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Learning and Teaching Handbook

5.2.4 Policy statement on student representation - Staff-Student Consultative Committees


  1. The University’s Principles of Student Engagement state that:

Students and staff work in partnership to co-create Durham’s distinctive educational environment. Through effective student engagement in partnership with Durham Students’ Union, the University shall continue to enhance its provision, ensure a collegial and respectful environment based on mutual responsibilities of staff and students, and develop our students’ skills and qualities.

  1. Building on this core principle, the purpose of the Student-Staff Consultative Committee (SSCC) is therefore to facilitate an effective dialogue between the student body and their respective departments/schools regarding the educational experience provided by Durham University. The Student-Staff Consultative Committee is underpinned by the concept of co-responsibility; staff and student members have a shared obligation for ensue the effective running of the consultative committee.
  2. The University’s standing orders for boards of studies require all departments/schools to have at least one SSCC.

Terms of reference

  1. All SSCCs, whose membership should be defined as in paragraphs 7-14, will have, as a minimum, the following terms of reference:
    1. to provide a regular formal means of communication between students and staff on all aspects of the student educational experience in the department/school.
    2. to consider opportunities for the enhancement of the student educational experience within the department/school.
    3. to ensure that items of business/issues discussed at SSCCs, and any resulting action, non-action and other decisions are effectively communicated to the student body.
    4. to consider relevant and appropriate survey responses, data, reports and papers as necessary such as but not limited to the national student survey and postgraduate research experience survey etc.
    5. to receive and comment on the reports of periodic reviews of the department/school undertaken by the University.
    6. to consider any issues referred to it by the department’s/school’s board of studies or education committee.
    7. to consider issues of accessibility of the department/school to its students.
  2. Should a department deem it appropriate to include additional terms of references then they should suggest an amendment to their terms of reference, to be approved by the relevant Chair of the FEC for Faculty oversight to ensure the appropriateness of discussions being had at an SSCC and improve the sharing of best practice.
  3. Departments should not otherwise possess localised terms of references and rather should look to produce schedules of business to provide transparency as to the areas of discussion at SSCCs.

Membership and constitution

  1. In light of the University’s expectation that students and staff work in partnership to co-create Durham’s distinctive educational environment, the core members of SSCCs will be the co-Chairs: one student chair and one academic chair.
  2. The two co-chairs, all SSCC members and staff or students in attendance for specific items, should work to generate open dialogue and contribute to an environment conducive to inclusivity and openness.
  3. Student members shall be the course representatives elected by the student body. Student representation on SSCCs shall, as a minimum, meet the requirements laid down in the standing orders of boards of studies, and will follow the principles of student engagement.
  4. A minimum of two representatives, per level, per department will be elected to departmental SSCCs. Additional representatives may be negotiated by the departments in partnership with the relevant Deputy Head of Faculty and Students’ Union representative. The Deputy Head of Faculty will have final approval of any requests for additional representatives. These negotiations must take place before the end of the preceding academic year, and departments must provide a clear rationale for the request for additional student representatives.
  5. Primary staff membership for SSCCs should be the academic co-chair, the SSCC secretary, and at least one other staff member with expertise and responsibilities pertinent to the business of SSCCs. To facilitate free and frank discussion amongst the student representatives, there should be more student members than staff members.
  6. Staff membership shall be agreed annually by the Department, and staff roles should be notified to Durham Students’ Union to aid the understanding of student academic representatives during the training and development process.
  7. The committee may invite other appropriate members of staff (department/school, University, Union etc.) to attend for discussion of specific, individual items of business as required to fulfil specific needs of the committee.
  8. Depending on the size and diversity of academic provision in each department/school there should be a serious consideration of the following, in order to best meet the needs of the students and staff in order to maintain good communications and an effective SSCC;

a) joint or separate SSCCs for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

b) separate SSCCs for students on taught programmes, and students on research degree programmes.

c) where the size and complexity of the department/school would merit it, separate SSCCs for different programmes, or sub-disciplines within the department/school.

The use, or not, of different SSCCs for different student groups should be kept under review as the size and shape of the departmental student body varies over time.

Frequency of meetings

  1. All SSCCs should meet at least three times per academic year. Meetings will normally be held termly, or otherwise at a frequency which allows appropriate time between meetings to allow for action to be taken, and for necessary issues to be scheduled for constructive discussion,
  2. Meetings must take place at a time mutually convenient for both student and staff members, and should not be scheduled to take place when students have timetabled commitments as part of their academic programme or during the course rep election process. The dates and times of meetings should be agreed and communicated to members of the committee, the student and staff body more widely in each department/school as well as Durham Students’ Union.
  3. Where a programme is delivered by distance learning, meetings of the SSCC may be held online for example via duo.

Conduct of meetings

  1. The purpose of the SSCC is to allow constructive engagement between students and staff, in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and the agenda and conduct of meetings should reflect this. For example, when considering items for discussion all members should consider both issues where some response or action might be needed by staff or students, and examples of good practice in learning and teaching that members of the SSCC have become aware of in order to support the department/school in enhancing the quality of its provision.

Structure of meetings

  1. Agendas should be structured to ensure that appropriate time is provided for the full discussion of business integral/pertinent to the student academic experience raised by student representatives or others. Items identified by students are considered at the beginning of the meeting (followed by items of business provided by the department or otherwise required by the University).


  1. The minutes of all meetings of SSCCs should be considered by the department’s/school’s board of studies. The Chair of the Board of Studies is responsible for ensuring that this happens, and for ensuring that the board of studies consider and agree appropriate action /responses as necessary.
  2. At the end of each academic year, the co-chairs and secretary of the SSCC should prepare an annual summary of its work. This should briefly outline the key themes and issues considered over the course of the year, decisions made and both the action and non-action taken as a result. This report should be considered by the SSCC, and finalised after the final meeting in light of this discussion. This annual summary of the work of the SSCC should form the basis of the section on SSCCs within the department’s/school’s annual review report form (and through the inclusion of this summary within the annual review report form, the summary will be considered by the department/school as a whole through the annual review process).This annual summary should also be provided to the Students’ Union to support an annual evaluation of the effectiveness of SSCCs and to support the identification and dissemination of good practice.
  3. To support the development of this annual report, and to encourage effective reflection over the course of the academic year, the SSCC benchmarking tool should be routinely used by SSCCs. The SSCC benchmarking tool encourages SSCCs to reflect upon their effectiveness and make improvements, where required, in advance of the next meeting. Explicit reference to the use of the SSCC benchmarking tool should be made within the annual summary.

Election of student members (Course Representatives & Department Representatives)

  1. All course reps shall be elected in line with the principles of student engagement.
  2. Departments are responsible for the organisation of the elections via DUO.
  3. Students will be elected to the position of course rep in October and will serve their term from November of the same time to October (inclusive) of the following year. Students are required to be re-elected to their role.
  4. The Students’ Union, the University and departments/schools should ensure that the process for nominating and electing student academic representatives is made known to students at Induction, and via student handbooks, and duo as a minimum. Departments/schools are encouraged wherever possible to provide an opportunity for representatives to the SSCC for the previous academic year to speak to students in order to explain and promote the benefits of serving on the SSCC.
  5. In the event that course rep positions remain vacant, departments are permitted to organise in-lecture elections processes. In the event that course rep positions still remain vacant, remaining positions will be elected via co-option, unanimously agreed by the co-chairs of the relevant SSCC.
  6. Departments are required to provide an annual assurance report on the operation of the course rep elections, including any additional, permitted, election processes utilised (as outlined in paragraph 28) to the relevant Faculty Education Committee.
  7. The Students’ Union should support the election process to ensure that the elections are completed as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Roles and responsibilities of departments/schools

  1. The chair of the board of studies is responsible for ensuring that:

a) the department/school establishes and operates an SSCC in accordance with this policy statement, including the organisation and effective operation of the online elections via DUO

b) Departments agree in advance, and in line with paragraph 10, the number of course representatives.

c) SSCCs report to, and where necessary issues raised are considered by, the board of studies.

d) an annual summary of activity for each SSCC within the department/school is prepared, and circulated to academic reps, Durham Students’ Union and the wider student body of the department/school as soon as it is reasonably possible.

e) information on the student academic representative system is proactively communicated to students (for example in student handbooks, on relevant websites (including duo), and through induction for new students, or through other mediums suggested as best practice by the students’ union, or agreed by Education Committee).

f) the induction for new members of staff shall include a comprehensive explanation of the student academic representative system.

g) the Department works in partnership with Durham Students’ Union to facilitate student academic representation, as embodied within the principals of student engagement.

The chair of the board of studies may delegate the conduct of activities consequent on these responsibilities, but they remain accountable for these responsibilities.

Roles and responsibilities of Durham Students’ Union

  1. The Students’ Union, in partnership with the University, has a responsibility for the oversight of the student academic representation system and policy related to the system and SSCCs

The Academic Affairs Officer (or equivalent) shall be responsible for:

a) ensuring that the Students’ Union provide training for all course representatives, in line with paragraph 38, and that course reps are supported to seek feedback from their peers.

b) ensuring the effective promotion of the student academic representative system, the nomination and elections period, in partnership with the University and departments,

c) ensuring that an annual quality report (AQR) is developed for consideration internally within the Students’ Union and through the University deliberative committee structures to support enhancements and the identification and dissemination of good practice, drawing upon the information provided though the annual summaries submitted by SSCCs.

d) supporting the attendance of course reps at regional and national conferences or events, where available.

Roles and responsibilities of Student Academic Representatives (student members)

  1. Department and course representatives shall be the student members of the SSCCs, they shall be responsible for:

a) representing the views of their peers to department/school staff;

b) undertaking all other duties described in the academic representative role descriptions as agreed by the governing body of Durham Students’ Union and outlined on Durham Students’ Union website;

c) Co-chairing the SSCC will become the responsibility of one elected department representative.

Roles and responsibilities of the co-chairs and secretary to SSCC

  1. Prior to the first meeting each academic year, the Chair of the Board of Studies shall appoint a member of academic staff as the academic co-chair for the committee, and a member of staff to act as secretary to the SSCC. The student body will similarly elect a department representative who will, as part of their duties, undertake the role as student co-chair for the committee.
  2. The co-chairs of the SSCC are jointly responsible for:

a) working together and with the secretary, and in consultation with the other members of the SSCC, to agree an agenda for each meeting of the SSCC;

b) chairing meetings of the SSCC,

c) ensuring that all necessary follow-up action arising from the minutes is monitored and reported back to the SSCC;

d) ensuring that the board of studies receives regular reports from SSCC meetings.

e) ensuring the completion of the annual summary of the work of the SSCC.

  1. Boards of Studies retain responsibility for ensuring that academic departments take necessary action in response to issues raised at SSCCs. The Academic Co-Chair is therefore additionally responsible for:

a) ensuring that the actions agreed at SSCCs are progressed as far as is possible;

b) ensuring that the SSCC is updated on progress against actions as soon as information is available (not necessarily waiting for the item to be discussed at subsequent SSCCs);

c) informing course reps what further action can be taken should they feel that an issue has not been sufficiently addressed and wish to pursue it outside of the SSCC structure;

d) ensuring that an overview of department-specific SSCC information is provided at the first SSCCs of the academic year.

  1. The secretary of the SSCC is responsible for:

a) consulting members of the committee approximately two weeks before each meeting, requesting items for the agenda for the next meeting.

b) working with the co-chairs to agree the agenda, and circulating this to members of the SSCC, normally no less than five working days before the meeting.

c) drafting the minutes of the meeting for consideration for approval by the co-chairs.

d) publishing agreed minutes and action log for members of the committee and students in the department/school. Minutes should identify all actions agreed by the SSCC, who is responsible for undertaking these actions and a clear schedule for their completion, creating an action log.

e) circulating minutes, approved by the chair and lead member of academic staff, to members of the SSCC and published for/circulated to all students in the department/school as well as being shared with Durham Students’ Union to enhance the support and training of course reps.

f) supporting the development of the annual summary of the work of the SSCC, its submission to the Students’ Union and its circulation within the department as appropriate to ensure its consideration as part of the annual review process.

Training and support for members of SSCCs

  1. Durham Students’ Union are responsible for providing support, and guidance and core training for all student members of SSCCs (new and continuing, although the training may take different forms). Durham Students’ Union are responsible for liaising with the Academic Support Office in advance of training course reps to review the content of training to ensure that it covers any policy changes and developments relevant to the role of course representatives.
  2. The University, in conjunction with Durham Students’ Union will provide an annual update for all members of staff involved in SSCCs on the academic representative system. The University strongly encourages all staff members on the SSCC to engage with this process.
  3. The Academic Support Office is responsible for the training of academic co-chairs and secretaries to SSCCs.

Departmental/school support for student academic representatives

  1. In order to support course reps in meeting their responsibilities to the SSCC, departments/schools should provide the following support:

a) a range of mechanisms for gathering student feedback and disseminating information to their peers (this may include, but not limited to, for example DUO and/or face-to-face focus groups, departmental/school email lists etc.)

b) Pre-agreed access to lectures for a short period of time to discuss business affecting their students.

c) where possible, SSCC agendas published and circulated to members five working days prior to each meeting of the SSCC. The agenda should also be published and made available to all students in the department/school and advised who their course rep is should they wish to raise anything, as well as being shared with Durham Students’ Union to enhance the support and training of course reps.

d) publish the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting (i.e. the minutes approved by the co-chairs, while still being subject to final confirmation by the next meeting of the SSCC) these should also be directly disseminated to all students in the department/school, as well as being shared with Durham Students’ Union to enhance the support and training of course reps.

e) consider on a department/school basis, other forms of support and resource that could be made available to their course reps e.g. website / duo space, adequate and accessible notice board space, social media access, reasonable access to photocopying / printing resources to undertake their roles.

Any specific queries about the interpretation of the responsibilities set out in this Section 5.2.4 of the Learning and Teaching Handbook should be referred to the Head of the Academic Support Office or Academic Affairs Officer in the Students’ Union.