Student Voice and Skills: Learning from Scottish experiences
One of Ako Aotearoa’s strategic priorities is to build and maintain links with other countries and international organisations. By engaging with overseas agencies, practitioners, and researchers, we can promote understanding of the New Zealand tertiary system and some of the excellent – sometimes world-leading – work being conducted in our sector.
But we can also develop a better understanding of where our current practices and approaches sit in relation to international developments, and can act as a conduit for lessons and examples that can improve outcomes for New Zealand learners. Senior Project/ Research Analyst Nicholas Huntington discusses his recent visit to Scotland and provides relevant links.
Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland (sparqs) conference
In March, I was privileged to be able to visit Scotland and explore how their tertiary system is engaging with two major areas of interest for Ako Aotearoa: how to make effective use of the student voice to improve education quality, and how we can support good quality skills-focused education.
|Nicholas Huntington opens the joint Ako Aotearoa and NZUSA presentation on learner voice in New Zealand|
The visit began with attending and addressing the annual conference of sparqs (Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland), an organisation which is generally considered to be leading the world in its approach to fostering effective student voice. Following an invitation from sparqs, Alistair Shaw, the Executive Director of the NZ Union of Students’ Associations, and I delivered a joint presentation on the state of student voice in New Zealand. We provided background on our education system and the opportunities and challenges for articulating student voice in that system, and discussed work that our two organisations have been undertaking on this issue.
With over 230 delegates attending, the conference provided an opportunity to meet students, staff, and education officials not only from Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, but also from countries in Europe and farther afield – including Japan, Australia, Armenia, the United States, Ireland, Norway, Romania, Belgium, and Italy.
|Speakers from Edinburgh College articulate the underlying theme of the sparqs conference|
This diversity meant a wide variety of papers and topics were presented and discussed. Particular highlights for me were examples of how student organisations have worked to support culture change and improve responsiveness (including through greater use of data systems), and how sparqs and the National Society of Apprentices (with the National Union of Students) have begun work specifically to support the voice of apprentices and ensure that their distinctive needs are heard and understood.
|Emilia Todorova, Quality Enhancement Specialist at the Quality Assurance Agency Scotland|
One theme from the Conference that I found particularly striking was the very negative view of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) currently being implemented in England. Opening the conference, Scotland’s Minister for Further Education, Higher Education, and Science was clear that the current government saw no value in the TEF, and there was clear support for that position amongst the delegates.
This antipathy seemed to stem from a view that the TEF approaches quality in terms of an imposed compliance exercise focused on accountability to the government, in contrast to the engagement-focused model built around accountability to students that was seen to characterise Scotland’s approach to teaching quality. This clearly has interesting implications for how we should be thinking about encouraging quality practices here – not just in teaching but across all aspects of the tertiary experience.
Material from the sparqs conference, including the slides from our presentation and a storify based on tweets from the event, is available on the sparqs website here and here. Some useful links to material on student voice can be found at the bottom of this page.
Following the sparqs conference, I travelled to Glasgow and met with staff from Skills Development Scotland (SDS). While there, I was also able to meet briefly with a representative from the Scottish branch of the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), during which we talked about the way in which QAA Scotland works on building quality in particular priority areas for higher education and how it involves students in its review process.
Skills Development Scotland
Skills Development Scotland’s role is to link industries, the education sector, and career planning in a way that supports regional and economic development. In contrast to both laissez-faire models that rely mainly on market signals to achieve this, and centrally-directed workforce planning systems, SDS can be seen as pursuing a type of ‘skills ecosystem’ approach that involves facilitating active engagement between different players involved in developing and deploying skills. The core of this is the Skills Planning Model, which is built on active analysis of regional and industry skill needs. This analysis – set out in skill development plans – is then used to inform the planning and programmes offered by education organisations, as well as feeding into career decisions. SDS works at all stages of this model, undertaking needs analysis, facilitating connections between employers and the education system, and managing a comprehensive, coaching-based, Careers Information and Guidance system.
|Jonathan Clark (R), Director, Service Design & Innovation at Skills Development Scotland, and Nicholas Huntington.|
As well as discussing how this model works in practice, I also took the opportunity to learn about more specific elements of the Scottish skills system, such as their current Equalities Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships which focuses on addressing the position of women, particular ethnic communities, people with disabilities, and vulnerable people leaving state care.
It was particularly valuable to discuss SDS’ work on Foundation and Graduate Apprenticeships. These initiatives are based around the idea that an ‘apprenticeship’ is not a separate type of training confined to what we might consider as traditional trades, but rather a way of approaching education in a contextualise work-based setting.
Essentially they position apprenticeship as a pedagogy, rather than a sub-sector, and one that can be used to offer high-quality education of all types and levels. Graduate Level Apprenticeships – currently available in software development, IT management, civil engineering, and engineering design and manufacture – appear to be a particularly promising initiative and we will be keeping an eye on further developments in this area (and those sectors in New Zealand that have shown interest in establishing a similar model here).
Centre for Work-Based Learning
I was also very pleased to discuss Scotland’s newly-established Centre for Work-Based Learning, which has an ambitious work programme built around understanding the workplace as a learning environment and encouraging change in relevant policies, practices, and organisational cultures. A highlight for me was starting a conversation with SDS as to how we – in partnership with other organisations such as the Industry Training Federation – might be able to build ongoing links with the Centre and explore issues of common interest. We have agreed to begin this by considering where there could be scope for mutual work exploring pathways and the learner journey, and I look forward to seeing this relationship develop in the future.
Lessons for New Zealand
Overall, I was exceptionally impressed by what I learnt of the education sector in Scotland. While it is facing challenges – most notably the unpredictable effects of Brexit – and much of its success seems to be built on a distinctive underlying culture of engagement and cooperation, there are definitely lessons for New Zealand from the Scottish experience. We at Ako Aotearoa will be considering how these may be reflected in our work over the coming months.
I wish to thank all those who assisted me during my time in the country, especially Hannah Clarke, Simon Varwell, and David Scott at sparqs, Emilia Todorova at QAA Scotland, and all those who graciously shared their time with me at Skills Development Scotland – and especially Diane Greenlees and Gerard Quinn for organising my visit there.
- Student Partnership in Quality Scotland
- Scotland’s Student Engagement Framework as a webguide
- The sparqs toolkits for developing a Student Partnership Agreement at universities and at further education organisations
Quality Assurance in Scotland
- The Quality Assurance Agency Scotland
- An overview of the Enhancement-Led Institutional Review process (ELIR)
- QAA Scotland’s Focus On projects initiative, which provides support for exploring common issues arising from ELIRs
Skills Development and Planning
- Skills Development Scotland
- The Centre for Work-Based Learning in Scotland
- An overview and examples of Scottish Skills Investment Plans
- The Equalities Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships and the Equalities Toolkit for Providers and Employers
- Background on Scotland’s My World of Work service for career planning and advice
- Information about Foundation Level and Graduate Level Apprenticeships