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Learner Advisory Panels 

Context: 

Adult students enrolled in tertiary education are investors in their own education, typically through a mix of private funds and some measure of student support afforded by the state, often including a loan under the Student Loan Scheme. They expect and deserve not only a quality education and a return on their investment, but the opportunity to participate in some form of coordinated engagement around the implications and impacts of policy decisions taken at a national level by central government agencies.

As the only national peak body of its kind for the majority of the student body, NZUSA has a concern – shared it believes with central agencies that interact with learners and some peak bodies – that while publicly funded tertiary education institutions (TEIs) may have mechanisms for collection of information about their respective performances as individual providers, there is no feedback mechanism for ensuring government can access feedback on matters such as the student experience of policy implementation at a nationwide or more widely segmented and independent level.

The NZUSA Learner Advisory Panel Project fits this void. It is based on developing the networks of student representation that occur on a local basis to be able to contribute to national decision-making. Since it will be qualitative rather than quantitative, we see it of most value in accessing perceptions, and contributing to messaging, experience with interactive tools, etc.

Background:

Thinking around collecting a wider perspective of learner experience began in response to the removal of a learner voice from the consultative systems of the Tertiary Education Commission. This was indicated to have occurred for two reasons: the removal of policy responsibilities from the TEC and the transfer of those functions to the Ministry of Education, and that the existing networks captured well the voices of those in the organised sector (universities and some ITPs) but not those who were in wānanga, PTEs, or particular ITPs (which inconveniently were more likely to serve target groups in terms of the Tertiary Education Strategy – Māori and Pasifika).

While much of the thinking at the MoE had been in terms of a peak body, it was clear (and the HeathRose Student Voice research supported) that that unless any peak body is connected into actual learner experience it would be of significantly reduced value. Further, existing peak body consultation was either unnecessarily duplicative or unlikely to actually be engaging in a useful way (or both). 

NZUSA engaged with a wide range of government agencies and private sector bodies that are also interested in engaging with learner experiences in the development of this proposal. These include the Ministry of Education, the Tertiary Education Commission, Study Link, Careers New Zealand, Inland Revenue, Education New Zealand,

The Board of Ako Aotearoa granted seeding funding to enable the learner panels to begin from the second half of 2013. In doing so they endorsed a recommendation that noted

This proposal potentially represents a significant step forward in enhancing the involvement of students in the implementation and operation off government policy in tertiary education. It allows the systematic and regular collection of feedback from learners about how the tertiary system works for them.

A key facet of Ako Aotearoa’s involvement is to maintain guardianship of the principles of evidence-based discussion about teaching and learning. The agreement with Ako Aotearoa means their staff will have the opportunity to have input into both focus group discussion and questionnaire responses from a range of standing panels of learners who are engaged with the impact of policy implementation.

Project purpose / clarity:

Creating a responsive framework for accessing ‘learner panels’ to assist consideration and development of important policy setting decisions, at timely intervals each year, has been identified as a useful proposition that is in everyone’s interest. 

It is now recognised that this delivers an ability to hold a deeper two-way exchange of questions and answers between learners and agencies of beneficial value to building an effective understanding across matters that affect learners. 

The potential exists for this project to develop into an innovative feedback mechanism, one that can meet the following criteria:

  • Neutrality within well-defined parameters (e.g. adhering to confidentiality as and when stipulated)
  • Added credibility as a process that is conducted with, but not by, agencies
  • Reliability through following a well-planned annual timetable
  • Flexibility – allowing for most panels – for instance no fewer than 6 – to be standing panels that continue from year to year or cohort to cohort (e.g. Māori* and Pasifika learners), with a smaller number of panels that are formed for a specific feedback purpose e.g. International students (Code of practice), Postgraduate students (impact of allowance withdrawal), Student teachers/ STEM learners (specific to an area of education)

* in collaboration with Te Mana Ākonga

The framework for the panel network consists of four key elements.

  1. Enlisting a representative number of learners across a targeted/ weighted cross-section of the sector to join and participate in feedback panel activity, with NZUSA having over-all responsibility for coordinating the recruitment of panel members in different regions.
  2. For any discussion that would be up to 10 panels (but no more than 10), with no more than 20 members each depending on practical limitations and logistics 
  3. Panel activity would be conducted online – with up to six rounds of a brief online questionnaire directed to each panel member individually. This addresses the need for a sounding board that assists continual improvement in communication with learners.
  4. It will be limited to these numbers of interactions in order to restrict the impact on learners’ ability to be learners first and foremost, with further management of timing of interactions so as to promote engagement that does not overburden the participants.
  5. Participants will be recruited on the basis that their contribution will be useful to shaping the environment that they and their peers exist within, and while direct costs (eg. travel) will be met they are not intended to be otherwise compensated, in other than a token way, for their time, although there may be rewards that celebrate great or consistent contributions.

A cornerstone for putting this framework in place will be networks provided, but not limited to, NZUSA’s membership of 14 student associations. NZUSA will not be reliant on this network alone and envisages working with PTEs, Wānanga and ITPs without associations or presently outside of NZUSA.

INDICATIVE SCHEMA

A network of Learner Feedback Panels 

 

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NZUSA acts as the organising point for a network of Learner Advisory Panels.

The process involved in establishing these advisory panels would include tasks such as: 

Selecting panel ‘sites’ that allow for:

  • Geographical distribution
  • Diversity across types of TEO

Panel membership would also allow for:

  • Variety of learner ages/ stages
  • Spread of courses/ programmes
  • Signed agreements determining parameters for participation

Requirements for panel members would include:

  • Agreeing to respond in a timely manner to an online questionnaire/ survey, or similar online tool such as an online discussion forum on no more than six occasions each year.

 

Additional Resources and Outcomes: 

Outline on how to strengthen student voice 

Feedback on a partnership project with Studylink

Recruitment information for the nationwide Learner Advisory Panels

Summary from a research project into what information students would have liked before they started

 

The voice of New Zealand's 400,000 students.

The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations exists to advance the political, social and economic interests of tertiary students whatever they study and wherever they live. NZUSA is a membership body of local students' associatons. We believe in opportunity for all.

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