4 Dec 2020

Update on sparqs' workplans

sparqs’ new workplans, running from October 2020 to March 2021, are designed to build on the early successes across the sector in supporting student rep systems to ensure students are central to shaping the sector’s response to the pandemic.

Thanks to the remarkable efforts from our colleagues in colleges and universities, student rep systems are up and running and, in many cases, exploring new ground and the opportunities of a digital approach.

Over the summer sparqs trained 62 fantastic new officers, giving them the skills and knowledge to put the student voice at the centre of decision making. We also completely revamped our training for course reps, to enable us to support them in their roles in a digital environment. To date 622 students have been trained directly by sparqs, with many more being trained through institutional schemes utilising our materials.

In the next few months sparqs will concentrate on ensuring these reps are able to shape the ongoing responses of institutions to the pandemic, as well as contribute extensively to future planning and responses of the Scottish tertiary education sector.

Our work will continue to keep at its heart a focus on:

  • Ensuring the diversity of the student voice is heard when decisions are taken; and
  • Supporting students to shape changes to learning in a way that supports student wellbeing and mental health.

The sparqs team is currently working on a range of activities focused on three key areas:

(1) Monitoring the Impact of COVID-19 on the Student Learning Experience (SLE) and shaping responses

This includes:

  • Providing additional support for institutions to use sparqs’ COVID-specific version of the SLE tool within institutions as part of the ongoing conversation with students.
  • A series of events for specific cohorts of students who may have faced challenges during the pandemic.
  • Development of specific questions related to the effect of COVID-19 on the student experience in the Student Satisfaction and Engagement Survey.
  • Work to identify and support underrepresented groups of students voices to be heard, with students in supported education already identified as a priority group.
  • Work to identify themes using sector-wide activities such as Education Scotland’s activities around their resources – ‘Our Best Future’ including the newly launched ‘Toolkit for Effective Student Engagement’ (developed jointly by sparqs and Education Scotland), university Institutional-led Review activities, and student-led learning and teaching awards.

As these activities develop we will begin to identify and disseminate overall themes around the effect of the pandemic on the student learning experience to the reps themselves as well as students’ associations, institutional leaders and decision makers across the sector. We will also look to identify and celebrate the role students’ associations and their students are playing in the recovery efforts of the sector.

(2) Ensuring students are central to the major development projects of the sector in response to COVID-19 and beyond

This will include:

  • Significant work to ensure students have a key role in shaping the outcomes of the Scottish Funding Council’s Coherence and Sustainability: A review of Scotland’s Colleges and Universities.
  • Supporting Advance HE and QAA on their work on ‘Developing an Anti-Racist Curricula’ which will work across colleges and universities.
  • Support student engagement, including the student-led project within the ‘Building resilient communities’ Enhancement Theme.

(3) Providing Intensified Support

Recognising the increased pressure on institutions, we have adapted our support to recognise both the pressure on time for development activity with an increased need for opportunities to share practice and discuss challenges. This will include increased opportunities for networking and support through more regular NEON, SESN and advisory group events, tailored institutional advice and support where necessary and focused staff and student development opportunities.

As always, our plans will continue to evolve in response to your input. Please do contact Eve Lewis, Director, if you have any comments about our work – eve.lewis@sparqs.ac.uk.

On behalf of all the sparqs team, thank you for your enthusiastic engagement with our work. We know how difficult things have been and the remarkable efforts students and staff have gone to, to adapt and develop learning and teaching and support for students during the pandemic. We look forward to continuing to work with you and play our part in making sure the educational experiences of students are safeguarded during these difficult times.

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