An interesting view on innovation in higher education came recently from Fernando León Garcia, president of the CETYS University system in Mexico, which hosted an International Seminar on Innovation in Higher Education.

“It’s about how you teach, how you develop a person, and if you do it differently, that is also innovation,” he was quoted as saying in a report in University World News.

“We are at a point where universities need to review what they are doing and look at what are the areas of opportunity that maybe have not been in the mainstream of the missions of higher education institutions and that we now need to engage in.”

Now some universities have examined “areas of opportunity” and found one that puts added focus on the student experience outside of formal learning.

According to an article in The Australian Higher Education section, this means involving students in “institutional decision-making and administration”.

Citing a forthcoming report, it notes an international trend of universities adopting student engagement to improve the learning experience and drive quality and standards.

Sally Varnham, professor of law at the University of Technology Sydney, who has conducted a major study into the area, was quoted as saying the evidence showed greater student engagement was beneficial for universities as well as students.

“It aligns with the purpose of higher education to develop leaders, citizens and critical thinkers.”

As part of the study for the former Office for Learning and Teaching, Professor Varnham found many Australian universities had launched engagement initiatives including student course representatives and staff-student liaison committees.

These included one university forming a corporation to run student facilities and services, appointing seven students to make up half the board of directors; and two regional universities establishing student councils at each campus while an institution with many distance students was introducing an online student council.

Professor Varnham noted:

“They are highly sought-after positions because the students realise it gives them the chance to be responsible as a director for a multi-million-dollar enterprise. Imagine how that looks on your CV”.

It’s an innovation we hope will flourish.