28 Feb 2013

Michael Russell Leads Celebration of Student Enhancement in Scotland

A fantastic turnout of students and staff from Scotland’s colleges, universities and sector agencies, as well as a selection of MSP’s, joined the sparqs team for a hugely successful event in the Scottish Parliament on 11th December 2012.

The event featured speakers including the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell. Mr Russell talked about the importance of “building a process of consultative engagement [with students] at every level, at every age and with every requirement.” He spoke of how government needs to think about how it can support such engagement through working with sparqs to support its strategic plan and areas of work, such as Student Partnership Agreements (http://www.sparqs.ac.uk/section.php?cat=111) and the nationally agreed Student Engagement Framework for Scotland (www.sparqs.ac.uk/SEFScotland). He also spoke about how it can push the work further to “make sure that government is fully aware of what is possible and is listening”. In response to the amazing contribution from Anne-Marie Docherty (a mature student and sparqs Associate Trainer who studied at Langside College before going on to the University of the West of Scotland) who highlighted the difference becoming a student had made to her and her young daughter’s life, Mr Russell spoke of how he had been reminded of the importance of listening to the needs of all students and assured her that he certainly had been made to think about what she had to say and was listening.

Liam Burns (President of NUS UK) started with tracing the tradition of student engagement in Scotland to Bologna in the twelfth century and Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor, who appointed a rector to speak on behalf of students, putting their voice at the centre. Quite a lot clearly happened in the intervening years until sparqs was established but Liam highlighted how truly ground breaking the approach in Scotland now is. Liam estimated how sparqs supports at least 120,000 volunteer hours a year from student reps across Scotland and how this amazing student contribution benefits not only education but also contributes to the development of responsible citizens benefitting society as a whole and complementing recent developments around Curriculum for Excellence. Professor Norman Sharp OBE (independent chair of the sparqs steering committee) closed the event, thanking the sparqs team for their achievements over the years and their efforts in achieving so much with so little.

But the evening was also about celebrating the activities of the many students and staff across Scotland who work to ensure that Scotland develops its partnership with students to deliver the best experience for students it can. Many contributors talked about the renown across the world for the distinctive approach in Scotland as a result of this work. A short video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IEu4RscYgY&feature=youtu.be) featured students and staff reflecting on the progress that has been made, which helped illustrate the progress featured in the Celebration Reports for both the college and university sectors, the executive summaries of which can be viewed on the sparqs website (http://www.sparqs.ac.uk/section.php?cat=146).

The following two articles in this newsletter expand further on the Student Engagement Framework for Scotland and the Celebration Reports.

We have received many comments from attendees about how positive and enjoyable they found the Parliamentary event and of how rarely students and staff at all levels, including college and university Principals can get together and share in such a celebration. We would like to thank all those who contributed and attended.

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