Working with students for students: Engaging all student voices in tertiary institution decision making in Australia

Sally Varnham1

1Professor of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Student engagement in decision making and governance in tertiary institutions:  what, why and how?

These questions were the focus of research funded by the Australian Government under a Project and then a National Senior Teaching Fellowship.

The Project investigated the case for more systemic inclusion of student voice in decision making in Australian institutions.  Motivated by the need for a deep consideration of how engagement of student voice may enhance the quality and standards of the institution, the student experience and their professional development, the research investigated current student engagement in Australia against a background of research, policy and practice in the UK, Europe and New Zealand.   It considered how there may be authentic engagement of students’ views at all levels and of all cohorts across the wide diversity of Australian universities and their student populations.

It determined that while Australia was behind in engaging its students in decision-making, there were pockets of exemplary practice and a strong interest in the sector in doing more.  The ensuing Fellowship then enabled a sector-wide collaboration to develop Principles and a Framework to facilitate student partnership.

The momentum this research gathered in the sector has led to a collaboration between ten institutions known as the Student Voice Australia Pilot Project.

In this presentation I will outline the Project, the Fellowship and the Pilot as the way forward to sustainable student partnership.  I will be joined in conversation by a group of international students who will give their perspectives on engaging the voices of international students in institutional decision making in Australia.


Sally Varnham is Professor of Law, University of Technology Sydney.  She researches law and policy in education and is widely published in Australia and abroad.   Sally is co-editor of “Higher Education and the Law” (Federation, 2015) and co-author of “Law for Educators: School and University Law in Australia” (LexisNexis, 2007).

In 2015 Sally was awarded an OLT Strategically Commissioned Priority grant for a project:  Student Engagement in University Decision-Making and Governance: towards a more systemically inclusive student voice.   She is currently a National Senior Teaching Fellow and her Fellowship is entitled: Creating a National Framework for Student Partnership in University Decision-Making and Governance.  In 2017 she undertook a national sector-wide collaboration which resulted in Students and Tertiary Education Providers Undertaking Partnership (STEPUP for quality enhancement).  This comprises a set of Principles and a Framework to assist facilitation of student voice in university decision-making.  She is currently working on the establishment of a Student Voice Australia pilot project.


ISANA International Education Association is the representative body for professionals in Australia and New Zealand who work in international student services, advocacy, teaching and policy development in international education. For more information, please visit the ISANA website.

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