AHEP’s First Christmas

Thank You from your AHEP Chair

Thea Gibbs – AHEP Chair

Development Monthly | #26 December 2023 | ‘Season’s Serenity: Recharge & Renew over the Festive Season’

It’s an honour to chair our professional association during such a transformational period in our history, and I’m grateful to follow in the footsteps of such consummate professionals who took the role before me.  This year of intense strategy development and implementation has forged strong collaborative relationships between the AHEP Board and the brilliant AHEP Team led by Colin Ferguson, ensuring AHEP is well-positioned for the year ahead.

A rose by any other name?

One of my professional highlights of 2023 has to be the relaunch and rebranding of the Association of University Administrators as the Association of Higher Education Professionals, to better reflect the diversity and aspirations of our current and future members.  This outward signifier of professional identity was the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, capping off an intense period of work to revitalise the Association’s offering to members and to articulate a new strategic direction.  During this period, the sense of purpose and ambition within the whole AHEP team, as well as the strong team spirit and collective commitment has been wonderful to witness and to share in.

But what’s in a name? Surely it’s what’s inside the tin that’s important, and we should be able to look beyond superficial labels? The trustees had considered a name change several times before, but had been very conscious of the heritage of the association and the familiarity and fondness for AUA.  But the fact was that by 2023 the AUA was no longer ‘doing what it says on the tin’ as many of our members don’t work in universities, and most don’t describe themselves as administrators. It became abundantly clear in our market research with both members and non-members in the sector, that a name change was required to ensure we lived up to our values of inclusion. So whilst Juliet laments Romeo’s name, at the same time she recognises that names are important because of what they mean and signify to others.

As you can imagine, the AUA Board had lengthy and intricate discussions about potential new names and acronyms to make sure our new moniker connected with our vision and values as an organisation, as well as chiming with our members’ experience and professional identities.  So we agreed a new name that better reflects the substance of our Association, and then worked towards the launch at the annual conference at the University of Warwick in July.

One of the most memorable moments for me from this year’s conference was standing in the wings next to the stage at Warwick Arts Centre with the AUA team, whilst the pre-recorded video played introducing the new strategy, and we heard the roar of approval from all around the auditorium when the new name was announced. We all looked at each other and grinned – it had landed!  Since then it’s been a rollercoaster and the momentum we captured at that moment has translated to new members joining, new partnerships getting off the ground, and a greater recognition in the sector that AHEP has something special to offer its professional services staff. 

Celebrating our AHEP community

Yes, that’s you! You have been constantly in our thoughts as the AHEP team have been redesigning our professional development offerings, crafting a new website, and ensuring that everything we do works for our members and promotes good practice in leadership, management and administration for the Higher Education sector.  But more than that, we couldn’t have achieved what we have this year without the collective wisdom and insights of our members and others who have engaged with us through consultations, surveys, focus groups and discussions.  Our community has given generously of its time and we are enormously grateful that you have been able to share your views and aspirations with us to feed into the developing strategy.

Thank you also for sticking with us whilst we undertook this review and refresh of our Association to improve our offering for this and the next generation of higher education professionals. Our active members help run networks and special interest groups that bring colleagues together from across the sector to grapple with common challenges and to share practice and ideas, benefitting the whole community. We are excited to see the launch of some new special interest groups in the new year and will be showcasing them at the annual conference in March. We all benefit from everyone attending the conference and other events with enthusiasm and a commitment to professional development, ensuring that all delegates can draw on and share expertise through thoughtful and thought-provoking sessions. And finally, thank you for spreading the word through your professional networks and via LinkedIn to ensure that we truly represent the breadth and diversity of our sector, and of all our institutions.

Is this normal?

Back in 2020, the phrase ‘new normal’ became ubiquitous, to describe ‘unprecedented’ (yes, that word too) experiences we had to get used to as our daily reality. In a time of unkempt locks and some quite remarkable facial hair, elasticated waistbands and ‘next slide please’, we shifted our understanding of work and its relationship with the rest of our lives. We re-evaluated our priorities and brought a greater humanity into the workplace and our relationships with colleagues.  This shift in our perspectives has not been entirely lost in subsequent years, but I think our continuing experience of handling disruption, uncertainty and the unexpected over a prolonged period of time has meant that we have grown a new set of skills in response to the perma-crisis we seem to inhabit. Colleagues across higher education have expanded our professional repertoire of things we never thought we’d have to deal with but did anyway.  But it’s exhausting, and we do need to find ways to recharge and regroup from time to time, and remind ourselves that this isn’t normal – or is it?!

I never got used to wearing a face mask and vowed I would never view this as normal attire.  Are there elements of our new working lives we should resist normalising? Seepage of work into home-life is one thing I’m alert to, but I’m sure there are many other things we could list.  And even when we do integrate and assimilate our hard-won skills and new practices, let’s not take them for granted but celebrate our ability to evolve our professional practice and to learn some new tricks. During the festive season, let’s have a well-earned rest so we can face whatever the new year throws at us with the innovation, team spirit, professionalism and good humour that we Higher Education Professionals are known for.

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