Exploring student voice in university governance

The challenge

Formal student representation on academic board (also referred to as academic senate) and university council are found at almost every university worldwide. And yet little is understood about the impact of these roles on university governance and how they fulfil the aim to support student voice(s) in the university decision-making functions.

Are students’ roles in university governance tokenistic or actually driving change?

In this study we will seek to map and explore recent student engagement in governance in Australian universities and determine the current rationale, impact, and equity of these critical roles.

Project overview

This project will explore the role of students in academic board and university council through two frames: stakeholder theory (e.g. power and politics) and equity. To explore the roles through stakeholder theory we will build on Menon (2021) who conceptualises student leaders’ impact on governance through their power to influence, legitimacy of their relationship and urgency of the stakeholder’s claim. Using these attributes, we will seek to develop a framework or typology of university stakeholder context on how student representatives are supported. In addition, we will explore the roles through the lens of equity, a well-known issue in student representation (Dollinger & Mercer-Mapstone, 2019; Matthews & Dollinger, 2022). This includes not only the diversity of the students involved in these roles, but also how roles are advertised, elected, trained, and supported/mentored by staff.

To explore this issue we will conduct a desktop review (e.g. websites, publicly available resources) scanning existing policies and engagement of student roles across all Australian universities, a literature review, a university template requesting information from each university on recent elections and representation (to be anonymised and aggregated) and a survey of current and recent student representatives on academic board and university council (2018–2022) and staff secretariats on boards.


  • Analysis of student leadership roles in university governance (i.e. Academic Board/Senate and University Council)
  • Survey reporting of previous/current student leaders, and university staff on the culture and impact of student leadership roles in university governance

Project team

Dr Mollie Dollinger (Deakin University, Chief Investigator)

Dr Matt Brett (Deakin University)

Dr Aidan Cornelius-Bell (UniSA)

Piper Bell (University of Adelaide, Student Voice Australia)

Research partners

University of South Australia

University of Adelaide

Student Voice Australia


REDI small grant




01 August 2022 – 31 March 2023


student voice, governance, student representation, quality assurance