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The Student Revolution – A powerful voice at the table

The phrase ‘student engagement’ has become a staple in every university’s messaging platform. Turning your students into your biggest advocates, recruiters and brand ambassadors has enormous benefits and unlimited reach. But how prepared is your institution to take it a step further? Would you be willing to give them a voice and a vote beyond the ‘propaganda’ i.e. on the governing body? Some universities are doing just that and the benefits are real.

This week on the blog we look at the University of Groningen. It has embarked upon an interesting (and for some controversial) exercise of deeply involving and employing their students in the governing bodies of the institution. Needless to say, there were some interesting findings as a result.

The University of Groningen is a public research university founded in 1614 and is one of the oldest in the Netherlands. It has long considered itself an innovator and a highly progressive institution and in keeping with this tradition it embarked upon a process to make its students ‘creators of their own destinies’ by rooting them in the policy making process of the university. Involving their students in the governing bodies of the university has resulted in some significant benefits for both the students and the university.

The University Perspective

An interview with Elmer Sterken, Vice Chancellor at Groningen reveals why the university actively involves students in its institution's decision making process. 

“Students have bright, new ideas for the university’s research. They are very helpful and eager to assist in the educational process and it's also important that they co-decide on some of what the university does” said Sterken.

When asked why it is beneficial for students to be involved in the organization, Elmer continues: “I'd see it as, let's say, complimentary activity to building your own education. So you're not only consuming as a student, the teaching programmes that we offer, but you also contribute. And you learn very much from this, let's say, active teaching.”

The Student Perspective

Students bring important and unique perspectives to the table and these voices should be heard to form a holistic impression of student needs and aspirations. Importantly, students that get involved in the governing bodies represent the current views of students. This is especially useful when developing strategic plans in the university. And so it's very good to have the current experience of students now in the decision making process.

The student body is also better served. Sanne Rijpma, a student assistant at the university confirms.

“It’s important to help students. They can reach you via email, telephone, or they just can come by the Student Support Desk and their problems are really diverse. They can have practical problems with enrolment for courses, but it can also have to do with personal circumstances. And it's important that you're answering their problems and that you can support them.”

Sanne believes that being involved at a deeper level with her university has been beneficial to her. She has learned how important it is to have efficient and effective supporting activities in such a big institution. Moreover, it's a contribution to her resume. Experience in having influence on an institution looks very well to potential employers.

The role and influence of the student body in the running and decision making process will always be a contentious debate. How much is enough? Where the line should be drawn? That said the benefits should at least be weighed. They include students' interests getting better representation, certain policies can be co-determined, potentially more flexible staff when it comes to working hours, maybe cheaper labour costs if students are working part-time, and further personal development for students.

In a highly competitive global higher education sector have you considered the presence of students in governing bodies as a selling point, a competitive advantage or USP? With all of those benefits at stake, it may be worth assessing how involved students are in your institution.

Tagged: Students, Higher Education

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