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#teqsa2018 Derfel Owen’s Keynote Address: Inspiring Innovation Through Student Engagement

#teqsa2018 Derfel Owen’s Keynote Address: Inspiring Innovation Through Student Engagement


[Applause]>>DERFEL OWEN: I can empathise with flight
troubles, I’ve had plenty of them since I’ve been here as well. I was in Sydney when they
had the sandstorm last week. So thank you very much for inviting me to come along
to speak to you today. I’m going to wander around the stage a little bit, particularly
probably over here, because I’m going to ask this group of people here to help me out a little
bit later on if you don’t mind, so I’m just warming you up now to advise you of that. Just to say I’m not going to bore you with details about UCL but one
of the points that I wanted to make to emphasise here, this is all available for you to read
online later. But we are a committed global institution. I’m rather sad that I
feel from the UK that we had to come overseas and say that, but we absolutely are. We are
committed to our global engagement as an institution. In fact, our by-line is, London’s Global
Institution, that’s very important to us. One of the figures in here you’ll see is
that over a third of our student population, and over a third of our academic staff population
are drawn from overseas. In fact, from about 150 countries worldwide. That’s incredibly
important to us and we are going to continue to be dedicated to that as an institution.
So I just want to spend first 30 seconds just to get your brains working, because I appreciate
it’s early morning, we had the drinks reception last night, just a quick puzzle
to warm you up. This will become relevant later on, so have a look at this. I’ll give
you 30 seconds or so to try and work out the answer. I don’t want you to stick your arms
up. If you’ve got the answer, just write it down in your notebook and we can come back
to it later on please. Okay, time’s up. I’m going to move on now.
So I want to talk about student engagement, with you today. What I’m not going to
do is, I think there are a number of flavours to student engagements, and one of the really
important and fascinating flavours is student engagement in learning and in their curriculum.
I’m not going to be talking, covering that today. If I had an hour and half to talk to
you I would love to talk about that, because it’s fascinating and interesting, but I don’t.
I’m focused much more on student engagement in institutional cultures and in institutional
arrangements. I’m focusing on what Anthony talked about,
which I think is really important, which is that student centred approach to everything
that we do. And I think it’s really important that TEQSA is leading by example in this
area and in leading debates across the provider sector here about what that means. Students’
engagement is obviously an essential ingredient in a student centred approach. You cannot
possibly have a student centred approach if you’re not engaging your students in devising
and shaping it. Now, to my mind students’ engagement has one foundation, two baselines,
three principles and four levels. And guess what, I’m going to talk through some of those
during my presentation this morning. The essential foundation is understanding
our students and their context. Oh dear, the text has got a bit garbled up there, but understanding
our students and their context in our organisations. What are the pressures upon them? What’s
important to them? And I think we heard, I’ve spent some time this week, thank you to TEQSA
for inviting me along to help facilitate a workshop earlier this week with some student
representatives and to attend the student advisory group last week. I’ve also spent
some time visiting some universities whilst I’ve been here. And many of the pressures
that your students are facing are quite similar to what students are facing in the UK. And
you’ve heard from them though at this conference today, students are noticing the massification
of higher education and this is having an impact on them. An internationally competitive environment,
thank you Anthony for pointing out once again that Australia has passed the UK. We have
noticed this story in the UK as well. Yes, congratulations, we’re very pleased for
you. [Laughter] Please stop now. And as Anthony pointed
out, one of the ironies of this was that it was a centre at UCL that pulled the data together
to prove this. Double irony is that one of the senior academics from that centre has
just been poached by the University of Melbourne. Thank you very much everyone. Stop now.
So that internationally competitive environment, the fact that you are a global country, you’re
providers of global and globally focused is important, and it’s important to your students
and it’s having an impact on your student body. But diversification of provision, so that’s
not just the diversification of providers, which is obviously very important, but the
style of provision of teaching and learning that supports the students as well, is
having that impact. Political unpredictability and political extremes is being noticed as
well and it is starting to have a serious impact on universities. And this last
point, and this is something, I had lunch with a friend last week who works at Universities
Australia. And we were talking about a similar sort of theme, which is starting to affect providers in both our countries. And it just feels sometimes as though, particularly
politicians and the media class are treating universities as though they are the enemy,
as though the universities are doing something wrong, and HE is doing something wrong in society. You heard it yesterday, Professor
Lloyd, the vice chancellor of UniSA, mentioned how the prime minister here had said that
university debt is bad debt. And issues such as freedom of speech on campus, sexual harassments
on campus and so on are being heated up into political debates. And our students are noticing
that and it’s starting to have an impact on their behaviours, their attitudes and how
they feel about being students at universities. So what does it mean? So some of it is linked
to external environment things. So post-2008, uncertainly of our future prospects. And,
again, Anthony, just in his speech, towards the end there was talking about the undermining
of trust in our established institutions, and that is really felt by our students now.
They’ve been really impacted by some of these external environment changes. And our
higher education sector was one of those sectors that was just instinctively trusted, historically,
and that has shifted and changed. What we say doesn’t just go anymore, and our students
feel that way as well, our students on campus feel that way. Future career prospects, I feel yesterday
one of the speakers talked about, you know, students now need to be prepared for careers
and jobs that don’t exist now for when they’re in the future.
And I feel a bit as though that comment was dismissed too easily. It’s a very important
point and our students on the panel yesterday highlighted it. Our students are very anxious
about this. They’re aware of it. They don’t expect universities to provide all of the
answers, but it is very much framing their mentality and their attitude whist they’re
at university, and they’re anxious and they’re worried about it. Debt, value for money, one of our panel
members yesterday talked about value for investment, which I think is a very good phrase. Recognising
that the contribution that students are making is an investment in the university, but also
an investment in themselves, that they want to know where is that going, what difference
is it making. And, finally, this point, and this links to political instability, I think.
Higher education no longer being a safe space for students. Now, I think it is. I
think most of our students feel safe on campus, but the way some of our campuses and the way
some of the debates about our campuses in provision is taking place at the moment, and
the external environment is quite challenging. Universities are a place where you go to discover
learning, learn about your disciplines and your subjects, but also to discover things
about yourself. But some of the hot topics, some of the flashpoints
politically that are taking place, whether it’s related to gender and sexuality, and
some of the real political debates that are going along with that, but even some of the
issues like sexual harassments on campus, free speech on campus, are giving the impression,
which I think overall is incorrect, but, nonetheless, it’s starting to permeate, that higher education
might not be the safe space that it used to be for some of our students. That could be
a toxic mix for our universities. I think we have the history and we have
the ability to tackle and turn that around, and turn it into a positive for our sector,
but having a student centered approach and student engagement is absolutely critical to addressing that. And to do that we need to have two baselines.
And, again, Anthony talked about these in the context of quality assurance, and I think
what Antony said is relevant here. First, we have to be transparent with our students.
When we’re subject to scrutiny sometimes as a sector, our tendency is to clam up and
to rely on quite imprecise answers about our world class reputation and how it’s
all very complicated and so on. Particularly when we’re asked about what’s happening
to student fees, and so on, but we really ought to be more open, and as open as
we possibly can be with the public and with our students. Opening the books and explaining
the myriad of complexities of delivering higher education and what that means and to be accountable
for it, that is the partner of transparency in all of this. We should have a healthy, engaged and accountable
relationship with our students, that’s absolutely critical. Now that doesn’t need to be
a hostile or a transactional relationship with our students. It can be a transparent
and healthy and productive one. But we should be open to challenge, we should be willing
to explain ourselves and engage with our students and explain, and sometimes willing to change
course or adapt that course and direction, based on our relationship with students. The principles of student engagement are
to respect our students, to empower our students and to trust our students. Why should we respect
the contribution the students can make? Well, students are the only people, this is what
student engagement is so important, they are the only people on our campuses who can
tell us what it is like to be a student. Despite all the best intentions, nobody else can give
us that insight into our university campuses and that sort of experience. And I picked
up on this tweet yesterday from one of our colleagues, who hopefully is still here,
Stuart, who said, we need to listen to our students more. They see things as they are
and happy to call a spade a spade. That sums it up perfectly. If we work with our students,
they can help us cut through many of these challenges and really help us to understand
what’s going on, on our courses and on our campuses. I was going to show a brief video there,
but I don’t think I’ve got enough time, but it will be in the slides, so you can
see it. So the next thing I wanted to ask is to show a little bit of historical context
to student engagement, because a lot of these challenges are not new and a lot of these
things that we’re doing aren’t necessarily new. So which of these four do you think is
the odd one out? Actually, the answer, it’s a trick question, because the answer is none of
them. The person on the far right there is a Greek philosopher, my friend Libanius.
Not particularly famous Greek philosopher, but a very famous chronicler of Greek society. That’s a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise. That’s the American
constitution and a pair of pistols, down there. Why am I showing you all of these?
Well, this shows a bit of history of student engagement in society. In ancient Greece there didn’t exist universities as we know them now. What you had was a group of philosophers would exist in
a city, and students would be sent by their parents with a bucket of gold, and they would
visit a philosopher and say, please, may I spend some time basking in your luminous magnificence for the next few years. And the philosopher would say yes or no. Philosophers would have maybe 15 to 20 students following them around over a period of time. Over time those students started
to self-organise, and started, they referred to themselves as a corps. Not a corpse as
a dead body, corps as in an army corps, that sort of thing. And they would follow these
academics around and they would start to self-organise to represent collectively their view to the
philosopher, but also to compete with each other, so varsity matches and sports matches
and so on. So students have been self-organising and
representing their views for quite some time. This isn’t something new. In 1215, the University
of Bologna was established. And this is the first, we probably wouldn’t recognise it
as a university, a provider of higher education as we see it now, but that was the first constitutionally
arranged body that we would now sort of see as a university, and it was a student innovation.
That was not academics coming together to do that, students got together to do it. The
reason? Because Italy at the time, Italy didn’t exist, what you had was a series of city states.
If you were studying with a philosopher within that city state, but you had come from outside
it, you had no rights. You were not recognised as a citizen of that city. So the students
collectively got together and said, well, that’s not good enough, we need to have
some sort of organisation, some body that we belong to that is ours, that we can then
collectively represent our views, but self-organise within it, and they created the University
of Bologna. So we are only here today as a consequence
all those years ago of a student innovation, that pulled this together. Then further,
as you start to travel down a bit further in time, the University of Orleans, St
Andrews University, particularly St Andrews, established by charter, the first university
in Scotland to be established by charter, that was established as a co-owned enterprise
between students and academic staff. Its charter states very clearly that this is a co-owned
enterprise. They didn’t use the word enterprise, but I can’t remember what it does say, it’s
between students and academic staff at this organisation. So something that goes back
to show that even historically students were driving their education and driving the centre
of cultures and so on, so we need to respect and understand this, that the role of students
in higher education is absolutely critical. And, finally, probably most of you would have
heard of honour codes in the United States and so on, again, that was a student innovation.
Lots of different universities will try and claim the history of this, but most universities
agree that it was at William and Mary University the honour code started. And that started
because a student on campus got very upset and angry with one of his tutors. And one
night he attacked one of his tutors on campus, and tried to shoot him, didn’t injure
him but tried to shoot him. The students were so appalled by this that they came together
and decided we are going to self-organise an honour code between us. A set
of behaviours that we expect of each other, that we are going to implement and impose
across the university, and we are going to use that to collectively represent students
across the institution, but also to govern our own behaviours in that context. So why am I sharing all of this with you?
It’s just to tell you that student engagement is not something new. It’s not something we’re
trying to impose on universities. Actually, it cuts through as a golden thread, through
all of higher education, wherever it exists, students make their voices heard and it’s
very important that we find ways to make that happen. You can read more about that in my
book. Available in no good book stores. [Laughter]. Um, so, uh, the four levels of engagement
I wanted to talk to you about. If we are going to engage our students, now these are presented,
this is not a hierarchy of one is better than the other. This is a collection of different
ways in which you can engage students, and as you move up the different levels of engagement,
you see there are different levels of intensity of engagement with our students at each of
those levels. The first level is engaging our students as
monitors, and this is the collective engagement of our students. It tends to be a one way
discussion. And this is things such as surveys that we collect, the mass opinion of students,
either on our individual programme and courses or across our campus and providers to
gather their collective view on a particular topic, or about their experience, but
it’s a one way discussion. Students will tell us, we think this, this is bad, this is good,
this isn’t working so well and we’d like something to happen over here. We take that,
we shape our views and options and we do something about it. That’s good, it’s a good way of
engaging students because it gathers the collective view and it gives us an insight into what
students think, but we can go further. So then you have the students as rapporteur,
and this is where you start to have your senior student representatives, perhaps your student
union representatives or course representatives that you might have, where you will involve
students in that further decision making. So you will know students are telling us that
this is working, that’s not working. You might even present some challenges and problems
of your own that students haven’t told you about but that you know exist. And students
are given an opportunity to observe the decision making that’s taking place, see the views
and opinions of other students, and also maybe to propose solutions in that context, but
nonetheless students are observing the decision making. Students are there, but the power
that rests with somebody else. Then we have engaging students as an
expert, and this is where we’ll have full participation in decision making, and this
is where students are present and contributing to all important decisions in the institution.
And this is about, so it’s almost the same as being a rapporteur, but it’s changing the
dynamic of that context, so you’d be empowering your students much more. Then you have students as partners, and this
is where you have joint decision making and delivery. We had a couple of really powerful
examples of this yesterday, actually, on the panel. And I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the name
of the institution where our colleague from the land based agriculture institution
was here, where he talked about not only had he worked with his students to address issues
of bullying and harassment on campus, but he had empowered his students to deliver the
solution, to lead the provision of the solution amongst other students as well, and
that was a very powerful example I think of working in partnership. Not only are you working
with students to address the issue, you’re also working with students to identify the
solution, and also empowering students to deliver the solution, which is absolutely
critical. And Braedyn talked about an example from
ANU, where law students had identified that there was a problem with their curriculum
that they weren’t happy with an aspect of it. They worked collectively to identify the
problem, to identify the solution, and are working with the institution to deliver that
solution. And they’ve even gone a step further and are campaigning nationally with other
institutions to deliver that change to the curriculum that they felt was absolutely essential,
and that is partnership in action. It can be very powerful, and those students then
become real advocates and powerful advocates for the student voice on campus. So monitoring I talked about is very important,
but there can be a problem here, which is survey fatigue. When I was running the
working group with students on Tuesday, this was a problem that they highlighted. They
recognised that you’re doing your best when you’re asking their views on different things,
but sometimes it gets a bit too much. Response rates get very low. This is an example when
I worked at the University of Exeter, before I was at UCL I led a project to review the
number of surveys that we were asking our students to complete within a year. That is
only a fraction of what a single undergraduate student would be asked to complete within
one year. And you can understand how survey fatigue comes along with that. So, I recognise
the good intentions, but it’s important that we’re very, very self-critical when doing
these sorts of pieces of work and very precise. What are we asking for? When are
we asking for it? What are we doing with that information and data? So where the conversation is going in the
higher education sector in the UK is that we want to shift from that bottom end of the
levels to the top end, where we have emerging approaches that are focused on really utilising
the expertise from students and really working with them as partners. So when we have students
as experts, we recognise that they are the experts in their own experience and their
peers’ experience, and we include them and involve them on that basis. They have real
expertise to contribute. We make it clear to them that we want to hear their contributions
and engage with us on that basis. We must provide full training and induction
to these students. I’ll come back to that in a second. We support the students with
the research initiatives and to write proposals. We share control. Sometimes allowing students
to chair committees and meetings, empowering them to do that. Working with students as
partners, recognising, I’ve given a couple of examples that I liked that we heard from
yesterday, and that’s giving students the opportunity to take leadership in implementing
decisions and making changes, which are really essential if we’re going to make that difference
and make that step change in working with students. So this is where I wanted a bit of audience
participation from this community of people in the middle. I’m coming to the end, Deb,
don’t worry. Could this set of people in these middle rows, could you all just stand
up please? Thank you very much. Now raise your right hand in the air and just wave it
from side to side. Excellent, congratulations, well done, you win the prize. You can sit
down. Now, would you, you, maybe Deb, and you, could you please come on the stage and
give me 50 press ups please? [Laughter]. No, there’s always one [laughs]. No, you’re
not meant to, that doesn’t make my point for me. [Laughs]. I’m trying to make a point
here. This is about training and support for students. When I asked you to stand up, raise
your hand in the air and wave, I was leading by example. I stood square in front of you.
I asked you to do it. I told you it will be okay, it will be easy. Reassured you. I gave
you clear instruction. I did it myself in front of you. There was peer support because you
were all doing it. I saw some of you looking at your partners next to you, oh god are,
we going to have to do this? But you did, you sort of nodded along and said, yes, okay,
come on, let’s give it a go. Who knows how this is going to work? Everybody else was
doing it, it was easy and it was familiar. When I asked you to come up and do 50 press
ups, thanks Deb, you didn’t do it. Apart from Deb. Point there being I wasn’t leading by
example. I wasn’t going to give you clear instruction. There was no peer support because I isolated you. I just picked four people from an audience of, what, 400 to come and
do that. Not everybody else was doing it. It’s not easy and it’s not familiar. This
is what we do to students all the time. When we’re trying to engage students
in our decision making structures we say, with good faith, come along, here is a space,
a committee space for students. Come along and have a go. So you’ll have our students
on our academic boards, our education committees, our AQACs, you all have an AQAC, Academic
Quality Assurance Committee or something like that. Those forums are really dense and difficult
to engage with. If we’re really going to engage and involve students, get the most out of
them in that context, we must provide good training and support for them. And this was
a really powerful message that came from the students, the working
group that we ran on Tuesday, and I think it’s very important that you think about
that as a sector. And, secondly, some of the cultures in those
fora. How are we really making them places where it is straightforward for people to
engage, and I think that stands sometimes for staff as well as for students in that
sort of environment. So I’ll leave it here. This is a health check against each of those levels with the surveying. We’ve got surveys coming out of our ears. Are we being
precise enough? Are there any no-go areas for involving students? I would say, no, there
shouldn’t be any. Are we fully exploring the potential of our students to contribute
and engage in our decision making structures? And, finally, have we maxed out the opportunities
to engage in student-led change at our universities? Thank you. [Applause]>>DEB VERHOEVEN: Thanks Derfel. I’m really
pleased I didn’t have to do the 50 push ups.>>DERFEL OWEN: [Laughs]>>DEB VERHOEVEN: I’m so complaint [laughs].>>DERFEL OWEN: I know. Your TEQSA’s dream
come true. [Laughter].>>DEB VERHOEVEN: [Laughs]. Before we get
started with questions, could Bruce Callaghan and Nicholas Hunt make their presence known
to the AV table so that you can be miked up for the next session? Thank you. Alright,
we have a few questions and we’re just gonna stick to a few, so we can keep things rolling.
It’s not so much fatigue as tired of not seeing and experiencing anything good being
delivered from responses to surveys. If we’re gonna ask for student views we have to respond
in ways in where they experience a benefit. Agree or disagree?>>DERFEL OWEN: I agree completely. And I will hope, I’ll do it now, somebody is going to ask what happened to
the puzzle. Yes, there are 30 rectangles. The reason I did that and I left it and didn’t
refer back to it is because that’s what we do to students all the time. We ask for
their views, we ask them to do something and then we don’t get back to them and close
that loop. Or, interestingly, again, we had this conversation at the workshop the other
day, don’t close the loop or even continue that loop of conversation with our students.
30 rectangles was my count in that, by the way. If anybody else has got any other
counts, let me know. But I think that’s critical with those surveys, again, it comes
back to that precision. That list that I showed you a second ago,
the number of times you were asking students for their views, it’s nigh on impossible
to get back to them if we’re asking them that many times. So be really precise and focused
on if we’re going to ask this survey, how are we then going to get back to students to
let them know what we’re done about it?>>DEB VERHOEVEN: An interesting question
around student engagement being part of student workload, and if it is part of their workload
shouldn’t they be paid?>>DERFEL OWEN: Do you mean the students
or staff?>>DEB VERHOEVEN: Students.>>DERFEL OWEN: Now I always get into
trouble for this, in my opinion, yes. I think students should be rewarded. Payment
is one form of reward. There are other forms of reward that you could think about. But
when we’re engaging and involving students, everybody else, so let’s again go back to
the committees and governance structures, every single other person around that table
is paid for their time, but we ask students to rock up and do it in their own spare time.
I think it is an essential part of respecting their contribution that we recognise, you’re
giving up your time to do this and you deserve to be rewarded and recognised for that in
some from. Payment is one form of doing it. I would be very happy to see that, but
there are other forms that people work with. I say I get into trouble with it, generally
I get into trouble with students when I raise that, because most students involved say, no,
I want to do this, I don’t want to be paid for it. I want to be recognised, but I want
to be seen in different ways.>>DEB VERHOEVEN: Oh, interesting. What
proportion of governance membership, in your view, so, because this has come up now in
a few sessions that students should participate more in university and higher education provision
governance, what proportion should they make up of governance committees?>>DERFEL OWEN: I think it varies. I don’t
think there’s a hard and fast answer. More than they currently do. You have,
generally, I’m reflecting on the UK here, I’m sorry, apologies if I’m reflecting on Australian providers, there’ll be one place, maybe two on a committee of
sometimes 20 or 30 people for students. Is that really reflecting the student perspective
in institutions where sometimes we have upwards of 50, 60,000 students here. Is that
really reflecting the student views and perspective, and how can it be possible? I think one of
the real challenges with that, and I see it happen all the time and I always check myself
when I’m doing it. Say, for example, you have an international student representative, and
the chair, probably in good faith, will turn to them and say, and what do international
students think of this, to that student, and that’s a really difficult thing to answer.
If you’re an international student representative, again, let’s say a large student body, of
which 30, 40% of the student body are international students, you can’t force that one individual
in the heat of the moment to be the voice of that entire community. So I think we should
be looking to increase that involvement of students, bringing in different perspectives.>>DEB VERHOEVEN: Can we thank Derfel for
making engagement engaging? [Applause].

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