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HEi-think: Room for constructively critical students on OfS panel

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, outlines her vision for engaging with students and ensuring effective student representation on the OfS.

 

When it was first announced that I had been appointed Chief Executive of the Office for Students (OfS) Amatey Doku, the NUS' vice president for higher education, tweeted that he looked forward to working with me "to ensure that the OfS is in fact an office for students". I really liked the edge to this tweet: and it was a fair challenge. So it was a pleasure to sit down with him - and NUS members from across the country - as I set out my thoughts on how the OfS might best seek to engage with students.

To succeed, the OfS needs to have a demonstrably positive impact on students' lives in the short, medium and longer term. Everything we do must be rooted in the student interest. In order to achieve this, my starting position is that students must be meaningfully, seriously and honestly engaged in what we do and how we do it.

The NUS has a crucial role to play here. I'm looking forward to meeting with Shakira Martin, the NUS President, to discuss how we can best work together in the student interest. 

We know that the OfS' Board will be boosted by a member with a specific student representative role. This Board member will be appointed in the coming weeks, and one of their most important roles will be to chair a new Student Panel, which will bring together a group of around ten students to advise the OfS's Board.

I want the panel to feed into the set-up of the OfS, so we will be moving quickly to put a process in place for recruitment. Once we are formally established, I see the panel as have a critical role - helping ensure that we are able to engage properly with all students - including those who, for a variety of reasons, may be harder to
reach. The panel will identify and oversee some specific research, which they will define, but we will fund. We will also ask them to think ahead to how students and their priorities might be different ten years or more from now.

These are exciting roles for important times, and I am sure we will be able to appoint an excellent panel which reflects the diverse nature of higher education provision in England. I was asked in my meeting with NUS if there was room on the panel for students who might be sceptical about various aspects of higher education policy. My answer? Emphatically, yes. Of course we'll need the panel to engage constructively with us, but we should never shy away from debate, or reject out of hand views which do not mirror our own. Constructive challenge will be one of the panel's key roles: to coin a phrase from the OfS Chair, Michael Barber, we should be 'plain-speaking'
and happy to engage in a robust and honest dialogue.

We have an unparalleled opportunity to make a significant difference to students' experience and outcomes. We have been given extensive powers to act in students' interests. We want to work with them to seize the opportunity we have, so as to ensure that the OfS is indeed an Office for Students.

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