Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, university workers across the sector are increasingly familiar with announcements of restructures, job losses and strategy resets. There is a consensus that, while the specifics of change are distinct to each university, many universities are likely to be smaller, more focused, and under severe financial strain.

How do we safeguard the student experience in the midst of this tumult and upheaval? The ability to deeply understand student or user experiences first requires sustained dialogue and collaboration. Universities are no longer in any financial position to assume what students want. The most effective way to know what students need, expect or desire is to engage with them in genuine partnership.

Shifts to on-line learning have created new, and potentially scalable, spaces for university staff and students to work together efficiently and collaboratively to reimagine the post-COVID-19 landscape. Using techniques such as online co-design workshops, online students mentoring staff programs, or crowdsourcing models, universities can bypass traditional barriers to partnership, such as classroom or part-time job time clashes, to create asynchronous involvement where students can share ideas and voice concerns.

In fact, through on-line partnership models, universities are in a unique position to foster both engagement and belongingness at a time when many students feel disconnected. Involving students in key decisions, from planning graduation events to redesigning subjects for on-line delivery, can also provide a critical value-add in supporting students’ employability. Employment forecasts underscore the importance of helping students gain the necessary skills to secure future work: technical and transferable skills such as those gained in online partnership of digital literacy, communication, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking, agility, creativity and empathy to drive innovation for “new ways of working and a more flexible culture”.

Critics may argue on-line partnership is a regression to tokenistic forms of representation. But student feedback and consultation are only tokenistic if universities don’t listen and act. Worse than writing off practice because it smells like consumerism is leading a university into change without including its largest majority of stakeholders.

Dr Mollie Dollinger, Lecturer, La Trobe University

[email protected]


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