A key part of an effective student representation is a functional relationship with university staff at all levels of the organisation, particularly for those unions where responsibility for the system is shared between both parties.
It is important unions and academic staff are clear as to what are joint responsibilities between the union and institution with regard to student representation and how recruitment of reps should take place.
One union representative states that their relationship is “good at the top level but some departments still don't want us to be involved with the rep system. A lot of staff don't understand our involvement but have good relationships with the reps."
Another officer states, “We operate training within the students’ union but there is very low uptake because we can’t coordinate around the reps. We don’t have contact details, and our influence is minimal”.
(Source: HEFCW, Student Representation Structures in HEIs across Wales, York Consulting Limited, 2007).
Establishing relationships with the institution can impact on the entire system, so it’s worth investing some effort into building relationships with staff across the institution.
Many students’ unions produce materials for university staff to promote the representation system (e.g. presentations for staff to deliver at core lectures), particularly where time and resources are low.
Additionally, some unions find it useful to produce and circulate a summary of their actions and intentions with regard to student representation for university staff dealing with practicalities of student representation, e.g. electing reps and passing on reps contact details.
Ways to work with your institution
- Cultivate informal relationships with the staff working with reps in the institution – hold an event to meet with them, and then let them know who you are and how you see the system working and invite their input on it.
- Ensure that you have access to the right information from the start, and that staff know this – will you require copies of the minutes of staff student meetings or committees? Will you need the contact details of reps by a certain date in time for training?
- Provide staff with a presentation or briefing note on what you intend to do and how you can work together on student representation.
- Challenge inconsistencies in student representation across the board – are meetings between staff and students equally frequent across the institution?
- Ensure you know when meetings are happening and where and for which reps so that you can ask the reps for their feedback at the right times – staff will be best to provide you with this information.
- Ask staff for their input on the training process for reps, or work together to deliver training sessions.
- Invite your vice chancellor or university staff to training, or an awards ceremony to make reps’ feel valued.
- Approach your institution for support for student representation: use the NSS and other data to highlight the need for early effective student representation and intervention so that problems can be resolved internally before audits or surveys.
- Does the institution have a statement or policy on student representation or the learner voice in ensuring quality? Do you need to create or revise a student charter to outline the commitment of the institution to representation? – This may lend support for the development of your system or added weight to a bid for resources for your representation system.
- Have you met the staff dealing with student representation at all levels of the institution.
- Could the institution help you promote student reps by including information on reps and how to get involved in departmental/course handbooks, core lectures.
- Encourage staff to come to you if they need feedback on areas of concern, and pass these on to student reps. Better still, why not invite staff to ask for feedback at your own rep meetings so that they feel that you are truly working in partnership to solve problems.
Course rep presentations
See presentations from the NUS' 2010 Course Rep Conference on how saabaticals have worked with their institution to benefit the Course Rep System: