The national student union NZUSA this week hosted four days of conferences on issues in the tertiary education sector with students and staff from universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs), alongside Ako Aotearoa –the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.
The conferences covered how student voice can be used to lift the quality of education at universities and polytechnics and improve compliance with Government regulations. Guest speakers included Hannah Clarke from Student Participation in Quality Scotland (sparqs), as well as the New Zealand Academic Quality Agency, and senior officials from the Ministry of Education.
On Thursday a whole day was dedicated to discussion on the Compulsory Student Services Fee (CSSF), the charge institutions levy students for services like gyms and disability support. Minister Stephen Joyce had indicated support for more student voice in the setting and allocation of the CSSF for a number of years. Victoria University, which supported the conference, took the opportunity to showcase its partnership with the local students' association over their CSSF. As a result, many institutional staff present indicated they were interested in adopting Victoria's model.
NZUSA Executive Director Dr Alistair Shaw said the key to improving institutions was self-reflection and promoting best practice.
“The Ministry of Education, NZQA and the Academic Quality Agency all expect institutions to reflect on themselves and continuously improve through hearing and heeding the student voice. NZUSA has been proud to work alongside institutions to do that this week and beyond.”
NZUSA President Rory McCourt says the conferences were a huge success and showed staff and students were equally committed to improving the quality of New Zealand’s public tertiary institutions.
“Partnership was the word from these conferences. Staff and students both embraced the message from our speakers that the only way we can improve is by working with each other to hear and heed the student voice”.
McCourt says he expects the conferences will lead to concrete improvements at many institutions and greater support for New Zealand’s students’ associations.
“VSM hit many of New Zealand’s students’ associations pretty hard. A strong message from these conferences was that students need to be supported to organise and speak for themselves before they can meaningfully engage in quality improvement alongside management. Now is the time for us all to rebuild our associations to achieve that- students and staff.”
McCourt was thankful for the ongoing support of Ako Aotearoa and says he is hopeful the conferences will be held again.