Skip to main content
Queen Mary Academy

Students as partners

Education and the Student Experience: Ensure that the holistic education and learning experience we provide is world-leading, co-created with students and employers as appropriate, and reflects our diverse and international community. To deliver our cutting-edge curricula, we will develop, implement and promote new pedagogical approaches using the latest, or our own bespoke, technological advances to enhance the student experience.

Student Engagement: We continually seek feedback from and work with our students to ensure that the curriculum, pedagogic approaches, assessment and feedback, and academic advising processes support the learner journey.

Learning environment: Work with our students in the development, implementation and promotion of technological advances, continually focusing on enhancing the student learner journey.

(QMUL Strategy 2030)


What is student-staff partnership?

(Mercer-Mapstone & Marie 2019, p.7)

Student-staff partnership (SSP or ‘partnership’, also commonly known as ‘students as partners’) is a way of thinking and practicing in higher education that re-positions students and staff as active collaborators in the diverse processes of teaching and learning – empowering students to be actively engaged in, and share the responsibility for, their own education (Cook-Sather, Bovill & Felten 2014)

Universities traditionally engage with students by listening to the ‘student voice’: asking students for their perspectives via surveys or course evaluations. Students as partners moves beyond seeing student perspectives as a source of data. Partnership actively engages students in the design, delivery, evaluation, decision-making, governance, and enhancement of teaching and learning (Healey, Flint & Harrington 2014)

SSP are values-based practices founded on:

  • a way of thinking that positions students as partners, experts, and colleagues in – rather than evaluators of – teaching and learning (Kay, Dunne & Hutchinson 2010)
  • a way of engaging where teaching and learning is something that is done with, rather than done to, students (ITaLI 2016)
  • a way of working that nourishes partnerships based on respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility (Cook-Sather, Bovill & Felten 2014)

Importantly, partnership positions both students and staff as having different but equally valuable expertise to contribute to the process of teaching and learning (Cook-Sather, Bovill & Felten 2014; Bovill, Cook‐Sather & Felten 2011).


Why is student engagement through partnership important?

(HEA 2015)

Partnership approaches to student engagement are important for:

Student learning

  • to enable and empower all students to engage deeply;
  • to enhance employability through developing high level knowledge, behaviours and skills;
  • to engender a sense of belonging; vital for retention and success.

Staff engagement

  • to renew engagement with learning and teaching enhancement;
  • to transform thinking about learning and teaching practices as collaborative processes;
  • to deepen understanding of academic community.


  • as a powerful alternative to traditional relationships in higher education;
  • to prompt reflection on implicit assumptions about learning processes and the people within them;
  • to open up new spaces for learning, dialogue and inquiry.


  • to develop self-sustaining communities defined by shared goals and values.
  • focus on collaborative and active learning (e.g. flipping the classroom, experiential learning, community and work related learning);
  • give students a level of choice and ownership;
    • place students in different roles (e.g. as tutors, mentors or assessors)


Framework for student engagement through partnership

(HEA 2015, The Higher Education Academy Framework Series)

This framework offers a structure for thinking about and planning for student engagement through partnership in learning and teaching in higher education (HE). The framework and set of partnership values provides a mechanism to support the development and enhancement of partnerships between students and staff, among students, and between higher education providers (HEPs) and their students’ unions, associations or guilds. The framework places community at the heart of individual and collective partnerships and describes shared values which are embodied in practice, and supported by structures, processes and policies.


Staff Student Partnerships 




How is the framework structured? (HEA 2015)

The framework illustrates four overlapping areas of focus where partnerships may be fostered. The left-hand side emphasises partnership in student experiences of learning, teaching and research. The right
hand side emphasises partnership in the enhancement and scholarship of learning and teaching. Embedding partnership as an ethos requires a holistic approach, with attention to all four areas of focus. Community
is integral to developing a culture of partnership. Therefore, partnership learning communities are at the heart of the framework.


Partnership learning communities (HEA 2015)

As partnership acknowledges students and staff as learners, scholars and colleagues, it invites critical reflection on existing relationships, identity, processes and structures. For partnership to be embedded and sustained beyond documentation and initiatives, it needs to become part of the
culture and ethos of the institution. Developing strong partnership-learning communities is a way of doing this. These communities facilitate deep connections between staff and students and bring partnership values to life. All members should co-create and contribute to the development and direction of the community.


Areas of focus (HEA 2015)

Learning, teaching and assessment: engaging students through partnership casts students as active participants in their learning. Partnership approaches:

  • focus on collaborative and active learning (e.g. flipping the classroom, experiential learning, community and work related learning);
  • give students a level of choice and ownership;
  • place students in different roles (e.g. as tutors, mentors or assessors)and as co-designers of learning materials and resources.

Curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy: students are commonly engaged through programme evaluations and staff-student committees. Partnership approaches involve students in the formal processes of course design, revalidation, and professional development for staff.

Subject-based research and inquiry: engaging students as co-researchers and co-inquirers can involve all students on a programme learning through research, or selected students working with staff on extra- curricular research projects. Partnership approaches:

  • involve students directly in knowledge production within their discipline community (e.g. through enquiry and problem-based learning, research based assessments, and ‘live projects’);
  • provide opportunities for students to share their research publicly (e.g. through undergraduate research journals, blogs and conferences).

Scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL): inquiring into learning, teaching and assessment in partnership with students is one of the five principles of good practice in SoTL. Partnership approaches:

  • involve students at all stages of the SoTL process; from co-designing research questions to acting on research findings;
  • cast students as co-researchers not just subjects of research.


Partnership values (HEA 2015)

The values which underpin successful student engagement through partnership are:

Authenticity: the rationale for all parties to invest in partnership is meaningful and credible.

Honesty: all parties are honest about what they can contribute to partnership and about where the boundaries of partnership lie.

Inclusivity: there is equality of opportunity and any barriers (structural or cultural) that prevent engagement are challenged.

Reciprocity: all parties have an interest in, and stand to benefit from working and/or learning in partnership.

Empowerment: power is distributed appropriately and ways of working and learning promote healthy power dynamics.

Trust: all parties take time to get to know one-another and can be confident they will be treated with respect and fairness.

Courage: all parties are encouraged to critique and challenge practices, structures and approaches that undermine partnership, and are enabled to take risks to develop new ways of working and learning.

Plurality: all parties recognise and value the unique talents, perspectives and experiences that individuals contribute to partnership.

Responsibility: all parties share collective responsibility for the aims of the partnership, and individual responsibility for the contribution they make.


How can this framework be used? (HEA 2015)

This framework can be used flexibly, reflecting institutional context and priorities, to enhance practice and policy.

Research: framing research into partnership, mapping of current practice and benchmarking across and between institutions.

Review: assessing institutional readiness for partnership and exploring the relationship between an institution and its students’ union, association or guild.

Curriculum design: informing validation and course approval processes, reviewing the curriculum and making pedagogic decisions.

Engagement: developing a sense of community among students and staff and developing ground rules for partnership meetings and initiatives.

Planning: developing meaningful strategies and policies and planning or reflecting on specific initiatives.

Professional development: informing professional development for staff, students’ union staff and student partners.


Student roles

Bovill and colleagues (2016) defined a typology of student roles in co-creation of L&T:

(1) consultant - sharing and discussing valuable perspectives on learning and teaching;

(2) co-researcher- collaborating meaningfully on teaching and learning research or subject-based research with staff;

(3) pedagogical co-designer - sharing responsibility for designing learning, teaching and assessment;

(4) representative - student voices contributing to decisions in a range of university settings.

These roles are not mutually exclusive; indeed, significant overlap may occur. For example, students engaged as consultants with staff to reflect on teaching practice may also be co-researchers on a scholarship of teaching and learning project.’

More recently, Bovill (2020, p.1024) has described an even wider variation in the types of co-creation being enacted around the world, with work focusing on different activities, actors, and aims, for example:

  • students co-researching university-wide projects and acting as change agents
  • students undertaking research and scholarship projects with staff
  • student representatives collaborating with university staff on committees for quality assurance and enhancement purposes
  • students participating in course design review committees
  • students as consultants providing feedback on teaching observations
  • students designing their own essay titles
  • students and teachers co-assessing work
  • students co-designing courses and curricula
  • students co-evaluating courses
  • students and staff writing collaboratively
  • students involved in teaching and designing academic development work

 Bovill (2020) points out that the predominant focus in the international literature has been on partnership projects that select small groups of often already super-engaged or privileged students to participate. In contrast, co-creation in learning and teaching, embedded within the curriculum and involving a whole class of students, has been largely overlooked. 

According to the author, there is a need to explore the potential of co-creating learning and teaching with a whole class of students (including face-to-face, blended, and online settings, and including lectures, tutorials, laboratories, and other methods of teaching): co-creation as integral to students’ programmes and courses of study and more inclusive of students than other approaches to co-creation (this approach both relies upon, and contributes towards, building positive relationships between staff and students, and between students and students).



(Main) Benefits – For students

  • Enhanced motivation, confidence and enthusiasm
  • Enhanced responsibility for and ownership of own learning
  • Raised awareness of the learning and teaching processes
  • Development of metacognitive awareness and sense of identity
  • Development of critical thinking and a wide range of transferable skills


(Main) Benefits – For staff

  • Enhanced enthusiasm and motivation
  • Enhanced reflective process about teaching and learning processes
  • Raised awareness of thinking about and practices of teaching
  • Raised self-awareness, and more knowledgeable and sensitive to respond to student learning needs



(Some) Challenges

  • Resistance to change and innovation
  • Institutional structures and cultures
  • Inclusive approach and practices
  • Change in power dynamics
  • Sustainability
  • Finding ‘the right’ forms of partnerships (and being creative)



Baxter Magolda, M. B., and King P. M. (2004) Learning partnerships: Theory and models of practice to educate for self-authorship. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Bovill, C. (2020) Co-creation in learning and teaching: the case for a whole-class approach in higher education. Higher Education, 79:1023–1037 1025.

Bovill, C. (2016) Addressing potential challenges in co-creating learning and teaching: overcoming resistance, navigating institutional norms and ensuring inclusivity in student–staff partnerships. Higher Education, 71(2), 195-208.

Bovill, C., Morss, K., & Bulley, C.J. (2009) Should students participate in curriculum design? Discussion arising from a first year curriculum design project and a literature review. Pedagogic Research in Maximising Education, 3(2), 17-26.

Bovill, C., Bulley, C.J., & Morss, K. (2011) Engaging and empowering first-year students through curriculum design: perspectives from the literature. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(2), 197-209.

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., and Felten, P. (2014) Engaging students as partners in teaching & learning: A guide for faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Curran, R., & Millard, L. (2016) A partnership approach to developing student capacity to engage and staff capacity to be engaging: opportunities for academic developers. International Journal for Academic Development, 21(1), 67-78.

Deeley, S.J., & Bovill, C. (2015) Staff student partnership in assessment: enhancing assessment literacy through democratic practices, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 1-15.

Dunne, E., Zandstra, R., Brown, T. and Nurser, T. (2011) Students as change agents: new ways of engaging with learning and teaching in higher educationESCalate (Education Subject Centre of the Higher Education Academy). University of Exeter, corp creators.

Healey, M., A. Flint, and K. Harrington (2014) Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. York: Higher Education Academy. Available from:

Higher Education Academy (2015) Framework for student engagement through partnership. Available from:

ITaLI (2016) About Students as Partners [cited 2016 7 October]; Available from: partners.

Kay, J., E. Dunne, and J. Hutchinson (2010) Rethinking the values of higher education - students as change agents? Gloucester: QAA and University of Exeter.

Mercer-Mapstone, L. and Abbot, S. (2020) The Power of Partnership. Students, Staff, and Faculty Revolutionizing

Higher Education.  Elon University Center for Engaged Learning. Elon: North Carolina.

Mercer-Mapstone, L. and Marie, J. (2019) Practical Guide: Scaling up student-staff partnerships in higher education. Institute for Academic Development: University of Edinburgh.

Neary, M., and Winn, J. (2009) The student as producer: Reinventing the student experience in higher education. In L. Bell, H. Stevenson and M. Neary (Eds.) The future of higher education: Policy, pedagogy and the student experience (pp. 126–138). London: Continuum.

Neary, M., Saunders, G., Hagyard, A. and Derricott, D. (2010) Student as Producer research-engaged teaching, an institutional strategy. York: Higher Education Academy.