Study Visit “Students in focus: Student as partners in higher education governance and quality assurance”, funded by European Union and organised by the SPHERE Team (5-6.04.17, Almaty, Kazakhstan)

Date: April 5-6, 2017

Location: Narxoz University (Almaty, Kazakhstan)
Participants from Ukraine:
1. Maryna Mruga, Kyiv Medical University of UAFM, Testing Board affiliated with the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, HERE team member
2. Kateryna Zhdanova, National Erasmus+ Office
3. Yeseniya Makarenko, Sumy State University

Programme and material:

Report Description and key information:
Participants: Erasmus+ Higher Education Reform Experts (HEREs) from EU neighbouring partner countries, representatives from student organisations from EU neighbouring partner countries, European and Partner countries experts, representatives from the host institution (Narxoz University), representatives from National Erasmus+ offices, representatives from the European Commission.
Seminar was opened by Krzysztof Rybinski, Rector, of Narxoz University, José Gutierrez, EACEA, Shaizada Tasbulatova, Director, National Erasmus+ Office in Kazakhstan, SPHERE team members. Overview of Kazakh higher education system was presented by Akhmed-Zaki D.Zh., Director of the Department of Higher and Postgraduate Education of Ministry of Education of Republic of Kazakhstan.
Seminar was structured in the format of plenary sessions and interleaved with break-out sessions.
Plenary sessions were devoted to the following topics with the following keynote speeches:

Plenary 1. Students in university governance
• Presentation “The European landscape: Trends, advances, challenges” by Fernando Galan, former member of European Students’ Union (ESU), and presentation “Students in governance” by Sean O’Reilly from Irish Survey of Student Engagement Project. Plenary ended by panel discussion regarding current trends in here countries with focus on Moldova (Nicolai Loghin), Armenia (Mary Hayrapetyan), and Russia (Olga Andreeva).
Plenary 2: Students in Quality Assurance
• Presentation of the ESG 2015, the student role and practices/case studies from European countries by Jyri Lahdesmaa, Board Member, National Union of University Students in Finland, and Presentation of student involvement in QA in Kazakhstan by Timur Y. Kanapyanov, Manager of International Projects and Public Relations, Independent Agency for Accreditation and Rating (IAAR) shifted the discussion to the role of students in quality assurance of education. There were presented reactions from HERE countries by Chafic Mokbel (Lebanon), Zarrina Kadyrova (Tajikistan). Participants from other countries reflected on their experiences, demonstrating vast diversity of approaches, rights and functions of students in QA in different countries – from nominal and formal involvement in some countries to countries where students’ voices are key in quality assurance and making changes in education. Topics discussed included current regulatory climate for students in QA, examples of systemic student inclusion in internal and external QA, existing reservations and challenges in HERE countries.
• Plenary participants was also briefed by Elizabeth Colucci, SPHERE Team on questions raised in HERE seminar on QA in Lviv, Ukraine.
Plenary 3 was devoted to Students in national reform processes
• There was presented brilliant experience of Scotland in presentation “Students in national reform: Optimising stakeholder dialogue” by Eve Lewis, Director of SPARQS (Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland). Experiences of Kazakhstan and Israel were shown in “Presentation of STUDIK (Students Self-Governance & Democratic Involvement in Kazakhstan)” by Meruert Narenova, STUDIK project and in case study “Israeli national student association: Good practices, success factors, challenges” by Mayaan Hagage, Israeli Students’ Union.

Plenary 4 was closing session where participants discussed how HERE students can be enabled, utilized and given a more active role and identified main take-aways from the seminar.
Plenaries were followed by break-out sessions devoted to further development of topics presented at plenary sessions. The summary of each group work at each session was further reflected on the next plenary. There were three break-out sessions.

Aim of the Erasmus+ Higher Education Reform Experts (HERE) seminar:
The aim of the HERE seminar was to examine student participation with regards to governance and quality assurance in different higher education institutions and systems. It based on case studies and interesting practices from HERE and EU countries, and provided a forum to debate how student involvement could be advanced.
It was expected that based on presentations and through discussion participants would:
• Analyse different approaches towards student participation in university governance and QA, and their specific national and regional contexts.
• Understand the pro’s and con’s of student participation as well as the implications regarding legal framework, institutional autonomy and organisational and financial implications.
• Reflect on the situation of student participation in your own institution/ system, regarding achievements and challenges and the potential for enhancement.
• Relate student participation to the broader context of higher education reform, with regards to good governance at system and institutional level, enhancement of internal and external QA, enhancement of education and promoting democratic society and citizenship.

Active involvement of each participant was additionally achieved by exercise when each attendee at the beginning of seminar should have laid out main areas that should be changed in our country to assure effective involvement of students in higher education governance and quality assurance. Same exercise was repeated at the end of seminar allowing individual and public reflections on how individual’s understanding and attitudes have changed following participation in this seminar.

Main results of the seminar:
During this seminar HERE experts and students were presented with array of practices how students are involved in higher education governance and quality assurance at different countries. We have learned the aspects of involvement at national level (organisation & legislation), institutional level (organisation & general attitudes), at the level of individual staff and at the level of students and their formal organization.
Evaluating Ukraine based on this seminar, I can conclude that reliable foundation for student involvement has been laid out by the new Law on Higher Education (2014), however, local practices demonstrate that while formal requirements for student involvements are met, in reality student bodies frequently do not have levers and rights to influence education. Also, guaranteed secured funding of students’ bodies without adequate accountability on one hand gives student bodies grounds to abuse/misuse these funds and while on the other it gives university administrations possibility to form dependent student bodies.

Topic 1: Students in university governance
Discussions in this domain based upon achievements of European Student Union (ESU) which works to bring together, resource, train and inform national student representatives on policy developments in higher education at the European level through conducting European-wide research, partnership projects and campaigns, providing information services and producing publications for both students, policy-makers and higher education professionals. ESU focuses on 4 domains: 1) Access and support (Social Dimension); 2) Public responsibility for education (Governance & funding); 3) Quality and transparency (Structural reforms, academic affairs, Student Centred-Learning) and 4) Mobility and internationalization. There are mainly 3 types of work at ESU: Representation & advocacy; Research & concept development; Capacity-building & Information exchange. ESU position of student role at university is “Student is a partner, not pure client”, students are full members of academic community. ESU recognizes that many countries have legislation on student involvement but in practice the limitations vary and have a powerful impact.

ESU research “Bologna with students’ eyes 2015” visualized state of Ukraine in student involvement in universities. Ukrainian students consider that students’ input at institutional and faculty decision-making level is seen but not heard.

Sean O’Reilly from Irish Survey of Student Engagement Project presented the voice of students (results of Irish survey) regarding how to enhance student engagement in governance, what are hindering factors and how to overcome it. Students identified three domains where students can participate in decision-making: 1) Teaching & Learning, 2) Governance & Management, 3) Quality Assurance. The challenges for engagement are: lengths of membership for student representatives are much shorter than for staff in most groups; inclusivity & diversity of wider student body; discussions (& decisions?) often take place in formal and informal settings; parity of esteem; trust.
Olga Andreeva (Russia) identified different from previous authors areas where students are involved at their HEI: 1) general affairs (elections, adopting of University Charter, University strategic programmes etc); 2) academic process (monitoring, scholarship decisions, students discipline, settle of student-professor conflicts, individual plans, academic commissions etc.); 3) economic activities (cost of education, service costs at dorm campus, monitoring of food quality at campus etc.); 4) international activities (participating and initiating of international forums, campaigns for peace and tolerance, against wars, for promoting different cultures); 5) non-academic activities.
Break out session 1 named “Enabling students in university governance” was focused on
• Legal frameworks for students in governance
• Representative bodies (structure, functionality)
• What should be changed (at the university level/at the national level) and why (in structure, legislation, socio-cultural aspects…)
• What are the obstacles
• What are the good practices/examples
Our session primarily aimed at Former Soviet Union countries where Azerbaijan demonstrated strong student self-governance while Moldova demonstrated significant national progress. Discussants noted differences in legislation between countries (not mentioning of students self-governance, nominal roles, roles with secured funding), difference in legislative guarantees for secured funding for student self-governance at university level and different amount of such funding, defined following factors that impede effective student involvement: culture, absence of university regulations, ignoring by administration, insufficient activity of students, non-representative nature of student bodies.
During discussion participants have learnt that though many could be achieved as university level, framework for student involvement and support of university administration are critical and needed. Besides, it is important to do dedicated teaching of students on what is student governance and how it can be achieved, especially at the initial stage.
Topic 2. Students in Quality Assurance
Approaches of students’ involvement in quality assurance were presented through Finnish and Kazakh experiences.
At Finland students are involved in quality assurance as all levels: at course level, at university level and at national level (through Independent Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (KARVI) and national seminars). The key instrument of QA is collecting of vast volume of feedback, its analyzing and proper utilization. Many stages of quality assurance are done by students. Most QA is done at the level of universities that are highly autonomous and by law have to have QA system. The University QA system is subject of national audit.
Quality of education is achievable only if all students are active and not only QA work group student members. Drawback of existing system is that sometimes students become tired of giving feedback.
At Kazakhstan involvement of students in QA was illustrated through functioning of Independent Agency for Accreditation and Rating (IAAR). Students participate in expert panels and accreditation council that takes official decision on accreditation. Kazakhstan has good experience in improving the work of students through structured training seminars to students.
One break out session “Students in QA” was devoted to Systematising and utilizing student feedback under chairman of Jyri Lahdesmaa. Participant offered variety types of feedback that may be generated, source of feedback, instruments for collecting feedback, what kind of information one should look for in order to raise the quality. Also participants reflected what kind of feedback is available at their institutions and how it is used.
Other groups under break-out session had discussions “Student participation in review panels (selection, training, …)” chaired by Sean O’Reilly and “Generating a culture of student involvement in QA” chaired by Eve Lewis.

Day 2. Topic 3. Students in national reform processes
This day was devoted to role of students in educational reform.
Presentation “Students in national reform: Optimising stakeholder dialogue” by Eve Lewis, Director of SPARQS (Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland), reflected highly organised and moderated way of student engagement through work of Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland (SPARQS). The vision of students making a positive and rewarding difference to their own and others’ educational experience, helping shape the nature of learning and contributing to the overall success of Scotland’s universities and colleges is implemented by
• Ensuring that students are able to engage as partners in all levels of assurance and enhancement activities including:
• Commenting on and shaping their own learning experience.
• Taking an active part in formal student engagement mechanisms, including quality processes and strategic decision making.
• Shaping the development of the student experience at national level.

Meruert Narenova presented STUDIK project (Students Self-Governance & Democratic Involvement in Kazakhstan) aimed at supporting creation of student self-governance (SSG) bodies in Kazakhstan and build sustainability of SSG at institutional, regional and national level by means of international project. The project impresses by their effort to cover factors at different levels (from formal regulation to informal competences and attributes) and active teaching. The largest gaps for achieving goal and thus strengthening SSG are understanding of SSG; Lack or no experience of SSG; Difference in culture & traditions.

And finally case study “Israeli national student association: Good practices, success factors, challenges” by Mayaan Hagage, Israeli Students’ Union represents student union that is not only successful self-funded entity merged with commercial project that feeds student union but also a donor for the students. Israeli students focus on 1) social involvement (talking Arabic, financial education courses, LGBT student fraternity, leadership programs); 2) quality of teaching and learning (collaboration with Council of Higher Education). Aside from interesting and successful financial model for self-funding Israeli union impresses with strong social support of students (1400 scholarship recipients) and awarding teachers for excellence. Clear goals for future:
• Enhance quality of teaching and learning in HEI (student-centered learning, learning outcomes, PBL etc.)
• Increase the relevance and value of the academic degrees for the students and labour market needs.
• Strengthen Academia – industry relations (internships, graduates etc.)
• Promote the internationalization of HE system (global competences, students mobility, credit mobility, etc.)

Break out session 3: Students in national reform processes has focused on regional aspects of student involvement in national reform processes.
Conclusions and suggestions / recommendations for Ukraine
1. Implementation. Ukrainian “Law on Higher Education” provides adequate grounds for development of student self-governance (SSG) in Ukraine ad well as provides SSG with sufficient rights. Implementation of principles declared in law is responsibility of autonomous universities and other educational establishments. At the moment no one knows how legal SSG requirements are implemented. Therefore it is important to monitor implementation of student self-governance regulations into practice and make further recommendation based on analysis of status of SSG implementation in Ukraine.
2. Insufficient knowledge. Many SSG bodies in Ukraine to certain extent reproduce Soviet profspilka type of work. This may be due to insufficient awareness of SSG members about what SSG bodies do in other countries, especially in Europe. Therefore, it is desirable to provide SSG members with regular training/workshops and presenting with good practice. It is also desirable to support collaboration of Ukrainian SSGs with foreign counterparts.
3. Culture. Students are not full-fledged partners and this could only change gradually, after students become more active participants of SSG, QA processes, reform processes. Exchanges and internalization of both students and more senior educators should help to change culture in this regard.
4. Infrastructure for students. Narxoz University that is host of present seminar is a good example of nice student infrastructure that strengthens respect towards students and helps students to feel dignity. Change and maintenance of University spaces for the benefit of students (clean, spacious, renovated places for rest, book and computer library, chairs, sports facilities etc) to certain standard should be as obligatory as maintenance of academic standards of higher education. Good-quality and comfortable physical environment leads to development in person of confidence, motivation to train, to lead, desire to improve and finally to SSG.

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