28 Oct 2014

Interview with Morven Stewart, sparqs Associate Trainer and GSA student

In this interview, we meet one of our own staff – Associate Trainer Morven Stewart. Like all our Associate Trainers, Morven is a student employed by us on a part-time basis to deliver Course Rep Training across Scotland. She is a fourth year BA (Hons) Fine Art student at Glasgow School of Art, and previously studied at Reid Kerr College (now part of West College Scotland). This is Morven's second year as an Associate Trainer for sparqs.

1. In your time at both college and university you were a course rep, and then you applied to be an Associate Trainer. What first got you interested in the world of representation?

I think it is important, I always have. I firmly believe in the transformative powers of education but I also believe this is at its most powerful when the student is fully engaged with their learning. For me, initially it was a way to engage myself as I returned to education as a mature student. However, once I was in and experienced first-hand the impact a student body can have I saw the true value of proper representation.

2. As an Associate Trainer with sparqs, you’ve trained in a number of institutions across Scotland. What difference do you feel the training is making to course reps? What kinds of ideas and motivations do they take away?

It is hugely important and the feedback I personally have received has been fantastic! For a lot of first-time and returning students they are unaware of the impact they can have in shaping the student learning experience within their institutions. It gives them a framework to work with which in turn gives them the confidence to be able to deal with any issues raised. I love when they understand why they are the experts when it comes to the learning experience and why the voice of the student body is so important. In some way it validates them and empowers them and that is an amazing thing to be part of.

3. Can you think of any particular examples of “lightbulb” moments in your training where students have suddenly realised the importance of their role and how to do it?

It is not so much “lightbulb” moments but more steady building of confidence and empowering reps to understand that they can affect change. When you relay a story through personal experience demonstrating how the system works and they realise they in turn can go and affect change, well it is just a really rewarding moment.

4. Do you think we as a sector make the most of course reps? Or is there more we could be doing to engage them and learn from them?

I think sparqs and NUS do a great job but it is hard for them to do everything due to limited funding. I think the government could engage with the wider student body more and I also think it should be easier within the sector to obtain funding.

5. The Scottish Government recently announced two more years’ funding for NUS Scotland and sparqs to support developments in the college sector. We hope that will help – or is there room for more activity at the institutional and students’ association level to support course reps?

Absolutely there is room. Institutions need to value their student body now more than ever. They need to ensure that the student body is working with the institution to improve and evolve the learning experience for all students, at all times. It has become a highly competitive market with institutions vying for their share of the student purse so student engagement is a powerful tool. It helps set the benchmark of success.

6. You’ve returned to be an Associate Trainer with sparqs for a second year, and were actually involved in being a tutor at our recent training event for sparqs and institutional Associate Trainers. Tell us a bit about the development that the position provides, and how your own knowledge and skills have changed through the role.

As everyone at sparqs knows, I love my job. It has been an amazing opportunity for me. I feel really proud to have been part of it all. I have done numerous sessions now and I know that I will have helped affect change, albeit in a very small way, but that makes me incredibly proud.

It’s also opened up new opportunities for me. For instance, following an AT development session on the Enhancement Themes, I became interested in this area of work and ended up involved in Glasgow School of Art’s Enhancement Themes group for the coming year. I’ve also been accepted by QAA Scotland as a student reviewer for Enhancement-Led Institutional Review (ELIR) so may end up helping to review a university at some point in the near future.

On a personal level my confidence in public speaking and training delivery has surpassed my expectations. I have found something I enjoy immensely, met colleagues who are now solid friends and had an opportunity to visit and experience numerous institutions and student bodies. This has all enriched my own learning experience and engagement as a student myself. So yeah, as you can probably tell, I have thoroughly enjoyed my role as an Associate Trainer for sparqs - long may it continue!�


Thanks to Morven 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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