In June 2020, the Scottish Government called on the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) to undertake a review considering how best the SFC and the sector can fulfil its mission in securing coherent provision in post-16 education. The review has four main objectives:
- To consider how best to achieve coherence and sustainability in the delivery of further and higher education during the COVID-19 crisis, EU exit transition, and beyond, while maintaining and enhancing quality.
- To ensure the sectors can address the outcomes we need to achieve in Scotland.
- To propose changes needed to SFC’s funding, operations, and accountability frameworks in order to respond effectively to new challenges and opportunities.
- To provide advice, where appropriate, to Scottish Ministers on relevant changes to policy, funding and accountability frameworks for tertiary education and research in Scotland.
There are three phases to the review: phase one was from June to October 2020, phase two from November 2020 until February 2021, and phase three will run until summer 2021, involving the following activity:
- Phase One - Initial consultation with whole sector to shape and influence review priorities, including call for evidence and roundtable discussion.
- Phase Two - Further, more detailed, consultation around key themes from Phase one.
- Phase Three - Develop detailed delivery and implementation plans.
Since the launch of the review, sparqs has worked to support student engagement in the review, including sessions at our summer training events ‘That’s Quality’ and our respective network meetings for student officers and students’ association staff, NEON and SESN. These sessions have aimed to provide context and background to the review and have worked towards building the capacity of officers to ensure they can have a meaningful role to play as the review develops. They have also allowed the SFC to hear the student voice and engage in dialogue with student officers, which they have found extremely useful.
In August 2020, SFC put out a call for evidence across the sector, inviting institutions, associations and agencies, as well as other relevant stakeholders, to respond, highlighting what they thought the review should explore further. Over 100 responses were submitted, which helped inform the phase one report. sparqs submitted to the call for evidence and you can read our response, as well as NUS Scotland’s.
We are also members of the SFC’s Student Engagement Advisory Group, established in November 2020 to support the SFC around ongoing tools and mechanisms for student engagement and in ensuring that students can actively contribute to, and influence, the review as it progresses.
On 20th October 2020, the SFC published their Phase One Report of the Review, ‘Coherence and Sustainability: A review of Scotland’s Colleges and Universities Phase One Report: Insights to Develop Further.’ The report, along with supporting documentation, can be found on the SFC website.
The report states that 2020-22 will be regarded as “Emergency Years” and the SFC plans to reduce “unnecessary bureaucracy”, focusing on absolute priorities to ensure continued compliance with legislative requirements, to focus on the public health emergency and front-line delivery of student education and training, research and innovation.
The report highlighted ten key themes to be explored further in phase two of the review, which formed the first in our series of sparqs’ briefing notes to help support student engagement in the review. We published our first briefing note for officers in December 2020, helping them to understand the themes and suggesting ways in which to explore how officers could support their own and their fellow students’ engagement. To complement this, in February 2021 we produced a briefing note for institutional staff, offering suggestions on how to include students in the review process. In March 2021 we published a further briefing for officers exploring how students can engage in the review as we move into the third and final stage, in particular, how students can engage in more detailed discussions relevant to the workstreams. The briefing note suggests questions to ask students around a few of the workstreams, enabling a better understand of how students feel about the different themes that the review is exploring.
In March 2021, the SFC published a brief report providing a progress update on activity since the publication of the Phase One report, with a particular focus on addressing the immediate challenges presented by COVID-19 and on their developing thinking across the themes identified through the call for evidence.
As the review enters this third and final stage, there will be further opportunities arising to feed into the other workstreams and engage in discussions that explore specific outcomes for the review. This may include setting up student panels specifically to engage with the review, seeking volunteers with specific interests or expertise to be involved in different discussions, or inviting student officers to take part in conversations around key themes. Both sparqs and the SFC are keen to ensure that this engagement is a positive, meaningful and impactful experience for all.
We know that both student officers and students have intense workloads right now, further exacerbated by the pandemic, but it would be useful to think about how to weave the review into existing spaces for discussion with students, such as students’ association general meetings, course rep conferences, student-staff committees or lead rep catch-ups. This will ensure institutions are ready to contribute to these discussions when the time comes, placing the student voice at the heart of the conversation.