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Students as Partners Toolkit


Considering Student Recruitment and Incentives

Dr Mollie Dollinger


A critical component in any students as partners project is the consideration of how the project will appeal to potential students and what the benefits for students will be. In this step it’s therefore important to consider two important factors:

  1. How will I recruit potential student partners?
  2. What incentives can I offer potential student partners?

For recruitment, it’s key to always strive for diversity in potential student partners. While it might be easiest to recruit students who are already involved in a university leadership program, such as peer mentors, those students already have had opportunities to share their perspective and ideas with staff. Remember: we as university staff have the most to learn from engaging with students who may be feeling marginalised or disengaged from their studies. 

Depending on your university, potential recruitment options include university-wide job boards (like the UniHub platform), promotion through university social media channels, a call out in student unions or associations, or even targeting subjects or units that you may be interested in recruiting students from (e.g., a communications subject or a large-first year subject with historically high fail rates). While online forms of recruitment are most accessible to large student cohorts, posting physical flyers with QR codes that link to an online EOI may also be a route you decide to take. 

In all of these various options, accessibility should be of the utmost importance. Try reaching out to an accessibility officer or colleague who is knowledgeable about inclusion to make sure your recruitment materials are accessible to students who may have a disability. It’s also important to make sure the language in such recruitment materials resonates with students. Wording such as ‘share your voice’ or ‘help us improve’ are powerful indicators to the student cohort that we are serious about collaboration. 

Alongside recruitment, you will also need to reflect on how the experience can be designed to incentivise participation from students. While paid student opportunities are the gold standard, depending on your project, it may not be necessary to hire students, or you may not have the resourcing to do so. Don’t give up! There’s still lots of other ways to creatively design opportunities that provide benefit to students and encourage them to participate. 

In the table below you can see various options to support partnership projects in a pros and cons list. Consider these options in your context and alignment to your project.

Table 2. Incentivising Student Partnership

Incentive Type



Paid student casuals

Paid roles for students are ideal for work lasting over 2-3 weeks. Casual roles also signal to students that they are truly part of the team, and their responsibilities are formalised through a position description or progress meetings. Students can also add the roles to their previous work experience in CVs and cover letters. 

Depending on your context, you may not have the funds needed to formally hire students. Hiring students as HEO1-3 can be expensive, including on costing, and require staff to also cover any expenses related to a working with children card. Required paperwork and HR approval may also cause additional barriers and require time. 

For-credit university placement

All SaP projects should be framed as a learning opportunity for students, so another option is to situate the position or role as part of a for-credit university placement. Reach out to Work Integrated Learning(WIL) coordinators in humanities, business, and other related disciplines to see if your SaP role could be posted there for potential students. This way, students will gain valuable course-credit for their work with you. 

Depending on your university there may not be a suitable WIL subject or unit to situate the role. Further, as a formal WIL supervisor there are certain expectations of staff, including regular check-ins with students about their progress, minimum hours (e.g., 80-120), and linked assessment. 

Volunteers with gift cards

For short one-off SaP projects, for example, inviting students to participate in a workshop, gift cards are usually the best option. This recognises students for their time and effort in helping you complete the task or generate a new idea or solution. Check with your Dean of Students or other central team to see if there is a standard compensation for time at your university (e.g., $30 per hour). 

Gift cards are an easy solution for one-off activities, but they should not be used when the student is undertaking ongoing work. Paid roles are preferred in this instance as they formally recognise students’ contributions. Further, paying students with gift cards, rather than on payroll, is likely a breach of your university finance office. 

Volunteers with additional free training or professional development 

If you have no resourcing for your project, another option is to provide student volunteers with free professional development. While all SaP projects should be a learning experience, additional free training, for example, a bespoke session on using digital tools, software, or literature reviews, might incentivise students. Additionally, you can reach out to your respective careers team to ask for a session on helping students translate their volunteering with you to CVs and cover letters. 

Unfortunately, if you aren’t paying students, it’s likely that the diversity of your potential pool of students will suffer. Many students simply cannot afford to engage in unpaid opportunities, or forgo paid part-time work, to participate in SaP projects. Consider what voices you want to engage with in your project, and whether you are willing to make this compromise, or if it will invalidate your project.