FE Colleges Champion the Student Voice
Published: 26 May 2020
The Six Further and Higher Education Colleges across Northern Ireland champion the student voice ensuring that their students are involved in every aspect of college life.
In the mist of COVID-19 the student voice has never been more important. It is by working in partnership with our students, staff and management, that we find real solutions to the powerful barrier to education and learning that the current health pandemic presents.
The FE sector has been empowering their learners by providing appropriate ways of listening to their concerns, interests and needs, in order to develop an excellent educational experience for each and every one of their learners. The Colleges have developed a learning community, operating in an ethos of partnership between learners, staff and senior management.
The Colleges student’s unions are charged with driving the student voice across the College provision. Each year the Colleges implement a number of student voice initiatives to ensure that the student voice is truly embedded within all aspects of college life. Examples of the initiatives include: an elected Student Council and Class Representative system, Student/Staff Consultative Committees, a Student Ambassador Programme, Student Focus Groups, Annual Student Satisfaction Surveys and an elected Student Sabbatical Officer.
The Colleges actively encourage students to get involved, and to voice their queries and concerns. It is through these student voice initiatives, that the student voice directs College decision making.
Across the Further and Higher Education sector, upon enrolment, our students are automatically members of the College’s Students’ Union, and all College Student’s Unions hold membership of the National Union of Students (NUS) - Union of Students in Ireland (USI). The NUS- USI represents the interests of over 200,000 students in Northern Ireland. The sector, works in collaboration with the NUS USI, to ensure that the student voice of the Further and Higher Education student is amplified regionally & nationally.
NUS-USI President Robert Murtagh explains the value of the Student Voice throughout Northern Ireland,
“Students are the heart and soul of the College, so it’s important that the student voice is heard when decisions are made, and is why Class Reps and the Student Council exist. Whether students want more options in the canteen, to start their own club or change how they learn, the Student’s Union is there to effect change. Throughout the NUS’ history it has lobbied for LGBT+ rights, reproductive justice, language rights and of course, for free education. Student Unions exist in every University and College in NI, each creating change within their own institution and campuses.”
FE student James Campbell, studying A-level Economics, English literature and Government and Politics and Student Governor echo’s Robert’s passion for the student voice movement advising that:
“It has been a humbling and exciting challenge to work in this role for the past year, which has only been possible with the support of fellow members of the Student’s Union and College staff. I have been very impressed by the brilliant support structures that are in place for every student. This additional support increases the self-confidence of individual students, and there are innumerable extra-curricular opportunities for students to avail of, from Sport and Exercise Science to Music and IT.
Representing students across College as governor and president has been the biggest honour in all of my educational endeavours thus far. I am able to actively help other students, as well as develop my own employability skills of working with my peers and people at all levels.”
James’s reference to the College support services, is timely in the mist of COVID 19. Through our student voice mechanism, we know that our students may be struggling to cope with the impact of the lockdown and at times may feel completely overwhelmed by the circumstances they find themselves in.
Staff across the sector are working tirelessly to ensure that every effort is being made to support our students through this very difficult time. The Colleges have a wide range of Student Support Services in addition to the Student’s Union (Admissions, Exams, Libraries, Inclusive Learning, Student Wellbeing, Student Counselling, Careers and Employability, Student Funding etc.) all of which have remained open across the lockdown period.
Our message to our students has consistently been from a dual perspective, firstly that it is extremely important to look after yourself, your health and wellbeing, and secondly, that it is important that you keep up with your studies, to keep sight of your ambition, and continue to strive for further future successes.
All six FE Colleges are open for applications to 2020/2021 courses and look forward to welcoming students next academic year. Browse Belfast Met courses here.