Sounding the student voice!

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The student representation pyramid empowers students to ensure the University provides them with the best study experience possible; both sides are winners as the University only gets better while students get an awesome experience!

Students go to university to acquire knowledge and expertise within one or more fields of education after which they get a formal recognition – in the form of degrees – from the university recognising the students’ work.  The university experience is a very unique one as it provides a very conducive platform for students to expand their horizon as far as learning is concerned. The learning process is of course not only limited to lectures and laboratories but also includes non-academic activities like sports, leisure and other extra-curricular activities.  However, despite the university’s attempt to ensure students get an amazing and perfect experience during their studies, it is inevitable that there would be times when things don’t go as planned and hence the need for a ‘student representation’ mechanism.

Here at the University of Southampton, there has been an established student representation system for quite some time and its aim is to provide a platform through which students can raise any concerns they think hampers their learning experience in the University.  Basically, it is a platform that ensures the student voice is not only heard but heard properly.  At Southampton, we have what is called the student representation pyramid which is simply a hierarchy or administrative map showing the four crucial parts of the student representation system.

At the foundation of the student representation pyramid lies the Course Representatives or simply Course Reps.  Every course at the university is expected to have a Course Rep whose role is basically to serve as representative of all students on that course, raising any concerns that may arise during the course of studies.  The Course rep serves as spokesperson for the course and takes up any issue or complaint raised by fellow students.  Issues that could be raised include timetabling, assessment feedback, tutorial sessions, facilities and assessment time line.  However, the Course Rep does not only serve to register student complaints. There is another very important role this person plays which is to convey suggestions from students on how to improve the course.  This role of providing feedback to the University is taken very seriously by the University and is probably one of the reasons why the University of Southampton has been a great place to study at!

Next on the hierarchy and directly above the Course Reps sits the Academic President who serves to represent all students within an academic unit.  In essence, he or she is more or less the Senior Course Rep for an academic unit and works with all course reps within the academic unit to represent all courses to the Academic unit heads.  Part of the Academic President’s role also involves supporting Course Reps in their roles and ensuring their work goes as smoothly as possible.  The Academic President liaises with the two higher officers in the student representation hierarchy as well as Academic unit staff such as the Director of Programmes and Programme leaders.  Programme leaders are members of staff in charge of making sure particular courses run properly while the former is in charge of ensuring all courses run properly.  All courses have Programme leaders.  In all, there are 32 Academic Units within the University of Southampton which are grouped into 8 faculties.

The next level after that of Academic President is that of Faculty Officer whose role it is to oversee and support the Academic Presidents within the Faculty and in addition, to liaise with Faculty staff and the other officer who sits atop the student representation hierarchy.  All academic units in the university are grouped into Faculties; the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering (FPSE) groups together the Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) and the Physics and Astronomy (PA) academic units.  At the top of the student representation hierarchy sits the SUSU Vice President for Academic Affairs whose main role is to ensure all University of Southampton students get an excellent student experience during their time here.  This officer accomplishes this (or tries to), by working with all arms of the hierarchy and this to me is probably one of the most important roles played by SUSU; helping to continuously improve the quality of our degrees by keeping the University on its toes!

In my time at the University of Southampton, I have been privileged to have been involved in the two lower levels of the hierarchy having served as Course Rep at different times and then as Academic President in the 2012/2013 academic year.  These roles provided me with a unique opportunity to better appreciate the efforts invested by the University to ensure that students get the best student experience possible.  It also enabled me work with many academics, members of staff and students on a variety of issues and projects.  There were times when as student reps we were involved in focus group activities to provide feedback and insight into new ideas and innovations – some of which were ‘classified’ – that the university was planning to roll out in the future!

I am grateful for the experience and privilege to have represented my colleagues on several occasions and would continuously cherish those moments.  The support and understanding from members of staff and lecturers was also very encouraging.  In these roles I have met many people, attended a myriad of meetings, participated in several discussions and worked on several complaints but above all I would like to think that the greatest reward (if there is any at all) is the thought that somehow I was able to have been part (no matter how small) of providing the solution to a problem faced by my colleagues.  In the end, it’s all about ensuring the student voice is heard!  It is my hope that I have helped amplify that voice by a few decibels!  I welcome any questions you may have about student representation; just drop me a line.

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