Student Voice

The role of student voice role in equity in higher education

By Eve Bracken-Ingram

At Student Voice we believe that equity in higher education is a cornerstone of educational research. Often student equity is focused on access to higher education but, while this is important, the entire student experience must be considered to increase equity within higher education. It is accepted that giving voice to marginalised groups is key to social movements and as such essential to universities committed to increasing student equity. The 2011 paper by McLeod (Source) considers the concept of student voice, reflects upon the use of voice and discusses the potential limitations of utilising voice as a tool to increase equity in higher education.

Voice is an incredibly ambiguous term with many definitions, covering the values, experiences, and opinions of people. Therefore, it is easier to define voice by its aim, which can be identified as four main categories within education:

  1. Voice-as-strategy
  2. Voice-as-participation
  3. Voice-as-difference
  4. Voice-as-right

Simply, these definitions highlight the ability of voice to allow students to achieve empowerment and equality, participate in democratic processes and learning, respect diversity and to be heard. Although these benefits are substantial, there is limited research on the link between voice in higher education and equity. In order to address this gap, McLeod explores three related areas (social and participatory research, critical pedagogy, and feminist and postcolonial interventions) to determine the limitations of voice and identify lessons which could potentially be integrated into transformation of student voice within higher education equity initiatives. Several issues were identified throughout this investigation:

  • It is very difficult to prevent power differences from affecting social research. Researcher’s opinions often influence or overshadow the voice of the research participant.
  • It is possible that speaking on behalf of a marginalised person may in fact increase oppression of the group spoken for.
  • When calling for diverse voices, care must be taken to not create further divide, enforce stereotypes or ignore social differences within marginalised groups.

The impact of student voice is not determined by the speaker, but by the listener. Social, cultural, and institutional differences dictate what is heard, recognised, and understood. As such, voice should be considered as a mutual act of speaking and listening. In the context of higher education, this draws attention to the responsibility of universities to actively listen to student perspectives, recognise diversity within education and act upon the views of students to increase equity within higher education institutions.

In summary, student voice is essential to ensure equity in higher education. Although care must be taken to ensure student voice is accessible to all students, it should certainly not be treated as a problem only for marginalised groups. It is essential that the voice of all constituents are considered and generalisations are not made based on groups such as race, ethnicity, gender etc. Students will not have the same perspective and as such it is imperative that universities can listen to, recognise, and engage with all student differences. The challenge regarding student voice and equity is the ability for universities to understand and act upon student perspectives in a meaningful and practical way.


Q: How can universities effectively measure and analyse student voices to ensure a wide range of perspectives are heard and considered?

A: Universities can measure and analyse student voices by employing a variety of methods such as surveys, focus groups, and digital feedback platforms. These methods allow for the collection of data on student experiences, opinions, and expectations. Text analysis, a powerful tool in processing and understanding large volumes of open-ended feedback, can be particularly effective. By using text analysis techniques, universities can identify common themes, concerns, and suggestions across a diverse student body. This approach helps ensure that a wide range of perspectives, especially those from marginalised groups, are heard and considered in the decision-making process. It's essential for universities to regularly gather and analyse this feedback to adapt their policies and practices to better meet the needs of all students.

Q: What are the specific challenges and solutions related to amplifying marginalised voices without reinforcing stereotypes or creating further division within the student body?

A: Amplifying marginalised voices while avoiding the reinforcement of stereotypes or causing division requires a careful and thoughtful approach. The challenges include the risk of tokenism, where a few individuals are made to represent the entirety of a diverse group, and the potential for reinforcing stereotypes by oversimplifying the experiences of marginalised communities. Solutions involve creating safe spaces for all students to share their experiences, ensuring representation from diverse backgrounds in student councils and decision-making bodies, and employing inclusive teaching and feedback collection methods. Additionally, it's important to listen actively and respond to student voices in a way that acknowledges the complexity of their identities and experiences. Universities should aim to empower students to speak on their own behalf, while also providing the support needed to make their voices heard effectively.

Q: How can institutions ensure that the act of listening to student voices translates into meaningful policy changes and improvements in the educational experience?

A: Institutions can ensure that listening to student voices leads to meaningful changes by establishing clear mechanisms for feedback to influence policy and practice. This involves creating structured pathways for student feedback to be considered at all levels of decision-making. It's crucial for universities to communicate openly with students about how their voices are being heard and the steps being taken to address their concerns. Additionally, setting up regular review cycles to assess the impact of changes and adjust policies as needed can help maintain a responsive and dynamic approach to improving the educational experience. By fostering a culture of transparency and accountability, universities can demonstrate their commitment to acting on student feedback and enhancing equity and inclusivity in higher education.


[Source Paper] Julie McLeod (2011) Student voice and the politics of listening in higher education, Critical Studies in Education,
DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2011.572830

Related Entries