This ‘SPOTLIGHT ON’ features Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s (EUSA’s) involvement in our pilot project to support institutions to monitor the diversity of their course reps.
Many people working in HE and FE have ‘gut feelings’ about the make-up of course rep populations. Delivered over the academic year 2017/18, this project challenged the sector’s reliance on unreliable, anecdotal evidence by gathering quantitative data so that institutions can understand better their course rep populations and, critically, how representative they really are.
sparqs worked alongside EUSA – and three other institutions – over the course of the project, as well as being supported in its delivery by Advance HE (formerly the Equality challenge Unit).
EUSA was keen to be involved from the offset. Megan Brown, Academic Engagement Co-ordinator, recalls, “Our initial motivation was a straightforward one – we simply did not know who our reps were and, consequently, whether we had any issues that we needed to work on”. As a result, they welcomed the opportunity to undertake an information gathering exercise in order to create an evidence base to inform future activities.
The University of Edinburgh is a large and devolved institution. In 2017/18, there were 2004 individual students registered as course reps. Through careful planning and promotion of the questionnaire as part of their online course rep training system, EUSA managed to achieve a completion rate of 77% of the class rep cohort, providing a very robust data set to work with.
Initially, data analysis was done by comparing ‘headline’ stats for the whole course rep cohort to the University’s population as a whole. Although this provided some overarching insights, Megan reports that the most meaningful results were found by analysing the data at a School level. For instance, as Megan reports, “4.8% of total rep respondents reported caring responsibilities. However, when we looked at this data by School, we see that this raises to 11% in the School of Education and 17% in the School of Health in Social Science (where our nurses study). Knowing this information has meant that we are now able to target relevant communications to these reps, such as emphasising that our Student Council has a bursary for childcare available. The more we know about our rep populations, the more we can create bespoke communication methods which make it easier for our reps to find the information relevant to them”.
EUSA reports a number of other successes arising from their participation in the project. For instance, other teams in the Students’ Association have adopted the questionnaire in order to monitor the diversity of their student volunteer populations. The next step involves sharing the School-based data arising from the project with each of the Schools, so they can work in partnership with each School to consider their report and implement actions where appropriate, as it is largely the Schools themselves that manage the recruitment of reps.
As Megan concludes, “We are very much at the start of the journey with monitoring the diversity of our course reps. Going forward, we are keen to run the questionnaire each year and to embed it as a fundamental part of our annual processes. This will enable us to recognise each rep cohort as a set of individuals in its own right, with particular needs which may change year on year. In addition, where initiatives have been introduced to correct differences between rep and School populations, the effect of these changes can be measured each year”.
In the academic year 2018/19, sparqs and Advance HE are rolling out the project to all interested institutions. If you are would like to take part in this valuable research – which is of use to students’ associations, institutions, course reps and the student body as a whole – please sign up for our introductory rollout event taking place at the sparqs offices in Edinburgh on Tuesday 26th June.
For more information on the pilot and rollout please contact Lindsay Isaacs, Development Consultant, Lindsay.Isaacs@sparqs.ac.uk
For more information on EUSA’s participation in the pilot, please contact Megan Brown, Academic Engagement Co-ordinator, Megan.Brown@eusa.ed.ac.uk