Attending the International Students as Partners Institute 2018 in Ontario, Canada
Being part of the Students as Co-Creators Research Project has been one of the best opportunities that came into my life since I joined higher education in the United Kingdom.
Students as Co-Creators means a lot to me because through this project I have found multiple possibilities to penetrate the world of education and understand where it needs to be improved. It has been a great learning process and I have gained a lot of self-confidence to go further on a journey about non formal and informal education and student partnership. Needless to say that I have created impactful bonds with project partners that have supported me throughout the entire process.
As I embarked on this partnership journey I have also became an ambassador and was given the chance to join Dr. Jennifer Fraser and Moonisah Usman, the University of Westminster student partnership leaders, along with my colleague Satya at the International Students as Partners Institute workshop in Hamilton, Canada. And so we travelled all the way from London, for four days full of discussions, debates, idea sharing and inspiration.
As I am still at the beginning of my partnership journey it was very useful to understand why we do this partnership and what exactly it means. The people that travelled from all over the world came with many ideas and descriptions of what a partnership is supposed to be and I learned that it is an empowering activity and that we work together to … work together, there is also a lot of personal development involved and valuing each others experiences and knowledge. It is a community of students and staff who work together as partner, have shared goals and are finally, being part of a movement.
We do student partnership to engage, create a dialogue and improve an environment in which both students and academic staff are developing in. We do it because there is enough space for better quality of education and student and staff satisfaction. It emerges both bodies to interact, learn how to respect each other, value each others experiences and learn, learn, learn! It is crucial to keep learning.
But… there is a question. How do you motivate these people to take part in this whole roller coaster? Well, that’s what we’ve been discussing at ISAPI 2018 for a few days. We’ve been looking at ways to understand how to make people engage, what benefits would they want to have and how to get them.
Partnership can be very different, depending on the culture it comes from. Sometimes it can be shaped as peer to peer feedback or it can be research projects in which academics and students work together. In all the cases, it is about collaboration and connecting at different levels out of the ordinary.
The workshop has been a great, very long brainstorming session for me as I was looking for answers – What research should I do next? What subject should I tackle? How to approach this and that? Whom to work with? What is relevant to research? How can I use all my skills and knowledge to go over the borders? What could I do to make an impact in the institutions in my country? Most of these questions were receiving answers as the workshop went on and on and I decided to make a small step first and then maybe I will be able to change the world. But first, I have a mission, to start my second research with the Students as Co-Creators.
All the sessions I attended, discussions I had, talks I have listened to and people I met have had such a huge impact on me that I was always getting back to the hotel and thinking “Ok, I need to organise this information and start doing”. The whole event has been facilitated with passion and desire to share and develop and it has definitely created a safe/brave space for everyone to openly talk about their projects, their challenges and ask for ideas about what they could be doing!
The last day brought the students and staff the opportunity of getting in front of the audience and speak. We were part of a panel and discussed multiple situations in partnership. One of the main questions that gave me a lot of thoughts was related to ways of including every student in partnership and IF that would be feasible. And the panel’s conclusion was that you can’t include anyone, as not everyone has the same needs and values, but you can definitely open up partnership to everyone and all of us have a choice of whether to join or not.
With this being said, I believe that I still have a lot to learn about students as partners and I am more excited about working in education than I have never been before. And together with the Westminster co creators, I hope that we will be able to bring our skills and knowledge together and create a better environment and bring enough resources to host more strategic partnerships and create better relationships between academic staff and students.
Text and photos by Ruxandra Cālin, June 2018