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What is a partnership?

Put simply, a partnership is when people or organisations work together to realise shared objectives. Partnerships can be short-term and project-based, or they can become a sustainable culture of working. Working in partnership with Students’ Unions can help create an accessible and empowering higher education environment.

Daniel Asaya: SUBU President (Students' Union at Bournemouth University)

Working in partnership is a cornerstone of widening participation policy and practice. In the national strategy for access and student success, greater collaboration and partnership at every level is seen as central to the implementation of effective practice.
Partnership approaches for widening participation have focused on collaborating with schools and colleges for the development, facilitation and evaluation of outreach activity.
Guidance from the Office for Fair Access makes it clear that working in partnership is something that works across all areas of higher education.

Are students’ voices and experiences central to your research?
Could an academic make your campaign more successful?
Are students represented in your project strategy?


Building and sustaining partnerships within institutions – between practitioners, academics, students, Unions and policymakers – is vital for understanding what effective practice looks like in your context.

James Palfreman-Kay: Equality and diversity adviser | Charlie Souter-Phillips: Vice President Welfare | Matthew Tonge: Equality Coordinator

Partnerships help achieve organisational change within institutions because they require different ways of working and interacting with people in less hierarchical ways.
Effective partnerships can be characterised by people or organisations with different perspectives and expertise but with shared values working together to achieve shared objectives.
Central to any partnership is mutual trust and respect for different ways of knowing and working. Having clearly defined roles and responsibilities, sharing resources and burden equitably and transparently is vital.
Partnerships are about working and learning together for a shared purpose.
A successful partnership will be voluntarily entered into, work with mutual trust and respect in order to build consensus and share ownership.



Why work with Students’ Unions?

Students’ Unions are organisations led by students for students. They have a unique insight into the lived experiences of all students.
The commitment to equity, social justice and democracy that is at the heart of the student movement is a commitment shared by those working in the area of widening participation.

“…the SU can offer input in other Access and WP projects that can increase student motivation by introducing aspects of student experience outside academic life but within HE settings”

Unions and parent institutions share common objectives; they are allies and critical friends, with different insights and expertise.

Joff Cooke: Head of Student Engagement, Caston Matewu: Democracy and Equality Manager and Jane De Vekey: Insight and Policy Manager for Student Union

The unique relationship with students that Unions have can help nurture a culture of belonging, through engagement with academic societies and social clubs, student representative systems and other student engagement mechanisms. Unions have rich insight and data about student experiences that could be useful for widening participation researchers and practitioners.

The NUS, in partnership with the sector, run The Student Engagement Partnership that outlines some core principles of student engagement. These recognise that all institutions and Unions are different from each other, with different needs, challenges and ideals. The core principles of engagement offer an over-arching framework for engaging students in all areas of the higher education experience.

Sam Honnoraty: Student Rep Champion Faculty of Media and Communication

Hints and Tips:

• Every Union is different – work with those differences
• Share data and knowledge
• Co-create research with students
• Cross-professional learning can reduce costs
• Fund targeted partnership posts
• Learn from Union campaigning strategies
• Use social media to raise awareness;
• Share widening participation activity with the Students’ Union
• Academic societies can facilitate a sense of belonging
• Peer/near peer role models are effective in engaging hard to reach students


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