Not Another ‘Not Another HE Conference’

Not Another ‘Not Another HE Conference’

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It’s wild to think that it’s been three weeks now since Education Cubed took over the Toon for yet another ‘Not Another HE Conference’! 
 
Building on the success of last year’s debut, we sought sector feedback once more for format and content. Long story short; if it ain’t broke, well… iteratively improve it. So, we refined the blueprint of the agenda, resulting in two days jam-packed with amazing speakers and brilliant content; a bit more structure for discussion, interactive sessions, but keeping in core elements that gives the conference its identity and energy – admittedly, the Lego helps, but namely the connection of so many exceptional colleagues. 

Whether it was your first conference or you’re a seasoned veteran, it was a space that was both nurturing and challenging. A collective of people who truly believe in a student-first mentality. I have some thoughts that stayed with me since, but the main sense was that UK Higher Education is moving through trepidatious terrain. Universities, their staff and their students are navigating pressures that extend far beyond the realms of our sector, and it shows.  

Cost of Living Crisis  
This was an inescapable theme that wove through multiple sessions – Springpod’s Stevie Morton and Jo Bishop hosted a panel of careers advisors who offered a great perspective on the pressure students face. We are seeing the cost of living crisis directly impact students’ quality of life and ability to study, aptly highlighted in UCAS’ research into the next generation of students presented by Jo Richards. And it’s not just an undergraduate concern, FindAUni’s session expounded on the barriers to entry for domestic PG students are just as rife, with Mark Bennett and Jennifer Parsons highlighting potential policy development that could price out and deter international students too.  

University Governance  
The reaction to stuttering student numbers means there are already staffing restructures and role consolidations underway across multiple universities, and the collective feel from the room is more are to come. We heard an array of experiences from our panel of colleagues- Desmeana Johnson, Kenon Man, and Elliot Newstead, chaired by Charlotte Renwick- about being in the middle of a restructure, but also the approach to delivering them- to varying degrees of positive and negative experience. The underlying core of these discussions centred round the need to preserve your personal headspace, explored in detail by our very own Georgia Masters and the inimitable Claire Hamilton.  

Career Outcomes  
With rising costs the impetus for graduate outcomes is understandable, but with a changing economic and technological landscape, what are the skills university imparts on students that enables them in the work force? And is a traditional degree the best route to this? These were some of the highlights of Mary Curnock Cook’s presentation, which provided a compelling kick off to the conference. Our Student Shark’s panel were exactly the tonic needed to offset some of the more challenging realities we face as a sector. Before each round of pitching ‘the ultimate open day’ to the student panel, they shared their experiences of open days and exchanged ideas for improvement.  
The interactive session unveiled the creativity present in the room, particularly highlighting some of the more unconventional approaches aimed at gaining endorsement from the panel, there were whispers of “cola-gate” following a specific table’s presentation, which included gifts for the panel as part of their pitch… 

The Human Factor  

Never have we faced more of a pressing time to prioritise and celebrate human connection. It underpins everything we do, from exceptional creativity to pedagogy of care. Karen Smalley And Raman Sarpal’s session wittily detailed our need for creative strategy to problem solving, embracing the human element in the face of a technological fix-all society.  
 
Illustrated by our very own Will Greeves and myself, our presentation on AI (hailed as terrifying) aims to offer a hopeful glimpse into the technological future of Higher Education, debating how we can we augment human connection and achievement rather than hinder it. 

This urge to engage, to improve and to connect meaningfully is something Revolution Viewing’s Vic Littler and Jonny Harper touched on, incorporating story telling into UX as means to engage meaningfully with students. Explored further by Rebecca Williams, who offered an out of sector perspective on how to make experiential events resonate with your audience- particularly noteworthy was the call to collaborate and partner with local industry, to better serve the audience.  

Resilience  

To round the conference off were two sessions that were thought provoking and a call to arms, of sorts. Vicky Hayhurst and Steph Amor set a challenge for the room, for the sector really, to prioritise psychological safety and ultimately create an environment where diversity can thrive, as it should. And I think what showed the promise that this is viable was an audience that was open and vulnerable in our closing session delivered by Jo Redfern Evans, on imposter syndrome. It was a moving close to the conference, and the fact that a room of 130 people were able to receive sessions that were as thoughtful as they were challenging, shows the first step is already underway; an open discourse.  

It’s really a marvel to have an audience and event so buoyant with talent and positivity.  

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the many people integral to this event. Firstly, our sponsors – Springpod, UCAS, Revolution Viewing and Findauniversity. Thank you for your support, without sponsors we wouldn’t be able to deliver on the value of the event. 

Secondly, thank you to every member of Education Cubed who helped put this together, and contributed on the day, with special shoutouts to Samantha Wassif and Ellie Windle, who tirelessly worked away producing fantastic creative collateral whilst diligently organising the many intricacies of the event.  

Thank you to our fabulous events team – Rachel Gould, Philipa Lowe, Jenny Hazelhurst and Sarah Byrne. With an extra special thank you to the one and only Vicky Hayhurst, now and forever our true Time Lord.  

And, finally, to Chris Rogers, chief walking tour operator, MD mic wrecker, and Birthday Diva.  

What a fantastic event! See you all next year for even more rule breaking. Please get in touch if you have thoughts, feedback, or ideas.

BEN FARQUHARSON

HEAD OF PARTNERSHIPS

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