3.1 How to make student engagement inclusive? 

Improving student engagement in higher education  governance, quality assurance, and student life we is essentially  about (further) empowering students to actively participate in shaping their educational experiences and student communities. Making student engagement inclusive means providing opportunities for diverse voices to be heard and for higher education institutions to create an environment where every student feels valued, represented, and engaged in all aspects of their education and student experience. This not only enriches the overall student experience but also contributes to the development of responsible, informed, and empowered citizens.

To truly make student engagement inclusive, we need to recognise that students arrive with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and identities. This diversity, far from being a challenge, is an incredible asset that enriches the educational experience. In an inclusive environment, every student feels seen, heard, and valued for who they are.

An important role that you have as staff that supports student engagement is to examine the barriers that can affect students within your organisation. By understanding these obstacles, you will be better equipped to address them effectively.

The following video gives an example of approaching student engagement in a broader and more holistic way than it is generally thought of. In the video, a participation coach from UCLL in Belgium explains how a combination of formal and informal forms of student engagement as a more inclusive approach, reaching a wider range of students. 

Key strategies for achieving inclusive student engagement in these vital areas:

Student Governance:

  • Representation: Ensure diverse student representation in governance bodies, such as student councils, committees, and boards. This representation should mirror the institution’s student demographics and include voices from underrepresented groups.
  • Training and Support: Provide training and resources to student representatives to enhance their leadership skills and understanding of governance processes. This support ensures that all students, regardless of their background, can effectively advocate for their peers.
  • Transparency and Accessibility: Promote transparency in decision-making processes and make them accessible to all students. Clear communication channels and opportunities for feedback empower students to participate actively and feel their voices are heard.

Quality Assurance:

  • Student Feedback: Establish mechanisms for students to provide feedback on the quality of education, including courses, faculty, and support services. Act on this feedback to continuously improve the learning experience.
  • Student-Led Quality Assessments: Encourage students to take the lead in assessing the quality of education. Engage them in program evaluations, accreditation processes, and reviews of institutional policies.
  • Collaborative Improvement: Collaborate with students in developing and implementing improvements based on their feedback. This partnership between students and staff fosters a sense of shared responsibility for educational quality.

Student Life:

  • Inclusive Programming: Ensure that extracurricular activities, events, and clubs are inclusive and welcoming to all students. Promote diversity in student organizations and support initiatives that celebrate different cultures and identities.
  • Accessibility: Make campus facilities and services accessible to all students, taking into account the needs of individuals with disabilities and other marginalized groups.
  • Cultural Competency: Provide cultural competency training for staff involved in organizing student life activities. This training can help prevent unintentional exclusion and foster a more inclusive atmosphere.

Collaborative Decision-Making:

  • Partnership: Foster a culture of partnership and collaboration between students, faculty, and staff in decision-making processes. Encourage open dialogues that consider the perspectives of all stakeholders.
  • Diverse Voices: Actively seek out and amplify diverse voices in governance, quality assurance, and student life initiatives. Recognize that diversity of thought and experience contributes to better decision-making.

Taking action

A good way of improving student engagement for a wide range of students is to redesign the concept of student engagement with a particular focus on reducing barriers for non-traditional students and thus create a more inclusive and accessible learning environment.

One way for this is to focus on  thematic and short-term engagement, instead the more traditional approach to student engagement involving longer-term commitments in boards, committees, etc.  We would therefore invite you to consider the concept of thematic and short-term engagement and explore the advantages it can bring to your institution. 

Please consider the following questions: 

  • How could this approach benefit your institution? 
  • What advantages could it bring in terms of reducing barriers for non-traditional students? 

Write down your thoughts and ideas and if possible discuss it with your colleagues and students.

Podcast: Appearance Matters: The Podcast!: 'Defining Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination'
Link: shorturl.at/eiIO6