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ARTICLE

How to engage the Student Voice

Anish Bagga

Anish Bagga

Students enrol at your university expecting an education. But the quality of teaching and range of resources is just one element of the overall HE experience. And just as we ask students to turn up to lectures, listen to insights and develop their understanding, HE institutions need to do exactly the same.

We’re talking about the student voice: hearing it, amplifying it and using it to improve your university’s rankings.

The step before that, however, is encouraging students to speak out in the first place.

Let’s take a look at some strategies that will help you to engage the student voice — as well as what universities stand to gain by doing so.

Create a safe space

Students have to feel confident about speaking up and sharing their experiences. That means creating a safe space for feedback, in which they are not ridiculed or singled out for making their voice heard.

This safe space should encourage all students to offer their opinions, too. You should make it easy and inclusive, so that every voice can be heard — not just the loudest or bravest amongst the student community.

Only then can you get an accurate view of student priorities and the student experience.  

  • Consider ways of anonymising student feedback to increase psychological safety
  • Use student reps to engage student groups at all levels
  • Provide ways of capturing and representing the student voice all year round, not just on an annual basis

Ensure the student voice is being heard

So you have a strategy for collecting student opinions. What next?

You need to ensure that those opinions are being heard. That means having someone on the receiving end, listening to the student voice and processing what is being said.

You also need to make it clear to students that this is the case.

Students won’t take the time to speak up if they believe they’re simply shouting into the void. When you ask for opinions, tell students who will be listening and how their opinions will be handled. 

  • Reply to students leaving feedback, in as short a timeframe as possible
  • Allow students to see what other students are saying — this gives credibility to their insights to amplify the student voice

Download Unitu’s latest report ‘Amplifying Student Voices’ for a deep dive into the landscape of student engagement in 2022.

Be transparent

Students are often sceptical about giving feedback. That’s because traditionally they don’t tend to see the outcome of their feedback.

Transparency is key. When students can see how feedback across the board is listened to and acted upon, you build trust and confidence in the process. Don’t hide feedback, good or bad, behind closed doors. 

  • Regularly update students on feedback received and plans of action
  • Publicise the results of student voice surveys
  • Engage student reps to act as everyday conduits between the institution and its students

Turn feedback into timely action

Action is another crucial part of the process.

Students expect change to come slowly, but why should they bother speaking up when their course will have ended by the time any changes come into effect?

This deters many of them from contributing to the student voice and offering their opinions.

Show students that you are acting upon feedback in a timely fashion and they’ll be much more likely to speak up. They’ll see that their voice can quickly make a real difference to their own university experience.

  • Set achievable, but challenging, KPIs for acting on key insights within X days or weeks
  • At the end of each term, summarise what’s changed and why based on the student voice

Involve students to find solutions

You should always keep students informed of the solutions and outcomes prompted by their feedback. But to really engage the student voice, you need to involve students in every part of the process.

That means creating a dialogue as you decide upon the right course of action. Students want to be included in the conversation as it evolves.

This dialogue will help to create better outcomes, because you’re moving away from assumptions and towards a more collaborative student-university partnership. It also feeds back into future efforts to engage the student voice, as students realise that they are participating in an authentic partnership, where they genuinely get to influence action.

This motivates students to speak up again and again.

  • Come up with ideas, but before you push forward with any of them, poll students to find out how they view the solutions on offer
  • … and explore ways for the student voice to help influence change as ideas take shape

Engage and amplify the student voice, then close the feedback loop

Unitu is an award-winning online platform that helps universities and student unions to engage with and listen to the student voice.  

Students can send feedback from their smartphones, anytime and anywhere. University and student union leaders can then view that feedback in real-time, learn about student priorities, and decide which feedback to act upon. 

Delivering improvements to the student experience becomes easy and effective.

Better still, you can keep students informed of feedback, action and outcomes via their smartphones — and maintain their buy-in. They keep offering their feedback and you keep getting the insight you need to make the changes that really make a difference.

The last two years have shown just how valuable student voice feedback is for universities. But what can HE institutions learn from the experience? Download our latest report to read Unitu’s data-backed recommendations for student engagement in 2022 and beyond.

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About the author

Anish Bagga

Anish Bagga

CEO, and Co-Founder of Unitu - helping universities improve the student experience by engaging with the student voice.
Want to see how Unitu can help you effectively engage the student voice?

Unitu helps universities to improve the student experience by effectively engaging with the student voice in real time.

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