In this interview, we talk to Matt Adie, Vice-President (Education) at the University of Stirling Students’ Union and Student Theme Lead for the current QAA Enhancement Theme “Evidence for Enhancement: Improving the Student Experience”. Matt is currently in his final year of his sabbatical from his degree in business and teaching and will be returning to complete his final year of study in September. During his time as VP Education he’s worked on several quality related projects within the sector; from the development of the new Enhancement Theme to the TEF Subject Level Pilot.
1. What got you interested, as a student, in the idea of student engagement? And how did that lead to you standing for sabbatical office?
I’ve been involved in ‘student engagement’ of sorts since I first joined the Pupil Council in Primary School. Back then I didn’t think of student engagement as a thing but just wanted to get involved in improving things around me. I’ve remained involved in one way or another right through secondary and into university, which amounts to about 15 years in total.
I ran for the VP Education post on a total whim. As a trainee teacher I always had my post-university career mapped out for me, so at the end of my third year I kind of reached a ‘now or never’ kind of moment and made the decision to throw my name in the mix, it was only as they announced the election results that it hit home just what I’d got myself into.
2. What have been your main priorities as VP Education? You got elected for a second year so presumably there was plenty more you wanted to keep working on!
My main priorities when I first started the VP Education role were to tackle the issues that everyone else always ignored. There’s the big, difficult, unpopular problems like Car Parking, Timetabling and Study Space that have a huge impact on the student experience, but year on year had went ignored, because they were too complex to fix in a year. My goal was to try and do something about them, even if it was just to get a plan in place on how they could be tackled.
It may have taken us two years, but we’ve been able to increase the number of spaces on campus, bring in new sustainable travel options, review the academic timetable, get a major investment into our learning and study spaces and bring in a new system for the monitoring and allocating of this.
3. You’ve also got heavily involved in the national Enhancement Themes work, including being Student Lead on the current Theme. What do you think is the general value of the Enhancement Themes, and why should students be involved in them?
The Enhancement Themes provide the opportunity for the Scottish sector – as a whole – to focus its attention on making tangible improvements to a specific aspect of the student experience. Too often, in our own organisations, we can be guilty of trying to tackle too many issues, and often fail to really get into solving the root of the problem. I think that the value of the Enhancement Themes really is, that they have an ability to focus everyone’s attention for just a few years on really making measurable progress on issues that matter.
Students are absolutely critical to the success of each Enhancement Theme, where we take steps to directly engage students in our work then we’re assured of a better outcome and bigger impact, as our work is being steered by those who are facing the challenges we’re trying to address on a daily basis.
In the two years that I’ve been a sabbatical officer we’ve seen some of the most monumental changes to the HE sector in a generation. Having also been involved in Quality Assurance projects south of the border, you really begin to appreciate just how important the focus on enhancement and collaboration is. We have a system that brings colleagues together, not pits them against one another and that’s something we should be really proud of. There’s a huge role for students to play in shaping the direction of travel for higher education in Scotland, and the wider UK.
4. And specifically on the current Theme, Evidence for Enhancement, what do you feel are the opportunities here? And what does your role in it involve?
As Student Theme Lead, my role has been to work with QAA Scotland and the Theme Leadership Team to provide input into the ongoing development and management of the Theme at sector level. I’m chairing a strand of work that is going to be looking at the sector’s current approach to communicating back to students the impact that their voice has made in securing change. This is a big area of focus for a sector and it’s an issue that all institutions could really make some improvement in.
The biggest barrier to us engaging more students in our work is the constant cries of “but nothing ever gets done”. Actually, things do get done. The sheer number of people employed within the sector to do just that is testament to the fact that progress is made; but there’s scope for us to get a lot better in putting this message back to our students.
Thanks to Matt 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.