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Student-staff partnership comes of age

12 Dec 2019 | Mick Healey and Ruth L Healey With the launch of Student Engagement through Partnership: a guide to the Advance HE Framework, its authors Mick Healey and Ruth Healey, reflect on the way student-staff partnerships have evolved over the last five years.

‘Engaging students and staff effectively as partners in learning and teaching is arguably one of the most important issues facing higher education in the 21st century.’ (Healey, Flint & Harrington, 2014).

Student-staff partnerships mean treating students as ‘more than customers’ (Gravett, Kinchin & Winstone, 2019). In the UK context, engaging students through partnership offers a range of opportunities to develop practices which may have a positive impact on the outcomes of the National Student Survey (NSS) and the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

The Advance HE Framework on ‘Student Engagement through Partnership’ is based on the publication by Mick Healey, Abbi Flint and Kathy Harrington - Engagement Through Partnership: Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education'. With over 550 citations to date it has sparked a worldwide debate over student-staff partnerships. 

The  Framework identifies four different, but overlapping, areas of partnership:

  • learning, teaching and assessment
  • subject-based research and inquiry
  • scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL)
  • curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy

A growing number of institutions around the world have developed practices in these areas in the last decade.

In any partnership project or initiative, it is imperative to obtain a balance between the process of working in partnership and the planned outcomes. So it is important that explicit attention is given to the values which underpin partnership and the development of partnership learning communities.

 Developing the process of partnership requires recognition that working in partnership is an experience which may take both student and staff participants outside their comfort zone. 

Undertaking partnership is messy and no single approach will be effective in all cases. The challenge is to stop thinking of students and staff only in terms of their roles, and value their ideas and experiences in relation to the potential benefits for the project or initiative.

As the field of partnership matures, we are seeing more critically reflective and theoretically informed approaches being taken to the practice of partnership that explore not only the benefits of working in partnership but also the challenges. We are also seeing significant contributions to our thinking about partnership coming directly from students and student unions.

The new Student Engagement through Partnership: a guide to the Advance HE Framework summarises some of the key developments in the field in the following five years since the framework was published.

Arguably in that period, the student-staff partnership movement has come of age. The new guide identifies some of the recent practices and conceptual frameworks that have arisen around student-staff partnerships. It also discusses how partnership learning communities may be developed and scaled-up. The guide suggests some reflective questions and activities that will help you identify what may work in your context. It ends with a list of some key recent texts and resources that should help you start and develop your own partnership learning communities and ensure that the international movement around student-staff partnerships continues to mature and transform the nature of learning and teaching in higher education.

Student Engagement through Partnership: a guide to the Advance HE Framework is now available to download for Advance HE member institutions.

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