Responding to Student Voice: Insights into International Practice

Vicki Trowler, Paul Trowler, Murray Saunders

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Responding to Student Voice: Insights into international practice arose from research conducted on behalf of QAA Scotland, as part of the current Enhancement Theme (see This research included a scan of the published literature, which found very little systematic analysis of practices concerned with feeding back to students about the changes made in response to student input. While there was some ‘grey’ literature, this tended to make claims without supporting
them with evidence of the effectiveness or sustainability of initiatives. Literature tended to be older and to blur distinctions between taking action based on student voice and communicating the action taken back to students.
We found the term ‘student voice’ being used to mean many different things in the literature and arrived at the following working definition for this report:
Primary data was collected through an online survey and Skype interviews, with informants at universities in Wales, England, Switzerland, Australia, South Africa and the USA, and are augmented by data from a workshop with the European Students Union conducted by sparqs (student partnerships in quality Scotland). The data revealed a continuum of practices, from informing practices (such as ‘you said, we did’ posters), consultative practices (often, but not only, involving student representatives), negotiation practices (with students and staff working together in full partnership on communication initiatives) and studentinitiated
practices, where the action is taken (or initiated) by students. Themes which
emerged from this data considered trust, institutional culture, time, and power. Concerns about reaching ‘hard to hear’ students, whose voices are often silenced or unheard, were cited and some mechanisms for reaching some of these students noted. A table of practices follows, compiled from those detailed by our informants, together with advantages and disadvantages, and the report concludes with some considerations to bear in mind when responding to student voice, distilled from the contributions of our informants.
§ Context matters - simply reproducing a practice that was reported as successful in one context, provides no guarantee of success in another context. Adapting rather than adopting practices, informed by an understanding of one’s own institutional context, offers a better chance of success.
§ New practices that are congruent with existing practices are more likely to be adopted, and to be sustainable.
§ Building good rapport based on respect and putting relationships at the centre, is important.
§ Honesty matters - be honest about what is and is not within one’s power (as student association or institution) to deliver.
Student voice entails the engagement of students in shaping their studies and study contexts through expressing their views, needs and concerns. It puts students into working relationships (including, but not limited to, partnership) with policy makers, providers, practitioners and other agencies, and challenges organisations to respond appropriately to the issues student voices raise 2
§ Consider the effects of time - whether it involves being prompt in responding,
taking the time a process needs, or harnessing the ‘right moment’.
§ Be clear about the purpose for collecting input, and relate feedback given to that.
§ Proceed ethically and protect students’ interests: process matters as much as outcomes.
§ Be honest and mindful about issues of power concerning students.
§ Be clear about the boundaries of students’ roles.
§ Be careful about student voice being co-opted.
§ Be aware of risks and tensions which may occur.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationGlasgow
PublisherQuality Assurance Agency Scotland
Commissioning bodyQuality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (Scotland)
Number of pages39
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2018


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