In this interview we talk to Myra McCabe, Head of Student Services at Edinburgh College.
1. Let’s start with the congratulations! At the recent 2014 College Development Network awards, Edinburgh College won the Changing Colleges Award for its work on developing partnership between the college and the students’ association. You had the sector’s first Student Partnership Agreement, but what else did the college do that contributed to this achievement?
Thank you – we were all delighted to have our partnership work recognised with the award for Changing Colleges. I must note that this was very much a team effort involving students and staff as equal partners. As you say the award was not just due to the development of the Student Partnership Agreement but also because of a number of events and themed work that we planned and delivered together.
Together ECSA and the College signed the Pledge2Listen to support our students from a care background at a jointly planned event. We also ran an event to raise awareness across the College on issues faced by our Asylum Seeker students. We delivered mental health awareness sessions using the ‘stories of recovery’ model which aims to demonstrate a very positive approach to supporting our students living with mental health issues. Together with ECSA the student support team have been working on the development of a mentoring programme for young carers.
2. Edinburgh College Students’ Association itself has won awards for its development, too. How important is it that the college has had a strong and effective students’ association? What has it enabled the college to do that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible?
It is extremely important to the College to have a strong and effective students’ association as it supports a very real contribution from our students at all levels of College life. Throughout the merger process ECSA has made an invaluable contribution to the development of the Edinburgh College identity and has helped to support a common culture for the new organisation.
A strong students’ association has allowed us to have direct input from our students to key documents such as the Outcome Agreement, the College strategic plan and both the departmental operational plans as well as the College strategies, not least of which is the Student Engagement Strategy.
We have also been able to work directly with our students on the distribution of the student support funds and have plans for the future to look at how we can develop shared services in relation to student support.
3. Over your career in the sector, how do you think student engagement has changed? Obviously regionalisation has had a huge impact, but what other developments have you seen in the understanding and application of the term?
Having worked in FE now since 1998, in that time student engagement has taken on a much more serious and effective role both in the classroom and in college life. There has definitely been a move to see the contribution of students as an integral part of the organisation and to see it as something that benefits the development of an effective college. The funding of students’ associations has also come a long way but then so has the accountability of the association to be a more professional and properly governed body with structure and continuity.
I see all this as very positive developments and although there is still much work to be done, the huge contribution that our students make to the College and the sector is better recognised. Of course there is also the role that student engagement plays in the development of innovative learning and its contribution to greater individual success as students and learning is no longer seen as a one size fits all.
4. You recently led the creation of Edinburgh College’s Student Engagement Strategy, building it around the elements of the Student Engagement Framework for Scotland. How useful is the framework for you and for the college?
I would have to say that the framework was invaluable in the development of the strategy. I was fortunate enough to have been involved in the early stages of the consultation around its development and would say that it really gives a very clear set of thought provoking questions and guidelines to allow you to really think about the model you want to develop for your College.
It is easy to follow but flexible in its use and can be adapted to meet individual institutional requirements. However it also ensures that you at least consider all aspects of what makes an effective and easy to follow strategy and decide how they apply to each case. As a tool I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to develop their strategy going forward.
Thanks to Myra 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.