Interdepartmental Partnership
Working with the national REACT project, the University of Brighton has established a Student Engagement operational group to work towards embedding student engagement at the University.

We are a team comprising members from Engagement and Information (Quality), the Centre for Learning and Teaching, and the Students’ Union.

Working together, and bringing our individual areas of specialism to this partnership, has provided both a productive approach to a range of facets of student engagement, and connected three areas of the university that previously did not have a joined-up approach.

The types of activities we have focused on include recruiting school-based Student Engagement champions; holding a Student Engagement staff away day; and attending local meetings with champions to establish rapport and get a good idea of the context of Student Engagement, and hard to reach students, within each School.

This work is foregrounding a more strategic approach to student engagement, through the development of a student engagement plan.

For more information, contact Catherine McConnell - Senior Lecturer in Learning Development

What does the scheme entail?

The Student Engagement Group at the University of Brighton was established in 2015, to enable partnership working between three key stakeholder departments for Student Engagement at Brighton – the Centre for Learning and Teaching, Brighton Students’ Union, and Quality and Standards.

The purpose of the group is to try and coordinate student engagement in quality processes, and develop an understanding of how best to work with students as partners in learning and teaching.

The University of Brighton has several student partnership schemes that echo the core values and activities followed by REACT.

We have an established peer assisted learning scheme (PASS), and through participating in the REACT project, we were keen to develop our learning further to investigate the opportunities for building capacity for staff-student collaboration on educational research and enhancement.

What support do you get from the University?

The establishment of an Engagement and Information team with the Quality and Standards department, within Academic Services includes:

The adoption of student engagement in learning and teaching by the Student

Academic Success and Partnership team located within the Centre for Learning and Teaching

The instigation of regular partnership team meetings between the Engagement and Information team, Learning and Teaching, and Students’ Union representatives

The formation of a Student Engagement Group, chaired by the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience

The creation of a role specification for a ‘Student Engagement Champion’ to be based in each of the 10 Schools, and 12 Professional Service departments.

What are the motivations behind the scheme?

The drive to coordinate student engagement activity at Brighton arose out of growing areas of localised departmental practice, which had emerged through the work of keen practitioners, ‘early adopters’, and those tasked with enhancing the student experience.

This could be described as a ‘grass roots’ movement, whereby exciting and authentic Student Engagement was being developed in context, but by a select number of staff and for a few fortunate students.

Among other policy mandates created at the time, the QAA Quality Code Chapter B5 (QAA, 2012) gave an external impetus for a more structured approach to Student Engagement.

Following a QAA review visit in 2013, the university’s Student Engagement in Quality Steering Group created a Student Engagement in Quality Policy.

This document set out a number of baseline activities that the university and its 10 schools are supposed to deliver in order to facilitate the engagement of students in Quality Assurance procedures.

Consequently, the grass roots Student Engagement enthusiasts occupied one sphere of institutional engagement at one end of a spectrum, and the policy-driven procedural projects at the other.

Key benefits to the student

A nominated Student Engagement champion is a member of staff at a senior level with a remit integrated into their existing workload, and is responsible for developing student engagement in their own context, i.e. to reflect their own characteristics, discipline and structures. The champion:

1. fosters student engagement within the school/ support service, often initiating the development and enhancement of student engagement activities within their school/support service

2. acts as a key point of contact for staff and students in their school/support service for information and advice about Student Engagement, including policies and resources available

3. encourages staff and student interest in student engagement in the school/support service through promoting opportunities for this and supports staff and student collaborative working

Key benefits to the University

Through the collective expertise of the Student Engagement group and the establishment of a network of Student Engagement champions, the group is moving towards a shared definition of student engagement at Brighton.

This collective approach has provided a constructive forum to share knowledge and understanding, which informs the development of the Student Engagement plan and resulting practices.

Recruiting school-based Student Engagement champions has provided a way for us to talk with schools about contextualised Student Engagement activity.

A member from each area of our inter-departmental partnership visited every School to talk with the champion, and to collect ideas for case studies that capture and showcase Student Engagement activity.

Within each School, subject disciplines have different cultures and challenges and we have recognised that the level of Student Engagement activity varies.

Extending the champion role to professional services departments has been crucially successful in raising the importance of Student Engagement and embedding awareness of practice across the institution.

The champions form a wider network for our partnership and an ongoing resource for collaborative working in the future.

Key benefits to the sector

Taking such a deliberate approach to coordinate various stakeholders and practices that can be broadly considered ‘Student Engagement’ is a model that many other universities could benefit from.

The innovative and strategic nature of this approach drew attention from a range of practitioners at the REACT conference on Twitter.

This practice has been published in the Journal of Education, Innovation, Partnership and Change.