Student Voice

Institutional improvement of higher education quality through student voice

By Eve Bracken-Ingram

At Student Voice, we regard the involvement of students in the decision-making processes as vital for improving quality of education. An article by Strydom and Loots (Source) explores the how a variety of student voice inputs is essential for the development of complex quality improvement initiatives in higher education at an institutional scale.

In recent years, the quality of higher education has been measured by quality of outcome. Hazelkorn, Coates and McCormick (2018) classify quality outcome as the ability of students to meet societal demands via the production of new knowledge, potential for innovation, and possession of employability skills. Additionally, quality outcome can refer to the management of educational institutions including equity of access, participation, and opportunity.

Student voice in higher education can take four forms, (Dunne and Zanstra, 2011):

  • Students as evaluators – Students provide feedback which is used to inform institutional action.
  • Students as participants – Students engage in decision-making through involvement in committees in order to influence change.
  • Students as partners – Students act as collaborative partners in institutional development decisions.
  • Students as agents for change – Students actively promote institutional change, often via activism.

These four forms of student voice in higher education are categorised on a spectrum of ‘voice vs action’ and ‘institution-driven vs student-driven’. Simply, student voice can be distinguished using two headings:

  1. Active engagement and actions to bring about change
  2. Expressing opinions and experiences so institutions can bring in change

It has been argued by that student voice, particularly students as evaluators, may take a performative role within institutions. Additionally, student voice may perpetuate the role of students as a consumer within a higher education framework (Hall, 2018). As such, it is essential that institutions ensure that student voice is actively valued and utilised in the development of educational quality enhancing practices. Typically, action based forms of student voice lead to more tangible student contributions than voice based methods. However, a combination of all methods is most effective for improving higher education quality.

Strydom and Loots explore how student voice can be actively used within institutional design by considering a case study of a South African university. The university developed four practices which aim to increase student engagement and performance including academic advising, an academic tutorial program, a literacy course, and a first-year experience course. These programs uses multiple forms of student voice to inform their continued development:

  • National student surveys
  • Student behavioural data
  • Module evaluations for both students and tutors

The combination of these student voice sources allows for greater understanding of the program from the individual perspective of students partaking in the programs to the overarching national view of students participating in higher education. The use of data analytics further increases the analysis potential. The breadth of voice allows for meaningful change to be applied at a large scale, in addition to responding to individual needs.

A variety of student voice methods are necessary to inform practices which improve quality of higher education. A range of channels for students to express their views increases student engagement and ensures that more voices are acknowledged, particularly at an institutional scale. It is important to note that it is essential that a range of diverse student voices are represented within each method. A combination of approaches to student voice result in a comprehensive bank of evidence which can effectively inform institutional initiatives which improve quality of higher education.


[Source Paper] Strydom, F., Loots, S. (2020). The student voice as contributor to quality education through institutional design. South African Journal of Higher Education, 34(5), 20-34.
DOI: 10.20853/34-5-4263

[1] Hazelkorn, E., Coates, H., and McCormick, A. C. (2018). Research handbook on quality, performance and accountability in higher education. Higher Education, 79, 939–940.
DOI: 10.1007/s10734-019-00442-z

[2] Hall, V. (2017). A tale of two narratives: Student voice – what lies before us?. Oxford Review of Education, 43(2), 180‒193.
DOI: 10.1080/03054985.2016.1264379

Related Entries