As a dedicated national student engagement agency for universities and colleges, sparqs is unique in the world.
Therefore we are the subject of much interest from other countries and are regularly visited by teams from other sectors across the world and invited to provide consultancy. However, we also have much to learn about how student engagement works in other countries, where there is much interesting practice to explore.
Researching and networking internationally is a vital part of our work to share effective practice from Scotland, learn from other countries, and set Scotland's approach to student engagement in an international context.
We frequently meet and forge links with practitioners from across the world at sector events in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and have been invited to speak at national conferences in many different countries.
At the sparqs National Conference held on Friday 29th May 2015 we hosted delegates from Ireland, Spain, Kosovo, Slovenia and New Zealand. On Thursday 28th May 2015 we held a day for the international delegates, as a precursor to the national conference, to give them an opportunity to learn about the Scottish context of student engagement ahead of the main conference the following day. The materials and the twitter 'Storify' from the day can be viewed on the International Delegates' Day webpage.
At the main conference on 29th May, two of our international guests, from New Zealand and Slovenia, facilitated presentations sessions, both of which can be viewed below:
The most recent sparqs conference took place on Thursday 23rd March 2017, which again included a range of international delegates and presenters - Adam Gajek from ESU gave a keynote speech and sessions were presented by colleagues from Ireland, Armenia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. In addition we had delegates from Italy, Spain, Norway, Belgium, Portugal, Romania and America, totalling 62 international delegates overall.
Presentations from the sessions will be uploaded soon.
Delegates attending from outwith the UK were also offered the opportunity to attend an additional International Delegates’ Day on Wednesday 22nd March, the day before the main conference. The day provided an opportunity to learn about the Scottish context of student engagement, including a visit to the University of Stirling, with some sightseeing and Scottish hospitality along the way! The day was a great success, with 37 delegates joining us. Many thanks to University of Stirling and the Students' Union for hosting!
In addition to the international delegates day, we arranged some optional site visits to universities and a sector agency, with the kind help of our University Advisory Group colleagues. A range of visits were available, spanning the week of the conference, for people to sign up directly with the institution/agency. The visits aimed to allow people to hear more about our student engagement and quality processes, whilst enabling visitors to see a bit more of Scotland! Click here to view details of the visits. Many thanks to everyone who hosted a visit!
Across the UK
Although much of our work is shaped within Scotland, there are some implications from UK-level policymaking. We engage in relevant forums, and also work with partner organisations in other UK nations. These include The Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP) in England and the Wales Initiative for Student Engagement (WISE) in Wales.
We have also developed links with the RAISE network of student engagement practitioners, researchers and student officers. We ran a workshop and stall at their 2014 conference in September in Manchester. We showcased a range of sparqs resources for mapping and planning student engagement, which are summarised via our news article published following the event.
In September 2015 we contributed to the RAISE 2015 annual conference, which took place at Nottingham Trent University. The theme of the conference was 'Student Engagement: Inspiring Innovation' and our workshop was around the importance of student feedback.
In September 2016 we again contributed to the RAISE 2016 annual conference, which took place at Loughborough University. The theme of the conference was 'Excellence in Student Engagement' and we ran a workshop around the sparqs Student Learning Experience, and also co-delivered a paper on student engagement in Institution-led Review, along with The Robert Gordon University's Gray's School of Art.
We engage widely with agencies and institutions across Europe, and have frequently attended and presented at Europe-wide conferences and been invited to contribute to events at national levels too.
We regularly attend and contribute to the annual conferences of EQAF, the European Quality Assurance Forum, presenting on topics such as the importance of student engagement to Scotland's quality enhancement framework and on the student role in university reviews.
At EQAF's 2014 conference in Barcelona in November 2014, sparqs and HEA Scotland presented a workshop about our joint project on engaging students in embedding equality and diversity in curriculum design. The presentations and recordings of both Plenary Sessions, plus the presentations and papers presented during the breakout sessions are all available on the EQAF website.
We attended the 2015 EQAF conference which took place in November 2015 in London with the theme of “Taking stock and looking forward”. In November 2016 we attended the 2016 EQAF conference in Slovenia, with the theme of "Quality in Context - embedding improvement".
In April 2015 we presented a session on 'Building Successful Student Partnerships' at the 25th Annual EURASHE conference in Portugal. All the materials from the conference can be found on the EURASHE conference webpages.
We were invited to present a keynote session in June 2015 at the Student Led Learning National Symposium: What Works… retention, student engagement and learners transition to Further and Higher Education. The session was around how we can further develop the role of students in enhancing the Student Learning Experience. You can read the twitter feed from the event at #2015SLL
In July 2015 we delivered a workshop on the importance of student feedback at the International Conference on Improving University Teaching in Slovenia. The sparqs workshop asked participants to consider the purpose of feedback and its potential value to the quality of the learning and teaching process. You can read the twitter feed from the conference at #IUT2015
From 2010 to 2013 we were a partner in the QUEST for Quality for Students project - a collaborative project exploring student engagement in different European contexts. You can find out more about it here.
sparqs is also involved in two current European projects, both of which come under the European Union's Tempus programme, and which kicked off in February 2014. More information can be found in our 2014 newsletter article.
The first project is called ESPAQ (Enhancing Student Participation in Quality Assurance in Armenia), and focuses on student engagement in Armenian higher education's national quality processes. Summer 2015 involved work around sketching out our contribution further, followed by a management meeting in September 2015. Activity continued apace in October and November 2015. October saw a visit by three sparqs staff to deliver training with ESU (European Students Union) to Armenian students about what quality enhancement entails and how to think about student engagement. Then, in November, we delivered a three-day workshop alongside ESU to equip students from several Armenian universities to engage in quality processes.
2016 saw us return to Yerevan once again on 17th-19th May, for a project management meeting with all the partner agencies and universities, plus a dissemination event which involved discussion and reflection on the key developments in training and capacity building to come out of the project. We then returned to Yerevan in September 2016 and to Spain in December 2016, again working with the European Students’ Union, to deliver Quality Assurance simulations and training for students involved in review activity at internal, institutional and sectoral levels. Our next visit was to a (very cold!) Yerevan in January 2017 for further training and an advisory board meeting.
Next, we look forward to welcoming ESPAQ members to the sparqs Conference in Edinburgh on 23rd March 2017, and also a management meeting taking place earlier that week.
The project is led by ESU, the European Students' Union, and more information can be found on the ESU website and on our own ESPAQ webpage. The project hashtag, for following related Twitter activity is #espaqproject
The second project, SIHEKSU, aims to establish a national students' union in Kosovo, a project which we are involved in jointly alongside NUS Scotland. To date there have been three visits to Kosovo as well as a Kosovar visit to Scotland in February 2015. As part of the project, we hosted a major delegation of Kosovan attendees at the sparqs National Conference in May 2015. The conference was successful in enthusing them about what a national union would be able to do and how they can take things forward.
Across the world
Interest in sparqs - and our desire to learn - extends beyond Europe too. We frequently meet with and learn from visiting staff and students from across the world, often at Scottish conferences or as part of wider study tours to explore the Scottish sector.
In April 2014 we were invited to New Zealand by the NZ Union of Students’ Associations and the national centre for tertiary teaching excellence. We were asked to contribute to a conference of a national project aimed at promoting institutional-level student engagement in NZ's polytechnic sector. We also took the time to meet with various other sectoral and governmental organisations. Read more here.
Dr Alistair Shaw, Executive Director of NZ Union of Students' Associations, said this of our visit:
"We greatly appreciated having sparqs visit and participate in our Student Voice Summit. We learned so much and it has laid the foundation for the development in the near future of an independent student-led agency to support student voice across Aotearoa/New Zealand. We have already incorporated elements of what we learnt into our training and our discourse, and the enthusiastic reception that we get every time we mention that we are working with sparqs opens new doors for us every day."
In May 2015 we visited New Zealand once again, at the invitation of the NZ Union of Students' Associations and Ako Aotearoa (very roughly New Zealand's equivalent of the UK's Higher Education Academy). We were invited to contribute to two national conferences, meet with other agencies, and contribute our perspectives on a variety of topics including reviews, staff development and institution-student body partnerships. You can read the 'Storify' from our visit.
The week after our return from New Zealand, we were delighted to host Dr Alistair Shaw when he visited Scotland. As noted above, he attended our International Delegates' Day on 28th May 2015 as well as the sparqs National Conference on 29th May 2015, at which he delivered a presentation session around the student voice in New Zealand, which can be viewed below:
In September 2016 we were delighted to be invited to Australia to contribute to a symposium hosted by University of Technology Sydney (UTS), exploring the student voice in university decision-making. The symposium was part of a national project (#studentvoiceOLT) looking at student engagement in university decision making and governance in Australian universities – towards a more systemically inclusive student voice and working towards developing a set of principles and a framework for student engagement in Australian universities. We also delivered a series of workshops with both staff and student groups at UTS, University of Adelaide, University of South Australia and Flinders University.
We welcome requests to support student engagement activitites across the world, ranging from supporting the work of individual institutions to large-scale development projects at a national level. We can offer a range of services including staff/student strategic workshops, contributions to events and conferences, support to develop student training programmes and access to a range of events and resources.
A current piece of consultancy work which we are excited to be involved with is the National Student Engagement Programme (NStEP) in Ireland, a collaborative initiative under development by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), the Higher Education Authority (HEA), and Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI). The project aims to develop and implement a national student representative training programme and develop institutional capacity around student engagement activities.
At an instititional level we are currently working with Artesis Plantijn Hogeschool in Antwerp, Belgium. To date we have run awareness sessions with both students and staff, facilitated strategic analyis sessions and have hosted students and staff on our 2016-17 summer residential training programmes. We are currently working with the student council to support their development of a 5-year student engagement plan.
If you are interested in discussing our consultancy services, please contact Eve Lewis, Director - firstname.lastname@example.org