Elevating the student voice: a catalyst for transformative change in the independent sector

Peter Sharpe, IHE Student Board Member and Chair of the Student Advisory Board (SAB), reflects on work over the past year to ensure the student voice is given the platform it deserves.

As the Chair of the Student Advisory Board (SAB) and Student Board Member for IHE, I have been granted the incredible privilege of leading an impassioned team committed to ensuring that the voices of students resonate loud and clear, catalysing meaningful impact within the independent higher education sector. This past year has been a whirlwind of unwavering dedication, as we have tackled critical issues head-on and spearheaded positive change on multiple fronts.

Raising awareness

One of our most significant triumphs has been our contribution to the national dialogue surrounding the crippling student cost-of-living crisis. Through our comprehensive evidence-based submission to the APPG for Students' 2023 Inquiry into the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on students, we elevated the unique challenges faced by students at independent providers. This strategic move was instrumental in raising widespread awareness via a prominent platform and galvanizing support for the development of tangible, impactful solutions to address the financial hardships that have become an all too common reality for countless students.

Furthermore, we have been actively engaged in the Office for Students (OfS) consultations on freedom of speech, a topic of paramount importance. As independent students, it is imperative that our diverse perspectives and lived experiences help shape the policies that will directly influence our academic journeys and overall experiences of higher education. By bringing our fresh viewpoints to the table, we enrich these discussions, fostering more inclusive and representative outcomes that resonate with the needs of the student body.

Promoting transparency

Recognising the critical importance of open dialogue and transparency, we have engaged in direct meetings with officials at the Department for Education (DfE). During these candid discussions, we addressed head-on the prevailing student perception of the OfS. We made it abundantly clear that for the OfS to uphold its mandate of ensuring quality and maintaining standards effectively, it must be adequately funded and provided with the necessary resources. Students should be able to place their trust in the OfS; any shortcomings in support threaten to undermine this relationship.

The current consultation on the Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) for non-medical helpers is another area where we have raised our voices with unwavering determination. Far too often, disabled students encounter numerous barriers and obstacles when attempting to access the support they require, and their voices are frequently silenced. By amplifying their struggles and advocating tirelessly on their behalf, we are working towards the creation of a truly accessible and inclusive higher education system – one that embraces and empowers individuals of all abilities, providing equal opportunities for growth and success.

Mental health support within higher education institutions has also been a key area of focus. We have advocated for a human-centric approach, actively listening to and learning from those facing mental health challenges in developing support services that are not only comprehensive but also compassionate and impactful. While the challenges are undoubtedly immense, we firmly believe that institutions have a moral and ethical obligation to prioritise student well-being, finding innovative solutions to provide effective support that fosters a nurturing environment conducive to personal growth and academic achievement.

Students must be at the vanguard of decisions that shape their educational journeys and experiences

Amplifying diverse perspectives

At the heart of this year's endeavours lies a fundamental belief: students must be at the vanguard of decisions that shape their educational journeys and experiences. By amplifying our diverse perspectives and advocating for our collective needs, we can drive transformative change towards a higher education system that truly serves and empowers its students – creating an environment where every individual has the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive in a meaningful and fulfilling way.

We owe immense gratitude to IHE for their unwavering support and steadfast commitment to ensuring that the student voice is given the prominent platform it deserves. They have set an exemplary standard for the entire sector, demonstrating that students must have a real seat at the table, their voices heard and valued as integral contributors to the decision-making processes that impact their lives.

Reshaping the narrative

As we look ahead, the Student Advisory Board remains resolute in its dedication to safeguarding student interests and ensuring that our collective voice resonates with profound clarity and conviction. We will continue our work on the critical issues that students face, collaborating with key stakeholders and forging strategic partnerships to pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future for all.

By elevating the student voice and driving transformative change, we are gradually reshaping the higher education landscape, creating an experience that genuinely serves and empowers its students and an environment where every individual, irrespective of background or circumstance, has the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive in a meaningful and fulfilling way. 

It is a journey that has only just begun, and we are committed to sustaining this momentum, fuelled by the belief that our voices hold the power to reshape the narrative and create a higher education system that truly reflects the needs and aspirations of all students.

Peter Sharpe

Peter Sharpe is IHE's Student Board Member and Chair of the Student Advisory Board

Peter Sharpe professional headshot

Peter is currently enrolled at the College of Legal Practice and has previously studied at Vilnius University in Lithuania and at the University of Oslo in Norway, as part of an Erasmus exchange.

With thanks to IHE Partner Coole Insight Ltd,  who provide secretarial support to the SAB and offer guidance, mentoring and development opportunities to SAB members during their time in office.

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