I am passionate about education, and the sector surrounding it, but it strikes me that we can be capable of incredible doublethink. When I was first taught how to construct essays one thing, more than any other, was drilled into me: define your terms. For a few years now the higher education sector has talked about partnership. Time and time again we don’t adequately define exactly what we are talking about.
When we don’t attempt to define the terms of our discussions we risk confusion. Worse, we lose the opportunity to explore concepts and ideas. Discussion, disagreement and negotiation towards a set of shared values should be a hallmark of higher education.
We have spent enough time condemning consumerism in education, and now we need to articulate the alternative. Student engagement is a great concept but it needs to be deployed to radical ends. Students as partners is not just a nice-to-have, I believe it has the potential to help bring about social and educational transformation, as long as we know what we are trying to do and we maintain a critical attitude about the ways the concept is adopted and used.
We say we want to celebrate and share best practice; that can no longer mean that which simply works well. Our practice needs to be underpinned by our values. An activity really should make the reality of education closer to our vision before we single it out as “best practice.” This manifesto is an attempt at defining what partnership could mean, as well as explaining why I think students’ unions are so important in creating and maintaining partnership approaches.
At the heart of this document is the idea that individual civic engagement is strongest when it comes about through the collective, and that strong students’ unions are core to any understanding of partnerships.
Framing discussions about students’ engagement in education is important, but the most important thing is what we choose to do as a result of those discussions. That’s a challenge I hope you will join me in rising to.
Vice President (Higher Education)
Download the Manifesto for Partnership here