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Chapter 1: What is student engagement in learning?

The Union of Students in Ireland perspective

Clodagh McGivern, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Union of Students in Ireland

Clodagh McGivern, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Union of Students in Ireland

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) are delighted to see a total of 42,852 first year undergraduate students, final year undergraduate students, and taught postgraduate students take part and have their say in 2022.

Students had a challenging year as they were recovering from the pandemic and were making their long-awaited return to on-campus life. Possibly due to this, students were less engaged with life in their higher education institution. For, this was evident from some institutions' response rates being lower than hoped. The USI is hopeful that institutions and students’ unions will reflect on this year and will be in a stronger position next year when the time comes for them to promote participation in, and follow-up on, the survey. is extremely valuable for institutions.

It allows them to hear directly from students about their personal experiences in higher education. It also allows them to be in a better position when trying to understand how students are progressing academically, personally, and socially. Therefore, it is crucial that institutions analyse the data and recognise their strengths and weaknesses, as perceived by their students. When they do so, they will be able to make decisions and changes that will benefit their students and their institution as a whole.

Student representatives must be prepared to interact with and analyse survey data, and institutions need to ensure that students are part of the teams convened to interpret the data.

Staff and students must come together to assess the feedback and decide on steps the institution should take in response to it, to give students confidence that their feedback is being heard and considered at an institutional level. The USI and students' unions are eager to make use of this valuable information, to develop and enhance the student experience, and to impact local and national policy to enhance facilities, supports, and learning environments.


Photograph of Megan O'Connor, formerly UCI, and Maeve Richardson, USI, at the Practitioners Forum 2022
Photograph of Megan O'Connor, formerly USI, and Maeve Richardson, USI, at the Practitioners Forum 2022

The USI and students' unions will continue to lead in the promotion of, in partnership with the staff in the participating higher education institutions.

However, for this important national initiative to continue to be a useful instrument for capturing the student experience and for placing it at the centre of quality improvement in higher education institutions, students must be engaged at all phases of its lifecycle.

There is no doubt that students will be more enthusiastic about sharing their point of view in the future when they know that responding to is a step in the right direction to making real advancements and developments. This is achieved when institutions demonstrate to their students that their opinions are valued and can effect real change.

A potential solution to ensure that students recognise the value of their role in would be to encourage HEIs to develop action plans in collaboration with the students’ unions with tangible steps to improve upon any points of concern illustrated by the results.