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Wellington conference highlights importance of Student Voice

NZUSA Media Release – Friday 6 December 2013

Wellington conference highlights importance of Student Voice

The importance of research into hearing and heeding the student voice for ensuring and enhancing the future quality of tertiary education has been highlighted at an international conference on student services closing at Victoria University in Wellington today.

A keynote paper jointly delivered by the sponsors of the research - the NZ Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) and the national centre for tertiary teaching excellence Ako Aotearoa - drew attention to the limitations of current structures for giving students a sufficiently representative voice to ensure the quality of the on- and off-campus education experienced by students doesn’t go backwards because of poor institutional stewardship.

NZUSA president Pete Hodkinson commended organisers of the ‘Innovation in Changing Times’ conference for the prominence they had given to tacking a long list of “tough issues” that first year students in particular are faced with, along with all of the structural issues that can undermine the equity of and accessibility to tertiary education.

“The range of presentations about adapting and strengthening student services practices and introducing new approaches has been impressive,” said Hodkinson.

“As shown by the topics covered this week the perception or assumption that tertiary education is somehow an ‘easy ride’ is totally misguided.

“Students are confronted by all sorts of issues at an often vulnerable age and stage of life that put their wellbeing at risk. We know that the mental health risks faced by students related to the impacts of factors like negative financial stress are very, very real, and it was encouraging that this was one of the key themes this week.

“NZUSA supports student support strategies that increase retention and achievement, and that open the opportunity for tertiary education to more New Zealanders.

“However as covered during the week more work needs to be done in specific areas of need and built more strongly into the Tertiary Education Strategy, be that respecting disability expertise, increasing Māori and Pacific postgraduate participation, cultural needs, gender and sexuality needs or promoting student resilience online through better engagement.

“As discussed at this conference core equity principles – including the principle of student representation – can be tools for brokering better institutions. Because no one wants student distress to lead to student failure there is also a need to ensure principles like pastoral care and provision of student services aren’t captured by a bureaucratic tick-box approach, but are truly collaborative by putting students in positions of equal control over student affairs”.

The “Innovation in Changing Times” conference was organised by the Australia and New Zealand Student Services Association (ANZSSA) and only takes place in New Zealand every six years. The Student Voice research published by NZUSA and Ako Aotearoa can be referred to at www.akoaotearoa.ac.nz/projects/student-voice-effective-representation-and-quality


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