New student engagement unit to be launched

02 July 2013

A new higher education student engagement partnership unit, hosted by the National Union of Students (NUS), will work to involve students more fully as partners in their own higher education.

The unit is jointly funded by HEFCE, NUS, the Association of Colleges and GuildHE. It will work to support a vision of students and their representative bodies as partners in the educational experience. It will support students’ active involvement as partners in the development, management and governance of their institution, its academic programmes and their enhancement, and in their own learning. It will provide a unique partnership between students, NUS, students’ unions, universities and colleges, sector bodies and higher education funders. The unit is expected to be launched in autumn 2013.

Heather Fry, Director of Education, Participation and Students, HEFCE said;

‘We are very pleased to support the unit and look forward to working in partnership with it on such an important agenda. HEFCE’s support for the unit sends a clear message about the importance of a partnership approach between students, their unions, universities and colleges and sector bodies to benefit and enhance the experience and achievement of higher education students. For HEFCE, it is a tangible means of delivering one aspect of our role to promote and protect the collective student interest [Note 2]. It also further strengthens our relationship with NUS.’

Toni Pearce, NUS President, said:

'Students want to be active participants in the creation of their education and should not be relegated to passive consumers of education. We’re excited to host the new student engagement unit and look forward to bringing students’ unions and institutions together to work in partnership. Together we will provide the infrastructure and support to ensure that every student in England, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, young or mature, part-time or full-time, arts or sciences, will be able to take an active role in creating an educational environment in which all students can thrive.'

HEFCE will contribute up to £770,000 in core funding for the unit over the next three years. The Association of College and GuildHE have also agreed to contribute core funding to the unit, together with contributions in kind from NUS. The funders are currently working with NUS to recruit a Director to lead the unit and members for a Steering Group, which will provide input into the direction of the unit’s work. A large number of sector bodies and organisations have collaborated in shaping the unit and will form the steering group along with institutional and student members [Note 3].

The unit will incorporate projects already being undertaken by NUS on behalf of organisations such as HEFCE, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, and the Higher Education Academy, to provide a focal point for such activity.


  1. The unit has drawn heavily on a similar successful Scottish model, Student Participation in Quality Scotland (SPARQS), which has been running for 10 years and whose centralised approach has resulted in national progress. There will be benefits to the English unit from shared practice between the two bodies.
  2. See ‘What does HEFCE do for students?’.
  3. Together with representatives from the unit funders, students, students’ unions and institutions, the Steering Group will include representatives from partner bodies including the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, the Higher Education Academy, the Committee of University Chairs and Universities UK.

Page last updated 2 July 2013

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