It’s been a little while since my last blog post, and quite a bit has changed for me. I have since left Warwick SU and have moved back to Chester. This time though, I am working for the University of Chester Careers and Employability team, aiding students find work and gain skills and experience that will (Hopefully) set them apart from the pack!
Over the last 6 weeks or so in this new post I have had to learn fast. Things are very different on this side of the fence and I am starting to see things from a different point of view, I now have a new found respect for the hard work university support staff put in to engage with the student body.
Students’ Unions have an advantage when it comes to student engagement. Students come and use their facilities every single day, even if they don’t know it when they pop to the campus shop, grab a quick pint in the bar or pick up their NUS cards. This means the staff don’t have to go far to get a feel for what is happening on the ground. Simply having a coffee in the SU coffee shop and listening to what people are talking about can help give an idea for what students are currently talking about or interested in.
Another advantage is having the elected student sabbatical team as the face of the union. The SU doesn’t feel like a top down organisation, a large number of students will happily come and talk to another student about their issues, ideas or worries and the sabbatical team tend to have a good idea already from their time as a student. Although it might not feel like it at times, Students’ Unions are in a far better place when it comes to getting students involved and getting their feedback than university departments are.
University departments’ don’t have either of these luxuries at their disposal. My short but involved experience working from the university side of things is students tend to switch off when any departments such as Careers or Volunteering approach them to promote their services! Those that come and find us of their own volition have a brilliant experience and around 95-100% of students we survey who use our services would recommend us to other students, but when we try to promote ourselves on social media, emails, or at open days and applicant days, it can be like getting blood from a stone. Maybe Careers and Employability just isn’t sexy enough, or maybe it’s just not on a student’s radar until the very end when they are looking for work.
Whatever it is, student engagement is vital, because Students have a very unique view on the student experience. They are the only ones in the university who actually know what it means to be a student. Student Engagement is also crucial in quality assurance; we have to measure the quality of what we are doing to improve the student experience in the long run.
With that in mind I find it bizarre that we have in the past, not talked to students and yet still developed strategy and made changes to the way we operate at the university, without being informed by student views. I think it is absolutely key that we hear from students and we develop things in response to them rather than in response to our own thoughts and targets. Students are an essential part of what the higher education system is about. The student experience is important, and it is important that we find new ways to connect with them so that we can ensure that their time at university is well spent.
As university staff, I feel it’s an essential part of my job to be sure that students are not just on the receiving end of learning but that they actively participate in their own learning and contribute to the development of their own institutions and of the university community and I now want to find better ways of connecting with more of the student body.
I’m sure with time I will have a few more blog posts to come regarding my new role, but until then, feel free to comment and get in touch.