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6 February 2023

Staff-student partnership working - exploring how staff are supported



Dan Axson

Learning Technologies Manager, University of Sussex


Professor Susan Smith

Professor (Education), School of Management, University College London


Staff-student partnership working is an approach that uses collaboration between staff and students in the design of teaching, learning and assessment. 

How are staff prepared for student-staff partnerships?

Colleagues from the University of Sussex, University College London, University of Brighton, and the University of Salford are working together to address the challenge of preparing staff for student-staff partnerships as part of a 2023 QAA Collaborative Enhancement Project. Our institutions, like many across the sector, have been engaged in such collaborative endeavours, as university strategies increasingly seek to embed student-staff partnership working as part of institutional innovation programmes. Find out more about the team at the bottom of this post. The team comprises colleagues who have responsibilities for student-staff partnerships at their institutions, those who published articles in this area, and those who have experience as staff partners. All team members have been brought together by their passion for the transformative power of partnership working.

The challenge we're addressing

While it is recognised that institutional terminology around partnership varies (for example, at the partner institutions some of the following terms have been adopted: Connectors, Changemakers, Inclusive Practice Partners), it is generally agreed that partnership working is a process - one in which establishing the values of partnership working is critical for success. Project inception and facilitation, certainly in the early stages, is predominantly a staff-focused activity. Therefore, staff are integral to the ability to not only successfully scale student-staff partnership working across institutions, but to embed partnership values, all while acting as de facto project managers; a skill set that spans disciplines and cannot be assumed in all colleagues. The risk of not adequately preparing staff for such an activity creates the risk that student-staff partnerships remain small-scale, with staff partners typically drawn from the most engaged groups of staff.

How we're going to do it

We'll initially be looking outward, carrying out a focused literature review to ascertain the big picture of the varied approaches to preparing staff. We'll also be looking outside of tertiary education into literature and guidance around project management, design principles, and building and managing effective teams. Our aim is to identify and bring together existing best practice in these areas to support efforts to prepare staff for partnership projects. We'll also be recruiting student partners from each institution and carrying out interviews with participants of partnership activities across our organisations to capture insights from their experiences.

What we aspire to achieve at this stage

First and foremost, the team aspires to generate something tangible, adaptable and scalable in the form of a toolkit that can be used in any staff-student partnerships context that can be utilised to ensure staff are as prepared as possible to ensure these projects are successful and, crucially, values of partnership are established and maintained. Not forgetting the skills gap between early adopters of university initiatives and those who the initiatives wish to go on to target.

Meet the team