student panel. On my first day, I met some of the staff who had pored over those consultation responses from students. This was my first glimpse at how the student voice would shape our work.
In the student interest
It’s now been two years since OfS launched its student engagement strategy. Effective student engagement is crucial if OfS can understand issues that are important to students and to enable us to act in their interest credibly.
Since then, we have engaged with students to shape our policy development. Students played an integral role in the recent review of the National Student Survey (NSS). Alongside my fellow student panellist Ramy Badrie, I sat with Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS’ VP higher education, on an NSS steering group.
We advised on future question areas for one of the largest student census surveys in the world. The panel has advised over several years around tackling harassment and sexual misconduct on campus, advising on our statement of expectations and how to evaluate its impact.
And in response to the many experiences and concerns shared by students who were asked to isolate during their studies due to Covid-19, the panel acted. We published our own statement in support of students, urging providers to offer them adequate support. This was just some of the work in student engagement that OfS has done – there have also been consultation workshops and student polling.
All of this would not have been possible without OfS listening to students to understand what they needed as they navigated challenges many policy makers had never experienced.
Fresh – exciting
Today we are launching our refreshed student engagement priorities for 2022-23. The refresh of our student engagement priorities shows our commitment to continue listening and acting for students. We will focus on continuing to build a culture of student engagement at OfS. We will embed student perspectives, particularly where students will be most impacted by OfS’ new strategy.
We will amplify the voices of students whose voices go unheard most in higher education. To do this, OfS will continue to support student groups on issues relating to advancing equality, diversity and inclusion, such as the disabled students’ commission. We will collaborate closely with organisations who work with students from underrepresented groups, to ensure that these students can engage with us and be supported to do so.
We also recognise that we have high ambitions for involving students in shaping our regulation. Our refreshed priorities commit us to providing training for student representatives so we can make sure we adequately support and empower students to impact regulation across England. As part of our student engagement strategy, we have committed to tailoring our communications with students. We have recently launched a guide to the OfS for students’ unions, detailing practical ways SUs can get involved with our work.
The student panel worked with us on the creation of our initial strategy and have collaborated closely with OfS on this refresh. I’m proud the panel will continue to be a core partnership mechanism to ensure that the student voice is at the heart of OfS.
The refresh was informed by stakeholder engagement with students, students’ unions, the student panel and sector experts late last year. We are committed to collaborating on student engagement and recognise this is an area which will evolve over time.
I am proud of the work we have delivered over the last few years in the student interest and look forward to seeing engagement become a top priority for the OfS.