By John Adesola (STEER Student Researcher), Liz Chitwood (SHSU Researcher), and Adam Weston (STEER Student Researcher)
The Student Voice Report reflects the Sheffield Hallam student experience through a collection of research conducted by the Students’ Union (SU) throughout the academic year. This is the eighth Student Voice Report written by Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union on behalf of Sheffield Hallam students and sets out clear recommendations which are taken forward through partnership working with the SU and SHU.
The 2017/18 Student Voice Report is a compilation of SU research (including longitudinal journal entries, surveys, focus groups and interviews, indirect feedback, and Student Rep meeting minutes) and is underpinned by external research, national statistics, and research conducted by SHU. This year’s Student Voice Report is categorised into two main chapters: Student Life, which includes mental health, finances, accommodation, and student transition; and Student Voice, which includes differential experiences of student groups, the student representation system, and campus experiences. There are fourteen different recommendations spanning the above mentioned sections, though only four sections are discussed below with a summary and the relevant recommendation.
Have a read of the Student Voice Report, or dive right into some of the most important issues to students listed below…
Student mental health has become a key issue across the Higher Education sector and is undoubtedly a key worry for many students at Sheffield Hallam University as well with 70% of respondents to SHSU’s membership survey revealing they are concerned about their mental health and wellbeing. In addition, the Students’ Union took part in research with fourteen other SU’s from across the UK and Hallam students mental wellbeing is worse in several measures in comparison to the overall student population. Mental health is particularly nuanced and this should be considered in all student support; the answer is certainly not to just encourage students to get out more. The Students’ Union recognises that some steps have already been taken by SHU to continue supporting and improve student wellbeing and this work should be ongoing for students. The Students’ Union recommends that the University works together with the Students’ Union to develop a ‘Mental Health Charter’, ensuring all staff are provided with tools and knowledge to proactively help and support students.
The Students’ Union took part in research conducted by the Office for Students called ‘Value for Money’ which examined tuition fees and the value their degree added. This research found that students were not aware of the financial hardships they may face with tuition fees and other rising costs of Higher Education study. Twenty-four percent of students feel as though they had not been informed on how much going to University would cost. Additionally, money was a main factor that prevents students taking part in extracurricular activities. In an additional survey conducted by the Students’ Union, some students revealed that they would go to extreme lengths to earn money (e.g. medical trials and other means like webcams and gambling). The report also noted that an ever-increasing financial cost is accommodation, particularly for students from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
However, Sheffield Hallam has one of the most comprehensive packages for student financial support, including the Student Success Scholarship and the Student Hardship Fund, although there are still particular groups of students for whom accessing finances is still problematic (e.g. part-time students, distance learning, asylum seekers, and migrants). The report recommended that the following actions are taken: 1) SHU and SHSU to collaborate to help understand gaps in student’s accessibility of extracurricular activities that is more affordable; 2) More research is required by SHU and SHSUS that should be conducted in collaboration to have a greater awareness of the financial issues students are facing and by what means are they are trying to earn money in unsafe ways; and 3) The University should, via most suitable platforms, promote available provisions to help student groups that struggle to access Higher education.
Differential Student Experiences
The report draws upon perceptions of BME students via student voice mechanisms such as the BME committee; the general conception is that the University does not fully appraise the barriers these students may face. Another insight revealed that most BME would not voice their view, as they believe no real action would be taken to address this. In research conducted by the Students’ Union, it revealed that there is a real disconnect between the University and BME students’ feeling comfortable and able to have their say. However, BME students did note that they appreciate efforts made by the University to ensure inclusivity for everyone.
Incidents which occurred last academic year in Sheffield City Centre and at SHU have led to feelings of mistrust and fear in BME students and it’s important to show changes are currently underway, such as work to improve student and staff experience at Hallam through commitment to the Race Equality Charter. It is not just BME students that are struggling whilst at University, there are other marginalised groups such as the LGBT+ students, students with a disability and students from particular POLAR groups that show a higher prevalence for a range of mental health difficulties. The experience should be improved for all students and through improved opportunities for BME students to have their say, which should be facilitated through stronger working relationship between SHU and SHSU. In light of this, the report recommends 1) Ensure that there are equal experiences for BME with more opportunities to voice concerns and a further understanding of cultural differences and 2) SHU and SHSU need to develop more efficient collaboration to sure an evidence based approach is implemented to improve student experience for ‘ marginalised students’.
Students are no longer the passive recipients of knowledge; they are the co-creators of their own learning experiences. Often times, enhancing students experience and engagement require a representative system to help recognise the voices of students and ensure that they are being heard.
The report draws upon the collective actions carried out by Student Reps and the Students’ Union, in improving student life at Sheffield Hallam University. Going by the Students’ Union membership survey, more than three-quarters of the student body are aware of the rep system and its increasing success. However, the findings did reveal few concerns as to the accountability of meetings that Student Reps attend and how the university can ensure that all actions agreed upon are taken up where possible. In essence, it is becoming frustrating for Reps who take the time and effort to raise feedback, but then are subsequently ignored. Also, the findings suggest that there is a lack of clarity as to ways in which issues are escalated. Some faculties have established formal guidelines while others offer less clarity as to how Student Reps can escalate relevant concerns across the University.
Therefore, in light of these findings, the report recommends that the University and the Students’ Union jointly develop clear forms of accountability for Student Rep meetings, with actions recorded clearly and consistently and methods of escalation made clear.