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Participation in Quality Assurance

All stakeholders in European universities (academic and administrative staff, researchers, students) must participate in institutional affairs. There was a general agreement in the QUEST research that students are—or should be—full, or equal, members of the academic community. Students should be involved because they have a duty or responsibility to do so, not because they are customers of the higher education system.

Nevertheless, according to the responses from national unions of students, the two big problems from students' perspective when getting involved are the lack of information about quality assurance among the student body (60 %) as well as a view that these processes are useless because there is not any consequence (60 %). From the point of view of a significant number of NUSes, students are not seen as a full members of the academic community (52 %). Forty-eight percent of the NUSes said that quality assurance processes in their countries are not transparent enough. According to a point of view expressed during the focus groups, more information campaigns should be launched at the local level. Student selection and nomination procedures also lack transparency.

A demotivating factor for students can be the slow pace of quality assurance mechanisms either at institutional or national level, where any given cohort of students often does not see its consequences. This is not the only factor, but it could partially explain the answers in the questionnaire. Closing the feedback loop could improve not only the system, but also its perception from the students.

Trainings that enable students to participate actively are an important tool to develop further, as a way for overcoming tokenistic ways of involving students and achieving a genuine participation. Another important issue raised in the focus groups is the technical terminology in quality assurance, which is not student-friendly and could result in a gap between those involved and the rest of the student body. Thus, not only specific training to those who will be involved is needed, but information and training should also be provided more broadly.

Involvement of students in quality assurance agencies is no easy feat. There are several challenges that are encountered. Some quality assurance agencies stated that they do not manage to find students who are willing to be involved. In most cases such agencies do not invest energy in recruitment and training. Other agencies which recruit students say they were not satisfied with the service of students and this might be due to lack of communication of what was actually expected from the students. In some countries such as the UK, tuition fees have restricted student involvement due to the fact that they have to work to pay for their studies. This has also been considered to be a challenge for the involvement of students in the evaluation of agencies.

The development of involved students is an important matter to keep in mind. This is also linked to recognition of the labour done by the students through any means (academic recognition, flexibility, etc.) as it was expressed both in the questionnaire to the NUSes and during the focus groups with students. It’s necessary to provide the tools for effective student participation and to ensure that such participation does not jeopardise any aspect of student development (academic, social, etc …), since it requires additional effort from those who are involved.

Read more about student involvement, student experts, quality assurance reviews and stakeholder views by clicking on the relevant links.