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… students are neither disciplinary nor pedagogical experts. Rather, their experience and expertise typically is in being a student – something that many faculty have not been for many years. They understand where they and their peers are coming from and, often, where they think they are going.¹

OCASA is the OCA’s student association. Over the last year it has seen a lot of changes, some owing to unforeseen events. We believe that this is a good opportunity to give the association a ‘health check’ and figure out what it means to be a student association in distance learning. OCASA president, Bernadette Raho-Jeavons and OCA Academic Development Officer, Joanne Mulvihill-Allen have worked together, with input from the current reps, to shape how this might look. In this post we’re going to look at the rationale for one proposed change – student representation.

At present the association is made up of a President and subject specific reps. As the number of degree areas grow so will the need for representation. OCA has course specific unit leaders in place and Programme Leaders for each degree area. The forums and forthcoming Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) will provide a space for any course specific queries to be addressed. With this in mind we have the scope to be ambitious and align our student representatives with OCA’s Academic Strategy and the relevant members of OCA HQ. This will allow students to be agents for change within the Open College of the Arts and gives our Student Representatives the chance to focus on more value led objectives that are meaningful to all students and their learning journeys and to build a community of change.

We propose the following representative roles to be advertised and filled for the forthcoming academic year 20/21. There is the possibility to amalgamate some of these roles together.

Lead Rep

The Lead Rep will act as the main, but not exclusive, point of contact with OCA. They will attend relative meetings either online or in person with OCA and they will lead on organising Student Association meetings.

Deputy Lead Rep

The Deputy Lead Rep will support the Lead Rep and be available to take their place at any relevant meeting should the lead be unable to attend. The Deputy Rep role can be in conjunction with another Rep role.

Wellbeing Rep

The Wellbeing Rep will promote positive wellbeing and mental health. They will use the #WeAreOCA blog to share tips and articles.

Accessibility Rep

The Accessibility Rep will advocate for access and work with the Learner Support team at OCA to ensure guidance and any reasonable adjustments are fit for purpose.

Social & Communications Rep

The Social & Communications Rep will work with the Lead Rep and OCA Associate to coordinate communications for informal and formal meetings. They will maintain a presence on the relevant area of the Discuss forum and social media. They will help administer study events working with the Student Association Secretary. 

Diversity/Inclusivity Rep

The Diversity and Inclusivity Rep will help ensure there is parity of opportunity for all students. They will help raise awareness using the #WeareOCA blog space and consider how to decolonise and diversify the curriculum in a culturally sensitive way.

Environment & Sustainability Rep

The Environment and Sustainability Rep will work with OCA and students to promote better working practices and glean information on how we can make a difference in the current climate crisis. They will use the #WeAreOCA blog space as a place to vocalise concerns and opportunities.

Technology/IT Rep

The Technology and IT Rep will work closely with students and OCA to ensure the technology used is fit for purpose. They are not there to act as tech support rather to advocate best practices and student friendly IT. They could work with the TEL team to help coordinate student testing of new technological initiatives. 

International Rep

The International Rep will represent students outside of the UK and ensure their voices are heard.

OCA Studies Rep

The OCA Studies Rep will help disseminate changes and developments regarding courses and studying with OCA. They will help point students in the direction of help for course specific queries either to OCA HQ or the relevant programme leader/unit leader. They will work with the Social & Communications Rep to ensure students are aware of changes for example timeframes, policies and the removal or addition of units. It may be relevant to have more than one student in this role at any given time.


The Student Association Secretary is a member of OCA HQ who will work closely with Reps as the point of contact between the Student Association and OCA. They will help coordinate study events and #WeAreOCA content. They will attend Student Association meetings to advise as needed. They will help promote a student led approach to OCA decision making. As the proposed roles are more holistic in nature, it is vital that expectations are managed and students are not seen as experts in any given area, the Student Association Secretary role will be essential here.


The Open College of the Arts describes its vision to be at the forefront of student-led creative arts education through open, enhanced, & supported distance learning, for an evolving society.

In order to be truly student led we must work together in a mutually beneficial and collaborative way. Through a reciprocal relationship students will be able to have more autonomy over their own learning experience, allowing OCA to become more democratic, ethical and engaging. As an alternative learning provider we mean to be alternative not as a second best alternative, but to be different. In seeing our students as partners and listening to our students’ voices, we can move from a transactional model where students are informed and consulted, to being co-creators in learning and teaching.

We recognise the diversity of our student body, and the fluid nature of all our identities, characteristics that come with being an adult learner and those that come with studying via distance and online. Parents, carers, sons and daughters, doctors, scientists, mums and lawyers. Those confined to bed, a cell or generally unwell. Those starting their career or looking for a change, those pursuing their passion and adding skills to their range. As a global educational community that defies borders, we must work together to nurture principles of trust, respect, tolerance and wellbeing.

A feedback form was distributed via the student forums and E-bulletin for OCA student responses. There’s still time to have your say visit https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/your-views-on-open-college-arts-student-association/11292?u=joannemulvihill-alle 

Following formal approval the full proposal will be shared amongst the OCA community to be shaped by OCA students. We hope the new Student Association roles will capture your interest and you’ll consider being a rep. Be the change you want to see.


1, Healey, M. Flint, A. & Harrington, K. (2014) Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. The Higher Education Academy. Accessed online at https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/assets.creode.advancehe-document-manager/documents/hea/private/resources/engagement_through_partnership_1568036621.pdf 

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Posted by author: Joanne
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