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Student involvement

Since the 1990s, the role of students in the quality assurance of higher education has become recognised across Europe as being both necessary and desirable. The involvement of students has been in various forms and at various levels. Students are involved within the quality assurance processes of their own higher education institutions, as part of the quality assurance of institutions and programmes by outside bodies; but also in the review of the quality assurance of those bodies themselves.

Regarding the involvement of students in quality assurance, there is not a single model, but some main levels can be identified based on the answers collected from the questionnaire, the case studies and a review of the literature, especially the monitoring reports of the Bologna Process (ex. Bologna Process Stocktaking Report, Trends or Bologna With Student Eyes).

Firstly, at institutional level, students could have three principal roles: providing information (by responding to surveys on a regular basis, focus groups, etc.); participating in the preparation of self-assessment reports (as members of the self-evaluation group, writing the report, providing feedback to the report etc.); and as members of the bodies responsible of internal quality assurance processes (either with or without voting rights).

Secondly, at external level two main roles have been identified: providing information (in consultation during external reviews), and as members of external review panels of higher education institutions and/or programmes, where students can play an observer role in expert teams, have full-member status while sometimes holding the positions of chair and secretary within the teams, and a recognised role at the decision-making level (essentially in audits or accreditation of programmes). As examples, in Denmark, Finland, Poland and Scotland students sometimes also take the role of a chair and/or secretary of the external panel; however, in a number of countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Latvia and Slovakia, students are involved only as observers; and in a few countries, student involvement is only now being discussed, as is the case in Portugal for instance.

Finally, at the level of governance of national quality assurance agencies, students can be involved in three stages:
  • as planners of the evaluation/accreditation programmes;
  • as members of the consultative bodies, and;
  • as members of the governance bodies.

In 21 national systems students are members of the governance bodies, with a full voting right in 15 of them.

Additionally, outside QA processes themselves, there are other kinds of student involvement in QA policy discussions: being consulted by policy makers (as governments), or as student representatives not directly involved in any process but providing information on the issues at stake, or having a particular role of dissemination. It contributes to develop awareness and to lend trust and credibility to the processes and its outcomes.
Developments in regulations have also helped students to become involved in quality assurance. However, the involvement of students in quality assurance differs greatly among all EHEA nations, leaving considerable room for improvement in several countries.

In some countries students have organised themselves in pools of QA experts. This is the case in 18 countries out of the 30 that answered the questionnaire. Five of these pools are run by the National Union. There is one case where it has its own independent steering committee (see annex VI, case study fzs). These pools offer trainings, promote student involvement, provide students for inclusion in QA processes, help to provide and disseminate information to the student body to raise awareness of quality assurance. Additionally, organisations such as sparqs (see annex V, case study sparqs) are interesting regarding all the work involving students in quality assurance. The European Students’ Union has recently established an independent steering committee of their own QA student experts’ pool created some years ago.

At European level, ESU has had a leading role for introducing student involvement in quality assurance, for example when it comes to the involvement of students in evaluation of quality assurance agencies. In fact in 2008 ESU took the initiative and performed the first QA agency audit entirely carried out by a student review panel (ARACIS 2008). This audit was carried out by ARACIS, the Romanian quality assurance agency.

ENQA encourages the involvement of students in the external quality assurance processes of its member agencies. According to the Guidelines for national reviews of ENQA member agencies, the panels that are responsible to evaluate the quality of the QA agencies include students, together with other stakeholders such as quality assurance experts and representatives of higher education institutions. A student member proposed by the European Students’ Union is always included in the expert panel of ENQA-coordinated external reviews of member agencies.

In 2006 a survey was run among ENQA members. At the time it was run, the survey showed that 87% of ENQA members involved students in their evaluations. Those members who did not involve students said that they were aiming to start involving students. The majority of ENQA members provided training to students who served on these panels, yet some 37% did not provide any form of training. When training was