By Mollie Dollinger, PhD candidate, Melbourne University, Australia.
Originally posted on 12 February 2018.
There are two topics in higher education that really excite me, students as partners (SaP) (which I prefer to conceptualize as co-creation) and global learning. But it wasn’t until I heard about Wendy’s Fellowship on 'Engaging students as partners in global learning' that I thought to connect the two. However, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made – Cathy Bovill, in an earlier post, also notes this link – and the more I realized it could solve some very pressing issues in higher education today, such as improving graduate employability.
There are numerous reports and articles across popular media that employers and government stakeholders are concerned that universities are not adequately preparing students for future employment . Even former university students themselves doubt if their university experiences actually helped them develop work-related knowledge and skills . Experts such as Employment Minister Michaelia Cash call on schools and universities to support students to gain international and entrepreneurial skills that will help prepare them in the increasingly global and unpredictable employment market . Yet while initiatives such as the National Work Integrated Learning Strategy  are steps in the right direction, there are other avenues we can explore too, such as Students as Partners for Global Learning. Because when university staff – academic and professional – give students the opportunities to act as partners or collaborators, students often become actively engaged, which then fosters student outcomes such as leadership, critical thinking, and collaborative group skills, which are the same skills that employers are looking for.
In fact, while ideas such as creating industry-informed curriculum, fostering student internship opportunities and helping students write that perfect CV are all great, they are changes from the outside-in. ‘Students as partners for global learning’ – where students collaborate across cultures with their lecturers, university staff, and other stakeholders to solve complex issues – provides an opportunity to support student employability from the inside-out. In other words, students as partners for global learning is also about enhancing the student experience, rather than focusing only on student outcomes.
In my dissertation on co-creation in higher education for example, I write about a concept known as ‘value-in-use’ which essentially highlights that value creation for students can occur through their ‘use’ of higher education, including the relationships they form, the activities or opportunities they can personalize towards their own needs and/or interests, and the overall experience of being a student. Value-in-use can occur with or without students participating in an activity that facilitates student-staff co-creation, but with co-creation value-in-use may be amplified. Because when students can take on active roles such as peer mentors or course curriculum designers (as opposed to being warm bodies in a lecture hall) they are more likely to form relationships, more likely to personalize and modify experiences for their own needs and, maybe, even more likely to enjoy their experience.
Sounds great, right? Wouldn’t it be wonderful there were more opportunities for students to actively engage in their higher education through collaborative activities?
Yet I, pessimistically, am not sure selling student-staff co-creation to university administers as a strategy for improving the student experience will be easy. But you know what could work? Student-staff co-creation as a strategy for improving global learning, and thus, improving graduate employability!
It could look like this: students in their first year are asked to help co-create curriculum for a subject, and thus, they begin to think about what makes good curriculum and pedagogy. In the project they work within a multicultural group, comprising both local and international students and begin to see that other students have their own unique perspectives, sometimes quite different from their own. They come to see their university experience differently, as a relationship between students, faculty and other staff. In their second year, they sign up as a peer mentor for their course, they begin thinking about study tricks and habits, and balancing work and student life. They realize how varied students’ experiences are, with some students working in part-time or full time jobs, others heavily involved in extracurricular clubs and groups, and many with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds and life experiences. They see a campaign on campus calling for student social media ambassadors and sign up, and soon they are taking pictures and videos for prospective and current students about events and policies happening on campus. They see universities not just as a series of classrooms, but as an organisation, full of various stakeholders. They decide to get involved in student government, they represent on-campus students, and they meet other representatives, like online students, postgraduate students, and international students. In their final year they decide to go abroad, in a program that allows students to co-design their study abroad experience with company in Asia. Their previous experience as a student mentor and leader, dealing with different groups of people and having a well-rounded view of organisations, comes in handy. The boss notices, writes them a glowing letter of recommendation. They come home, or maybe they don’t, because they get offered a job.
Ok, I got ahead of myself a bit. It’s very likely this rosy picture I’m painting is not even what all students desire or is even possible to offer to all students. As Craig Whitsed actually pointed out in an earlier post students-as-partners is in need of a real problematizing, or investigation into the inherent tensions and likely unintended consequences (e.g. exclusivity, Western-centered approaches, issues with power dynamics, to name a few). But while I am a little pessimistic about university administrators (not the ones reading this post, of course), I am optimistic about student-staff co-creation having tangible benefits for global learning and graduate employability.
As Wendy’s fellowship project has shown, there are numerous examples of emergent examples of student-staff co-creation of global learning both at home campuses in Australia and for students who are fortunate enough to go abroad. Going forward, here are the questions I think we need to consider in light of research and empirical evidence:
How does participation in student-staff co-created opportunities for global learning effect students’ experiences and mindsets about their future? Do different opportunities (for example, cross-cultural peer mentoring or international internships) lead to different experiences of value-in-use and different student outcomes? How can we support student-staff co-creation opportunities that appeal to a range of student preferences and interests- and also support diverse groups of students? What are the issues and benefits that arise from student-staff co-creation?
 Owen, J. (May 3rd, 2016). Young people don’t have the skills for future jobs.
 Burke, Liz. (June 9th, 2017). Universities warned: take ‘drastic action’ or become irrelevant.
 Lee, N. (January 29th, 2014). How can we prepare university students for the real world? Retrieved at: https://theconversation.com/how-can-we-prepare-university-students-for-the-real-world-22117
 Cash, M. (February 26th, 2016). Students not prepared for future jobs: CSIRO.
 Universities Australia. (March 11th, 2015). Landmark strategy to make graduates more ‘job ready’.