Institute for Academic Development
Institute for Academic Development

Student engagement

IAD are supporting a range of initiatives designed to support student engagement.

Teacher with students

What do we mean by 'student engagement'?

Student engagement is a term often used in the UK to refer to both governance (student representation and institutional engagement) and pedagogy (learning, teaching, assessment and curriculum) (Buckley, 2014). At the University of Edinburgh we use the term ‘Student voice’ to refer to student representation and institutional engagement. We tend to use the term ‘student engagement’ to refer to work on student engagement in learning, teaching, assessment and curriculum.

Why is it important?

In learning and teaching, student engagement is both a route to success and an outcome of excellent teaching. Kuh (2001: 12) argues that “while students are seen to be responsible for constructing their own knowledge, learning is also seen to depend on institutions and staff generating conditions that stimulate student involvement”. This shared responsibility for engagement is helpfully captured by Bryson (2014) in his distinction between engaging students (what staff and institutions do to engage students ) and students engaging (what students do, such as the effort they spend studying, their motivation and involvement).

Dr Catherine Bovill from IAD is leading a three year strategic plan comprising a range of initiatives to support student engagement focused on: developing student-staff relationships; increasing interactive teaching; and promoting engagement for all.

Recent and current work includes:

The Edinburgh Network: Growing Approaches to Genuine Engagement (engage)

The engage network events are open to any students and staff interested in enhancing student engagement in learning, teaching and assessment. Events vary and are regularly presented by students and staff. There is an archive of useful resources from previous events. Go to the main page to find details of how to be added to the mailing list and for further information:

The Edinburgh Network: Growing Approaches to Genuine Engagement (engage) - find out more

Student Engagement – Practical Guides

We have created some practical guides to student engagement containing lots of examples and ideas for enhancing practice and aimed specifically at academic staff.

EngagEd in... Research-led Learning and Teaching (PDF) - download now 

EngagEd in... Learning and Teaching Conversations (PDF) - download now

EngagEd in... Feedback and Assessment (PDF) - download now

EngagEd in... Teaching with Lecture Recording (PDF) - download now

Other guides are planned and if you have ideas for topics on student engagement that would be helpful, please contact Catherine Bovill (contact details below).

Students and staff having coffee and cake

Coffee and cake conversations

In 2018, with funding support from the Festival of Creative Learning, we piloted a scheme to match up one staff member and three students from the same School to go for free coffee and cake. We provided some questions to get conversation started, but then let groups enjoy coffee, cake and conversations.

Staff and two students having coffee and cake


Feedback from the scheme has been overwhelmingly positive.

Staff commented:

“…I found it inspiring (talking to bright young people is one of the best aspects of our job, and increasingly something that there is little time to do....this was a great opportunity to do so. I came away reminded of what is good about this job!)”

“Great scheme…develops personal connections between staff and students which is rare.”

A student stated:

"It's a good platform to exchange information between staff and students. I also learned much about the staff member's experiences and about some work in our school from the staff member's perspective.”

Practical guide: scaling up student-staff partnerships in higher education

Student-staff partnerships are a focus within many higher education institutions internationally, as the value of student agency for enhancing learning and wider university cultures is increasingly recognised.

Although there are many student-staff partnership schemes in the UK and further afield, there is little evidence-based guidance available to those wishing to establish or sustain an institutional partnership scheme.

This practical guide is designed to support individuals, teams, or institutions in scaling up student-staff partnership.

The purpose of this guide is to:

  • Walk you through the multiple stages of scaling up partnership from beginning to end.
  • Anticipate and answer the kinds of questions you might have as you progress through this process.
  • Outline potential challenges and how to prevent or overcome them.
  • Encourage you to establish partnership values early to ensure that your process of scalingup partnership aligns with an ethos of partnership itself.

The questions, suggestions, and recommendations in the guide are based on research that examined 11 institutional-level project-based partnership schemes at 11 higher education institutions in the United Kingdom. This data is supplemented by the authors’ experiences in designing and running project-based partnership schemes as well as by partnership research and practice in international contexts.

Scaling up student-staff partnerships in higher education (PDF)

Tailored advice and workshops

Catherine offers a range of one-to-one advice and workshops for staff focused on enhancing student engagement, building relationships, increasing the use of interactive teaching and student-staff co-creation as well as exploring ideas for engaging all staff and students in building a positive academic community at the University of Edinburgh.


If you are interested in student engagement or have any questions, please contact Dr Catherine Bovill:

Dr Catherine Bovill

Senior Lecturer in Student Engagement

Contact details


Bryson, C. (2014) Clarifying the concept of student engagement, In C. Bryson (Ed) Understanding and developing student engagement. Abingdon: Routledge.

Buckley, A. (2014). How radical is student engagement? (And what is it for?). Student Engagement and Experience Journal, 3(2). Retrieved from

Kuh, G.D. & Hu, S.(2001) The effects of student-faculty interaction in the 1990s. The Review of Higher Education 24 (3) 309-332.