- Student voice is underpinned by student rights and respect

Student voice is underpinned by student rights and respect

By Eve Bracken-Ingram

It is generally accepted in educational research that student voice is a crucial component of decision making in higher education institutions. However, the term student voice is not clearly defined. Research regarding student voice frequently use vocabulary such as capable, communication, participate, listen, involve, and matter. From this vocabulary, one can identify that the concept of student voice relates to listening to and valuing student opinion in higher education. Cook-Sather (2006) (Source) explores the meaning of student voice and fundamental beliefs which this ideology is built upon. Student voice can be characterized by three principal ideas:

  • Students have a unique perspective on teaching and learning.
  • These insights deserve attention and response.
  • Students should have the opportunity to actively develop the educational practices that affect them.

Difficulties arise when these convictions have different meanings to different people and are actualized in different ways. Student voice is sensitive to context and therefore a clear understanding of how student voice should be facilitated and responded to is difficult to obtain. How student voice is both expressed and understood is highly dependent on the preexisting relationships between student, listener, and higher education institute. Longstanding power dynamics, social prejudice, and preconceptions lead to warped relationship between what is said and what is heard. For student voice to be genuinely heard, understood, and meaningfully responded to, it is essential that a supportive and empowering environment is created. Due to the diverse range of needs and experiences of students, it is difficult to identify what an encouraging environment for student voice might look like. It is then that one must consider student voice not by its definition but instead by its key underlying principles: student rights and respect.

Simply, students have the right to be heard. Although this right is traditionally related to children it is true of all students. It is important to note that this is a right to be heard, not a right to speak. Therefore, student voice practices should not only supply students with a platform to voice their views but also ensure these views are acknowledged, understood, and acted upon. Considering student voice in the context of this right provides clear guidance on how student voice should empower students. This highlights the failure of many student voice practices which focus only on the improvement of academic outcomes and institutional rankings.

Respect can be defined as having empathy, understanding and moral connection with others. In the context of student voice, respect calls higher education institutes to consider students as people with important experiences, opinions, and desires. It underlines the importance of not only asking students' opinions but also valuing them. This act of respect will not only allow educational practices to improve, but also foster a positive relationship between student and teacher. These relationships serve to further learning and engagement.

Rights and respect are cornerstones of student voice. Although there are many benefits and purposes to student voice, all methods must be underpinned by the primary goal of empowering and respecting students. It is important to acknowledge that rights and respect must be continuously performed and supported. Evoking change requires sustained hard work, consideration, understanding, and awareness. There is great value in listening to students and building understanding, respectful relationships within the higher education context. By empowering students to uphold their right to be heard and respected through student voice, significant individual, institutional and cultural developments can be achieved.


Q: How can educational institutions effectively measure the impact of student voice initiatives on academic outcomes and institutional culture?

A: Educational institutions can measure the impact of student voice initiatives by setting clear, measurable objectives before the implementation of these initiatives. For example, they might aim to improve student satisfaction scores, increase engagement in certain areas, or enhance the overall learning environment. Surveys, focus groups, and interviews can be conducted regularly to gather student feedback on their experiences and perceptions of the educational environment. Additionally, analysing changes in academic performance, retention rates, and participation in extracurricular activities can provide quantitative data on the initiatives' effects. It's crucial that the evaluation process itself reflects the principles of student voice, meaning that students are involved in deciding what and how outcomes should be measured.

Q: What are the best practices for incorporating text analysis tools to understand and enhance student voice in higher education?

A: The best practices for incorporating text analysis tools to enhance student voice in higher education include ensuring the tools are used to capture the full range of student feedback, from formal evaluations to informal comments on social media or student forums. Text analysis, through natural language processing and sentiment analysis, can help identify common themes, concerns, and suggestions across a large volume of student feedback. Institutions should aim for transparency in how student data is collected and analysed, ensuring privacy and ethical considerations are paramount. Training staff to interpret the data accurately and act on the findings is also crucial. This approach not only respects student voice but also leverages technology to ensure that all student feedback is considered in decision-making processes.

Q: How can higher education institutions address the challenges of diverse student populations to ensure that student voice initiatives are inclusive and equitable?

A: Higher education institutions can address the challenges of diverse student populations by actively seeking to understand the unique perspectives and needs of all student groups. This involves creating multiple channels for student feedback to accommodate different preferences and ensuring that these channels are accessible to students from all backgrounds. Institutions should also engage in targeted outreach to underrepresented student populations to ensure their voices are heard and valued. Training for staff on diversity, equity, and inclusion can help them better understand and respond to the diverse needs of the student body. By prioritising inclusivity and equity in student voice initiatives, institutions can foster a sense of belonging and respect among all students, thereby enhancing the educational experience for everyone.


[Source] Alison Cook-Sather (2006) Sound, Presence, and Power: “Student Voice” in Educational Research and Reform. Curriculum Inquiry, 36(4), 359-390 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-873X.2006.00363.x

Related Entries