The power of student engagement in higher education governance

This blog has been written by Taruna Bangia, President, University of Westminster Student’s Union. 

In this blog, I aim to emphasize the importance of student engagement in higher education governance and illustrate how my journey, from being a shy international student to a student leader, serves as a good example of making a positive impact. 

When I embarked on my journey as an international student, I was anything but the engaged student leader that I am today. The uncertainties and challenges of adapting to a new culture, a new education system, and a foreign language, sometimes made me doubt my decision to study abroad. Shyness was my constant companion and speaking up in class seemed overwhelmingly hard. When I think about it to this day, it makes me uncomfortable and anxious. But, as my journey unfolded, I discovered a transformative truth: students play a vital role in higher education governance, and their active engagement can lead to remarkable positive changes within institutions. At the time, this seemed easier said than done. 

As an international student, I was initially hesitant about my ability to participate in student governance or anything that involved interacting with people outside my circle of friends. Gradually, I realized that not only was my voice important, but it was important to speak up on behalf of the entire student community. Students are the true beneficiaries of higher education, and their input is invaluable in shaping their own academic experiences. 

Recognising the power of students in governance, I took the initial step by becoming a course representative. This role exposed me to the inner workings of the university, from gathering feedback from my peers to actively participating in critical academic decisions. It was a learning curve, and the encouragement of mentors and peers helped me overcome my shyness and find my voice. With time, I extended my involvement by becoming a society member and a student ambassador. This expanded my horizons, improved my leadership skills, and provided opportunities to engage with various projects. My journey culminated in the position of Students’ Union President. 

My transformation from a hesitant international student to a more confident student leader showcases the immense potential within each student to make a difference. It’s a real testament to the positive impact of student engagement in higher education governance. 

One significant project I’ve been spearheading along with my fellow student leaders is the provision of free menstrual products on campus. This initiative aims to ensure that all students have access to essential hygiene products, removing barriers to education and promoting inclusivity. 

By providing free menstrual products to girls in higher education can have a positive impact on their education, health and well-being. According to a study by PHS Group, 35% of girls aged 13-18 have taken time off school or college because of their period, and 11% of those claimed they missed school due to lack of affordability of period products. By offering free tampons, pads and menstrual cups in a higher education institution, the University of Westminster, led by the Students’ Union, aims to tackle period poverty and reduce stigma around menstruation. This can help young women continue their education without barriers and feel more comfortable and confident in their learning environment. It’s a small but tangible example of how students, when engaged, can drive positive changes that enhance the university experience for everyone. 

By telling my story, I have tried to outline in real terms the significance of student engagement in higher education governance. Students are not just recipients of knowledge; they are active partners in shaping their educational experiences and it has a transformative power when students get involved in helping shape decisions. It emphasizes that higher education is not just about what happens in the classroom; it’s about developing leadership skills, advocating for change, and creating a better academic environment for all.