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Widening participation within student partnerships

This article takes a look at the importance of widening participation within different methods and forms of student partnership and engagement.
Silhouettes in profile facing eachother
© University of York

This article takes a look at the importance of widening participation within different methods and forms of student partnership and engagement.

Student led roles often naturally attract those who are particularly confident or outgoing, or especially passionate about a certain topic or issue. It is important that we try to make sure that everyone can see themselves being represented through student positions – and that the same voices aren’t continually being amplified. In doing so we are widening participation within student partnerships. Lived experiences of different students from different backgrounds will vary so it’s really important that we hear and listen to as many diverse voices as possible.

There are still many barriers that exist for students when applying to student partnership roles. One barrier that is often overlooked is thinking that this sort of opportunity ‘isn’t for me’ or thinking ‘I’m not sure what I could contribute’. This mindset can exist for a multitude of reasons, so it is vital that our institutions actively participate in breaking down barriers to accessing student voices. Another predominant barrier is ‘time privilege’. Student partnership roles can often feel like a burden for many students, who are busy with studies as well as other important commitments (this could be a part-time job or caring commitments, amongst many other factors). In order to help address this issue, having paid roles for student partnerships is a great way to make these jobs more accessible.

Paying students for their time and expertise is a key aspect of the ‘Student Expert Panel’, which we have a short case study on below…

Why is it important to provide paid opportunities for student partnerships?

Providing paid partnership opportunities can ensure that students who have to work, for financial reasons, are not excluded from these projects and that their participation is equitably rewarded and recognised. Furthermore, this comes as a way to proactively incentivise students from less represented backgrounds to get involved in these sorts of opportunities.

The SEP: University of York’s ‘Student Expert Panel’

One of the key strategic projects outlined in the University of York’s 2020/21- 2024/25 Access and Participation Plan was the creation of a ‘Student Expert Panel’ as a means to strengthen the University’s commitment to moving from a culture of consultation through to true partnership, and developing a more systematic approach to listening to student stories.

The Panel is an important source of advice and challenge for the University as a whole, acting as a ready-made, diverse focus group that is proactive in the creation of its own priorities and projects. The Panel has a particular focus in relation to access and participation and EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) work, existing as a strong force within the institution. All of the student members are paid for their time and the name of the SEP itself is designed to ensure that the Panel has authority in their opinions and direction as a student group.

The Student Expert Panel is a collaboration between the University, York University Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ Association (Student Unions at York). The first group was recruited in November 2019. Since then, the Panel has expanded and is now made up of around 20 undergraduate, postgraduate, home and international students from a diverse range of backgrounds.

One of the main benefits that has come about now that the Panel is more well-known across the institution is that people are increasingly thinking about diverse student voices in their planning and starting to consider partnerships instead of just consultation. The SEP have also hosted ‘Middle Ground’ events that have been a huge success. These events have been an opportunity for students and staff to reflect on the shared problems and experiences with university life, on topics such as race, class and intersectionality. They have also raised the profile of student-led activity that goes on across the campus.

A photo of the Student Expert Panel

Quotes from the Panellists

“I feel proud to have been a part of a team so special, who strive to ensure that the voices of all students are heard and acted upon. I hope this group continues to touch the lives of those who need it most; and make the student community a better place for everyone.”
“The Panel has introduced me to a range of new and diverse perspectives, which have collectively been incredibly valuable in broadening my understanding of the national social mobility landscape.”

Over to you

  • Can you think of any other reasons as to why widening participation in student partnerships is important?
© University of York
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