Students As Partners: An Exploration of Process to Effect Transformational Change

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The higher education sector in the UK is undergoing a period of immense change due in part to evolving funding models which impacts on the role and voice of the student. Many UK Higher Education Institutions are now adopting models of staff-student partnership which promotes a collaborative approach to the design of the learning experience. However, current evaluation thereof focuses on the outcomes of activities rather than the experiences of those involved. To explore further the concept of students as partners, it is apposite to consider the literature on partnership working in other contexts, in particular, partnerships in the discipline of health and social care Carnwell & Buchanan, 2009). It is apparent that the use of language is paramount and may give rise to confusion, particularly regarding the apparent interchangeability of the terms partnership and collaboration (Taylor & Riche, 2006) where these concepts are loosely defined and expressed through multiple terminologies. Discussions around the concept of partnership clearly define it as a genuine and trusting relationship where open and honest communication lead to equitable and mutually rewarding goals (Robinson & Cottrel 2005, Bidmead & Cowley 2005) Carnwell and Buchanan (2009) posit that this leads to a shared identity which may mean a gradual erosion of current professional identities in favour of new, more problem oriented professional partnerships or even, professions. This potential threat to professional identity may engender reluctance to collaborate and the resultant tension may threaten the efficacy of the partnership itself. there must be tension in all partnerships between different partners’ identities and all partners’ commitment to a shared identity. In 2013, the University of Ulster was successful in securing funding and inclusion in a three-year change programme – What works? Student Retention and Success. One of the principles of this change programme is that students must be involved as partners and that senior management fully supports the planning, implementation and evaluation of activities in the areas of induction, active learning and co-curricular activities. These activities are strategically aligned to the University’s learning and teaching strategy (2013-2018) and in particular strategic aim 2 ‘To provide transformative, high quality, learning experiences through the promotion of meaningful staff student partnerships that engender a shared responsibility’. Seven discipline teams which represent all six faculties and four campuses are taking part and this involves over 60 staff and 40 students. The author is interested in not just the outcomes and learning from these activities but particularly interested in the process of partnerships and how this might affect transformational change. To this end, research has been carried out with staff and students during 2013-2014 using a phenomenological approach. Initial findings will be presented during the round table discussion and participants will be provided with the opportunity to critically discuss this contemporary issue with feedback to be considered for further exploration in 2014-15.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationICED 2014 Educational Development in a Changing World
Subtitle of host publicationStockholm, Sweden 15-18 June 2014 Conference Abstracts
PublisherInternational Consortium for Educational Development
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 18 Jun 2014
EventICED 2014 Educational Development in a Changing World - Stockholm, Sweden, Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 15 Jun 201418 Jun 2014


ConferenceICED 2014 Educational Development in a Changing World
Abbreviated titleICED 2014
Internet address


  • student engagement
  • students as partners
  • transformational change


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