31 Aug 2021

Interview with Megan Doherty, University of Dundee graduate and former DUSA officer

In this interview, we talk to Megan Doherty, former Student Voice Support Officer at Dundee University Students’ Association and graduate of Politics and International Relations at the University of Dundee. She has been involved in Y7, the official youth engagement group for the G7, where she has applied some of her knowledge and experience of student engagement.

1. Can you describe your journey of student engagement at university? What did the term mean to you as a student?

My journey with student engagement at university started in my second year. I have been actively engaged in student engagement and governance at school. Entering university, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue in those roles. I decided to go for being a Class Representative. This helped me understand that my peers can have a very different learning experience to mine on the same modules and the importance of actively seeking student views throughout the course. I then became a Student Voice Support Officer. This involved working with my students’ union and showed me a different perspective to student engagement.

Initially, when I started my university student engagement journey, ‘student engagement’ was about students engaging in their learning process and looking to better the quality. However, sparqs taught the importance of students as partners. For me, this is a critical aspect of student engagement. Students should not be pushing for their student learning experience to be high quality but universities and students’ unions should be working to ensure that students are engaged to have good quality assurance.

2. And tell us more about being a Student Voice Support Officer at the students’ association. Why did you apply for the role, and what did you do?

I saw the role of a Student Voice Support Officer and was interested in using my previous experiences from school to help others at a higher level. I also had experience of being on youth advisory boards for various charities. I hoped this would give me a good foundation to learn and grow in the role.

This role was a pilot project. At first, I was involved in training my peers to become Class Representatives and working with our university’s School Presidents to deliver projects. The role has shifted and moulded to the needs of the student representatives and students’ union. My final year of doing the role involved Class Representative Training, facilitating at our Student Representative Council and preparing students for Periodic Programme Reviews. It was an amazing experience to meet Student Representatives throughout my university career, train them and see them progress into School President and Executive roles. It showed me the importance of training Student Representatives to help them understand and reach their potential in their roles.

3. What is the Y7 and how did you get involved in it?

The Y7 (Youth 7) is one of the official engagement groups of the G7. We work alongside, the Science 7, Women 7, Business 7, Labour 7 and Civil Society 7, to engage some of the world’s biggest economies to help them understand these groups key issues. The Y7 sees young people from each G7 nation work together, debate and create a Y7 communique – a list of recommendations for the G7.

I got involved through my experience as UK Young Ambassador to EU Youth Dialogue. As the UK was hosting the G7, this meant that the Y7 would be run by a UK organisation. I applied to help with the design of this year’s Y7 last summer. This snowballed into me becoming the Co-Chair of the Implementation Taskforce that delivered the Y7 in May 2021.

4. You’ve apparently used some of what you learned from your experience of engagement at university in your work in the Y7 – including sharing and adapting sparqs’ student partnership staircase! Tell us more about that.

Yes! When planning the design of the Y7 it was important that we engaged young people across the UK. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible to ensure that all views were heard. To do this, we designed a wider sector network. This is a network of charities across the UK that we believed could be interested in the Y7. The G7 operates with key policy areas each year. Therefore, we also looked to see if there were organisations that could help us find youth voice in those policy areas.

However, I recognised that some charities would have greater capacities to help than others. Therefore, I used my experience of engagement at university to adapt the student partnership staircase [below]. The staircase model was adapted to allow members to input at a level they felt capable or wanted to contribute. The four stages were treated as four roles. The information provider would help disseminate surveys. The actor would share surveys and help analyse their young peoples’ results. The expert would be able to provide us expert views and connect us to young people. And the partner would work with us for the Y7 delivery.

An adaptation of the sparqs student partnership staircase, with additional examples under the four headings:  Information provider: Completing surveys, Providing interviews, Giving feedback, Help us reach out to young people. Actor: Collective and analysing feedback, Responding to comments, Identifying themes in feedback. Expert: Recognised expertise, Provides detailed case studies, Meets with working groups, Has relevant experience. Partner: Provides constructive dialogue, Full member of committees, Working with working groups, Proposing ideas, Working together on solutions.

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Thanks to Megan for being an interviewee. To suggest a future subject for interview, please contact us.

This interview is part of a series of occasional interviews on our website with student engagement practitioners – both staff and students, and from within Scotland’s university and college sector and beyond. The interviews aim to capture the different perspectives that people have on student engagement in the quality of learning.

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