The ANU has become the first Australian university to endorse an agreement between the University and student associations, committing to increased partnership and engagement between the institution and students.

The inaugural ANU Student Partnership Agreement was endorsed by the University Academic Board on 1 August, and was developed with input from the University and in consultation with students.

The ANU Students’ Association president, James Connolly, told Woroni that the Agreement is a ‘clear, ratified statement that ANUSA needs to be at the heart of changes within the university.’

Student partnership agreements are common in the international higher education sector, emerging from Scotland, but Connolly told Woroni that Australia has lagged far behind in this area.

Connolly said that there has been clear research showing that partnerships are ‘beneficial for the quality of learning, and the wider university experience.’

There have been moves in Australia toward adopting student partnership agreements, with the federal government and the University of Technology, Sydney, exploring Australia-wide implementation.

But the ANU is the first university to turn this research into action.

The agreement outlines the paths for student involvement and feedback within the University, states the university’s intent to work jointly with students, and lays out key projects on which the university, ANUSA, and the Postgraduate and Research Students’ Association will work.

‘Consultation and involvement can often be quite tokenistic,’ Connolly said, explaining that currently, the University often identifies an issue and proposes a solution before students are consulted, incurring backlash from the student population.

However, with the Student Partnership Agreement, the University has committed to involving students throughout the process, from identifying issues to devising solutions.

Connolly pointed to the process surrounding admissions changes as an example of effective partnership, explaining that ANUSA, while not necessarily endorsing the outcome, was far happier with the process, because ANUSA was included as a go-between for students and the University’s project working group. Under the agreement, this kind of consultation will become more common.

Students will also have increased opportunities to participate in advocacy and leadership positions, with the agreement looking to increase student representation on the Academic Board, as well as to create a more consistent approach to course representatives across colleges.

Other projects include seeking student feedback during the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, and Higher Education Academy reaccreditation processes, which Connolly called ‘a significant opportunity to give input to the quality of courses.’

The University will also seek student input on future ANU health and counselling services.

The agreement is a living document, meaning that it will be renewed every year to ensure it remains relevant, and to allow reflection on the success of the projects in the previous agreement. This year’s agreements, and eventually past agreements, will be available to all ANU students.

But Connolly said that the real proof of whether the agreement is successfully changing university- student interactions will be in ‘how projects committed to will be implemented.’

He noted the University had been keen to explore a student partnership agreement and was receptive to ANUSA suggestions ‘from the get-go.’

‘[ANUSA is] fortunate in the relationship we have built with the ANU,’ he added, highlighting the mutual respect that exists between the two organisations.

The biggest challenge remaining is the remit of the agreement, which currently only covers issues addressed by the university Academic Board. But Connolly hopes that the agreement will eventually be endorsed by the University Council, expanding its remit.

The agreement will be officially signed at a ceremony in October, after which it will be available to all students on the ANUSA website.