Students to be 'change agents'

November 30, 2007

If further proof were needed of the rise of students as consumers, one group of leading UK universities has made championing the student experience a matter of policy.

In a statement issued this week, the 1994 Group promises to promote the student voice and give students the role of "change agents", with the power to challenge established ways of teaching and learning.

"In response to the changing environment of student experiences and expectations, 1994 Group institutions are redefining the roles of students and setting themselves up to give the best support possible," says the policy document, launched at a conference on the student experience held in partnership with the National Union of Students this week.

"In a marketplace in which all students are increasingly being viewed, and viewing themselves, as consumers, it is extremely important for universities across the sector to make a clear statement on the reciprocal relationship between students and their universities in the development of their knowledge and skills," it says.

The document acknowledges an "increasingly competitive" employment marketplace and calls for universities to develop new ways of accrediting students' term-time paid and voluntary work.

"In recognition of employer demand for skills obtained outside the academic curriculum, universities should develop mechanisms to accredit non-academic activities such as volunteering," the statement says.

"Also, in recognition of the need for students to support themselves financially while at university, this accreditation should be stretched to include skills obtained during paid employment, perhaps delivered in arrangement between university job shops and employers."

The group aims to lead debate on the student experience and argues it is well placed to do so, given its institutions' high satisfaction scores in the National Student Survey. It calls for a similar national survey for postgraduate students and for more "student-friendly" resources and buildings.

Steve Smith, chairman of the 1994 Group and vice-chancellor of Exeter University, said: "This is a challenge not only for universities but also for policymakers and all student-facing groups across the sector if UK higher education is to continue to be one of the leading higher education providers."

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