The Lived Experiences of Student Representatives in a New Zealand Institute of Technology and Polytechnic: A Critical Examination
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A common form of student voice within higher education is democratically elected student representation. These students represent the voices of their peers and participate in institutional decision making. There has been much written about student representation and student participation in university governance, however, there are limited accounts of how student representatives experience this role, and little relevant literature relating specifically to the Institute of Technology and Polytechnic (ITP) sector, which provides applied and specific, vocational training up to degree level, in New Zealand. This study sets out to understand the experiences of student representatives within an ITP and to identify barriers and enablers that influence their engagement with their role. An interpretive phenomenological methodology was used. Data was collected through semi-structured interviewing, which involved six student representatives from an ITP in New Zealand. This study found that the experience of student representation is multifaceted, occurring within a complex, conflicting and changing environment, and revealed not only why students choose to be representatives, but why they choose to remain in this role. Although most participants saw the role as being a voice for other students, the findings indicated that participants also viewed the role as more than student advocacy, which may have further implications. The findings also suggested that the student representative experience is influenced by ‘people’ and ‘structural’ barriers and enablers, which may impact their engagement with this role.