In this interview we talk to Iain Maitland and Mary Young, who work in the Students’ Office at the University of the West of Scotland. They are responsible for a range of work relating to student life, including surveys, induction and citizenship. They were also heavily involved in the creation of the university’s new Student Partnership Agreement, and occasionally dress up as zombies!
1. Let’s start at a conceptual level – what does the term student engagement mean to you?
We see Student Engagement as having three strands, students engaging with the University, the University engaging with students and students engaging with each other.
We engage with students on a variety of different levels and through various different types of activities designed to ensure they have a sense of belonging and make them feel there is more to university life than just their classes. We seek to encourage engagement with us, and with each other. For example as well as daytime activities such as Resilience Workshops, we have recently run a few events in the evening, such as a trip to a trampoline park and two zombie apocalypse events with a third one planned for later this academic year. These events were well attended and students have requested more.
The serious side of this engagement comes through analytics. Each event becomes a touch point and can provide data for analytics. This links in with our SIE HEA Project to create a student facing dashboard.
2. You’ve done a lot of work at the university on citizenship lately. In terms of rights and responsibilities it presumably overlaps considerably with your approaches to student engagement?
Back to the Zombies here. We are a team of four and to make events such as the Zombies work long term we need to empower students to confidently take over these events and free us up to work on the next thing. The idea of rights and responsibilities are key to this. We are saying to students you've taken part in this, we think you enjoyed it, now take responsibility for taking it forward.
The next run of the event will also be supported by filmmaking students. This means we will get better footage and they will get experience and possibly inspiration. The same can apply to the trampolining event, the next one, we hope, will be organised by students. The missing link we think, is the HEAR (Higher Education Achievement Report), which will allow us to recognise and reward active engagement with these activities and most importantly help students connect such activities with their employability. HEAR will go live at UWS in June 2016.
3. How have you found the process of developing the university’s Student Partnership Agreement? And why did you decide to create one in the first place?
We have always felt that we are in partnership with students. We saw the SPA as an opportunity to formalise that relationship and to use the partnership to drive key objectives that were of mutual benefit. Developing the partnership was an iterative process and probably took longer than we’d expected, which isn't a bad thing. A partnership should not be imposed on anyone, so dialogue was to be encouraged, hence we think this has been time well spent.
4. What projects have you committed to in the SPA, and which ones are you particularly looking forward to taking forward?
Some of the headline projects for us are:
- Reduction of feedback time from 4 weeks to 3.
- The development of a co-created award in Citizenship.
- The entire wellbeing section, including the financial awareness campaign and the mental health campaign.
I think the impact of the campaigns will be improved if we get the partnership element right. We believe that by taking the student perspective into account as we formulate and design the campaign together, it will be particularly relevant to the audience.
For the Citizenship Award we are particularly excited that it will be co-created and that it will form part of the personal development of both staff and students. Creating learning that is shared, where staff and students get together and learn together, new dynamics are created.
Thanks to Iain and Mary for being interviewees. 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.