Autumn Conference 2018 | AUA Blog

Jo Corbett MAUA
Deputy Director of Academic Services
University of Brighton



I headed to London from a dreary wet Brighton on 29th November to attend the Autumn Conference. The conference was held at the wonderful Royal Society, one of my favourite London venues, particularly as it means I can enjoy a morning stroll from Victoria through St James’s Park.

Inspiring keynote speeches
When I arrived the room was buzzing with friendly chatter and colleagues looking forward to an opening keynote speech from Professor Mary Stuart, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Lincoln. Prof Stuart delivered an inspiring speech on living with uncertainty and disruption. Mary reminded us of the regulatory changes and key disruptors prevalent in today’s higher education sector and occupying much of our thoughts and efforts. She encouraged us to look beyond the immediate and to refocus our efforts on the purpose of universities and in particular their role in developing successful citizens for the future and public benefit beyond the individual through community engagement.

The second keynote speech came from Mike Shore-Nye, Registrar and Secretary at the University of Exeter. Mike talked about the simple key principles Exeter follow to ensure their strategic direction is appropriately focused in these times of economic, political and societal turbulence. Mike’s down-to-earth delivery and pragmatic examples of how those principles were interwoven throughout changes across the university provided us all with some valuable hints and tips to ensure change in our own institutions is focused in the right areas. I will certainly have Mike’s ‘lessons learnt’ close at hand as a helpful reminder of things to think about before embarking on change projects.

Engaging Working sessions
The keynote speeches were interspersed with working sessions, and I choose to attend two very different sessions on the same theme of resilience. I’m fascinated by the idea of resilience and what it means to different people and in different contexts.

I particularly enjoyed hearing about UUK’s Step Change programme, and the project at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology supporting the wellbeing of PhD students (including innovative use of the AUA professional behaviours framework).

I also participated in an entertaining, interactive and explorative journey through the human aspects of resilience, focusing on constructive conversation to re-frame learning, reflecting on what we mean by resilience, and acknowledging the difference between stress and pressure. This involved taking personal responsibility for our actions, understanding our emotions and focusing on the things within our control or where we can elicit influence.

The conference ended with a panel session, with the AUA Chair and audience posing some challenging and interesting questions to the panel members. The panel was made up of colleagues with diverse HE roles and backgrounds, reflecting a range of different perspectives on the issues discussed.

My train journey back to Brighton provided time to reflect on my experience and the importance of occasionally stepping away from the day job to reflect on the bigger picture. The ever-changing environment in higher education can make us so busy that it is easy to focus our energies on problem-solving and responding to regulatory and other changes, but in doing this we risk losing  sight of our core purpose, on the foundations of what universities are for, and not responding in a considered way.

As always the opportunity to catch up with colleagues and meet new people was extremely valuable. I would strongly encourage colleagues to participate in future conferences, particularly those who may struggle to attend the full three day conference, and may find one day more manageable. The autumn conference also provides an opportunity to attend the annual lecture the same evening, usually a high-profile person in the sector discussing important issues of the day.

If you’re interested in being a part of Autumn Conference 2019, click here.


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