A look around at how different colleges in this country treats students reveals just how unclear the relationship between the student body and the governance of our institutions really is. Often students are shut out of the decision-making process completely. While some students’ unions have representatives on nearly all college committees, others see students sitting on none, with the largest cohort of the college having zero say in decisions that will affect their studies and their day-to-day lives.
One recent, and particularly tangible, example is the one of University College Cork’s (UCC) College Management Team deciding to close the “Old College Bar”, a decision decried by the students’ union, who have no representative on the committee.
It would be a mistake to assume that merely having a student on a committee would be enough to stop unpopular decisions being made. Having representatives on Dublin Institutes of Technology’s (DIT) Governing Body committee hasn’t prevented the current situation, with DIT’s students’ union likely to go at least three months without funding. Including student representatives on the committee isn’t enough to ensure that their views will be listened to, nor does it do enough to dispel the attitude that students are a nuisance.
But too often we see an “us vs them” mentality between students and college administration, whether that be the perception that students simply get in the way of college plans, or that staff and students will always automatically disagree.
The fact is that, while often not treated as such, students are key stakeholders within the college community, and need to be treated with the respect that comes with such a position, in the same way that other stakeholders so often are. Trinity’s governance structures, while not without their flaws, serve to reflect this in some way. At University Council, for example, alongside staff representatives from each faculty, and from other key stakeholders such as the Senior Tutor’s Office, we see student undergraduate and postgraduate representatives at the table.
A HEA report produced earlier this year recognised that students are key stakeholders within colleges, calling for students to be involved in institutional decision-making. Rather than treating students as a nuisance, or a group that can be pushed around, it’s time colleges recognised that student leaders, just like every staff representative, simply have a job to do.