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We’re better together: let’s co-create!

03 Oct 2023 | Professor Mark O'Hara Professor Mark O’Hara, Senior Consultant (Education) at Advance HE, shares his thoughts on some of the benefits and challenges associated with co-creation working in higher education.

Staff-student partnerships in higher education in which students are positioned as co-creators of curricula, processes and practices have gained recognition as a powerful approach to enhancing the quality of education and fostering more engaging and inclusive learning environments. Working with students as co-creators on topics as varied as decision-making, curriculum development, and/or institutional governance can afford valuable benefits to all parties involved in relation to engagement, development and inclusion. 

Benefits of co-creation 

Seeing students as co-creators in this way offers a unique opportunity to amplify student engagement, not least in decision-making processes. By actively seeking to involve students, institutions can gain valuable insights into their experiences, preferences and needs. This collaborative approach allows for the co-creation of curricula, assessment methods and student support services, leading to more student-centred educational experiences. Adopting a co-creation approach offers a means of bridging potential gaps between the formal structures of academia and the student body. Students can bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas and lived experiences to the table, challenging and enriching existing academic approaches and thinking.  

Co-creation also has benefits in relation to the personal and professional development of the participants. Students have new opportunities to hone their leadership, communication and problem-solving skills, providing them with improved intra- and inter-personal skills and many other capabilities highly sought-after by future employers. Staff members meanwhile can enhance their mentoring, facilitation and coaching abilities as well as acquiring a more grounded appreciation of the diverse needs and aspirations of students; not to mention a heightened sense of job satisfaction associated with the heightened levels of student engagement.  

The third potential plus point for co-creation relates to inclusion. This way of working provides platforms from which to amplify previously marginalised voices within the institution. By actively involving students in decision-making processes, institutions can promote social justice, equity and greater inclusivity on campus. This empowerment may well extend beyond any initial collaboration too; as students’ confidence, skills and experience build, their willingness to deploy them in wider advocacy efforts is likely to build too.  

The challenges 

While the potential gains associated with a co-creation approach are clear, universities must always remain alert to the challenges that need to be addressed, or at the very least ameliorated, if these benefits are to be made real.  

Probably the most obvious challenges in co-creating anything is associated with navigating the power dynamics. Traditional hierarchical structures within universities can make it difficult for students to feel empowered or have their voices heard on an equal footing with staff members. Addressing this power imbalance requires a commitment from both parties to create a culture of respect, active listening and shared decision-making.  

A second challenge centres on the need for effective communications; differences in communication styles, preferred media, expectations and understanding can pose difficulties. Students and staff members may well have varying levels of familiarity with academic processes and institutional frameworks, which can lead to further misunderstandings and frustration. Clear and transparent communication channels, regular check-ins and mutual understanding of roles and responsibilities are therefore crucial. 

Finally, there are the challenges associated with logistics and manageability. Both staff and students have hectic schedules featuring a plethora of competing demands for their attention making time management a significant potential impediment. Balancing academic commitments, work and personal responsibilities can limit the availability and willingness of individuals to engage in co-creation working. Higher education institutions need to provide adequate support and recognition to enable staff and students to invest fully in co-creation.  

Advance HE’s Students as Co-creators’ online symposium 

Amid national and international developments, such as the cost of living crisis or the rapid emergence of generative AI, co-creation needs to continually evolve and adapt if it is to retain its impact. If you are interested in and/or involved in co-creation activities, either as a student or as a member of staff, you may like to attend Advance HE’s second annual ‘Students as Co-creators’ online symposium on Wednesday 31 January 2024.  

If you are looking for an opportunity to share your research findings; want to connect with other like-minded students and staff involved in co-creation work elsewhere in HE; are looking to get ideas and feedback on what works; or want to raise the profile of your work beyond your university, we hope you will consider submitting a proposal for a paper by 30 October.  


Mark O’Hara is a Professor of Learning and Teaching, a National Teaching Fellow and winner of the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence. With over 30 years' experience in Higher Education, he is Vice-Chair, European Association of Institutional Research and his latest publication is, Broucker, B., Milsom, C., Calleja, J. & O’Hara M. (Eds) (2023) Accelerating the future of Higher Education. Brill Publishing, Leiden, Netherlands.

Calls for workshops for the Students as Co-creators Symposium 2024 are now open. Find out more.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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