AUA Autumn Conference 2022
Putting professional staff
at the heart of digital excellence
in higher education

The Details

Location: Online via Zoom

Date: Thursday, 17 November 2022

Timings: 10:00 to 15:30

Fees: Member £80+VAT | Non-member £160+VAT

About this year’s conference

Join us this November as we host the Autumn Conference online, focusing on…

Putting Professional Staff at the Heart of Digital Excellence in Higher Education

There is momentum in the higher education (HE) sector to digitally transform, particularly with an eye on the government’s commitment to lifelong learning and the potential for more flexible, modular, stackable learning. Sector events focusing on the digital transformation of HE are often aimed at those directly involved in teaching and learning, but our Autumn Conference is different. This conference ​will offer a unique opportunity to explore the experiences of all professional services staff and the role you play in creating a positive, lasting digital transformation in higher education. The AUA understands that professional staff are crucial to driving a digital culture in HE institutions, and this virtual conference shines a spotlight on the contributions of professional staff in building digital excellence across the HE sector. Our Autumn Conference will inspire and equip you with practical takeaways to continually strive for digital excellence and will better prepare you for future challenges in an ever-evolving higher education sector.

Our programme includes practical advice, case studies and ideas around enhancing our digital practice, which can be taken and used in your own workplace. We have sessions focusing on a range of topics, including; effective use of technology, digital wellbeing, developing belonging in hybrid environments and driving digital change. Join us to learn from others’ knowledge and experience and to share examples of effective professional practice with colleagues across the sector. 


The AUA exists to connect and develop higher education professionals, and we, therefore, understand the importance and value of networking. Whilst the AUA Autumn Conference will now take place online as part of our commitment to inclusivity, we will be using a platform called Wonder during refreshment breaks and over lunch to try to provide a space to chat, have follow-up conversations with working session speakers and find out more about the progress of the AUA’s strategic review. Further details about how to join to network with your colleagues will be released in due course.


Keynote Speaker

Heidi Fraser-Krauss

Chief Executive Officer


About Heidi Fraser-Krauss

Heidi Fraser-Krauss is the CEO of Jisc. Jisc is a not-for-profit membership organisation that provides UK universities, colleges and skills sectors with a shared digital infrastructure.

Heidi has worked in higher education for most of her career and held a variety of executive board level leadership roles, most recently as executive director of corporate services at the University of Sheffield. Prior to Sheffield, she spent eight years at the University of York, as CIO and deputy COO.

She was a member of UCAS council for 8 years, chair of Universities and College Information Systems Association (UCISA), and chair of the Russell Universities Group IT Directors (RUGIT).

She is a governor of York College, her local FE provider.

Joining the Dots

Digital technology has long promised to streamline the work of universities and improve the experience of students and staff. However, despite, or maybe because, Universities have more and more technology, the promised benefits of a seamless digital experience seem just as far away as ever. Using data from Jisc’s staff digital insights survey, I will reflect on why this is and offer a few ideas on what needs to change.

Panel Debate

“Will a digitally transformed higher education help institutions to be more inclusive, or will it provide additional barriers?”

The focus of this year’s conference is Putting Professional Staff at the Heart of Digital Excellence in HE. Within this theme we will be considering how digital approaches and spaces may impact a diverse HE community. To reflect on this, we invite you to join our panellists and pose your questions as we debate: Will a digitally transformed higher education help institutions to be more inclusive, or will it provide additional barriers?

Panel Chair

Vikki Goddard
AUA Chair
Independent HE Consultant

Vikki Goddard became an independent consultant for the sector recently, having worked in Higher Education for almost thirty years, including as a Registrar and Chief Operating Officer, Director of Strategic Planning, and Director of Faculty Operations. Her last role was as Director of Operations for the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health at the University of Manchester, having previously held the same role in the Faculty of Humanities. She was responsible for the provision and performance of all Professional Services in the Faculties. Her previous roles include Registrar and COO at the University of Salford, and Director of Planning at the University of Liverpool.
She is passionate about enabling people to achieve their potential, and has a particular commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.


Nikki Labrum
Tech and Product Director
The Brilliant Club

Nikki Labrum is the Tech and Product Director at The Brilliant Club, an education-focused UK charity. The Brilliant Club’s mission is to support children from less advantaged backgrounds and provide them with the educational support they need to access universities and succeed academically, through tutoring schemes and mentorship.

Ben Watson
Head of Digital Accessibility
University College London

Ben is the Head of Digital Accessibility at University College London.

A former law librarian and qualified teacher, he has a passion for inclusive design that has led him into researching and implementing approaches to inclusive information and technology provision for education. He has experience of working with all UK education sectors (primary, secondary, further, and higher education) and many years’ experience of working to improve both the physical and digital accessibility of education organisations.

In 2015 he initiated the OPERA (Opportunity, Productivity, Engagement, Reducing barriers, Achievement) project. This project reconsidered approaches to learning and teaching, digital systems and assistive technologies and catalysed a shift towards anticipatory reasonable adjustments and inclusive practice by design. This work has been hugely influential and was recognised in 2018 with Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding Support for Students.
Ben is also one of the founding chairs of the Further and Higher Education Digital Accessibility Working Group (FHEDAWG) which has worked directly with the Government Digital Service to develop guidance for the Higher and Further Education sectors to best meet obligations under the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

Ben holds two Masters degrees associated with education and learning development and is undertaking a PhD at the University of Kent looking at the provision of accessible information in education and developing mechanisms for measuring its impact.

Dr Omar Khan

Dr Omar Khan joined TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education) in June 2020.

Omar has led TASO’s transition into an independent charity, developing its team and strategy to widen participation in higher education and eliminate equality gaps between students. His research and professional background has focused on equality and social mobility, particularly in education and the labour market, and he regularly speaks on these topics in the UK and globally.

Omar holds several advisory positions, including trustee of the Political Studies Association and of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, chair of the Ethnicity Strand Advisory Group to Understanding Society, and a member of the 2021 REF and 2014 REF assessments. Omar has previously been a board or advisory group member at the University of East London, the Financial Inclusion Commission, the Department for Work and Pensions, and a 2012 Clore Social Leadership Fellow.

Omar joined TASO from race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, where he had been Director since 2014, growing the organisation and increasing its profile. He completed a doctorate in political science from the University of Oxford in 2008.

Working Sessions

Working Session 1

101 | Keep calm, you’re on mute! Supporting students to succeed in a pandemic: A case Study with NHS leaders

Janine Turner, Executive Head of Programme, University of Birmingham | Louis McNaughton, Events and Stakeholder Engagement Officer, University of Birmingham

In this session, we will explore how a Professional Services Team (PST) at the University of Birmingham transformed a Post Graduate programme for senior NHS leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic, using digital methods and platforms to create a motivating, supporting and engaging student experience. The session will explore the digital techniques used by the PST to bring students together, the creativity and resilience that were displayed, and future thoughts as we move into the ‘new normal’. This session will also give attendees the opportunity to reflect on their own experiences of running and participating in online sessions and how to make these a success. We will cover themes such as creating effective working relationships with academic members of staff and how teamwork is crucial. There will be opportunity for attendees to explore lessons learned and scope for the future of online platforms. The PST was shortlisted for a Higher Education Futures Institute award for the transformational work achieved on this programme.

The PST worked in partnership with academic colleagues to replicate a sense of community for the students when their usual face-to-face residentials were transferred online. Already a distance learning programme, it was important to ensure the online experience was of benefit for the students, who at the time were also facing the biggest challenge of their working professional lives in the NHS during the pandemic while completing an MSc.

This session uses a case study of a non-standard programme. We explore the themes that occurred for NHS staff during times of crisis and how what they learnt on the programme was applied in a real-life setting on the front line and how it also enabled them to succeed academically. Behind the scenes, we will discover how the PST were empowered and supported to excel in their roles during uncertain times, ensuring wellbeing and collaboration remained paramount.

By the end of the session, delegates will be able to:

  1. Develop an understanding of the techniques used to create a community so that professional services, academic staff and students are at ease when delivering and participating in online sessions.
  2. Consider the importance of thinking creatively when delivering sessions online so students are able to meet their academic potential.
  3. Reflect on what is useful to students during ‘unprecedented times’, and consider how the lessons learnt can be applied in the future.
102 | Embracing a new digital era in HE

Laura Dhesi, School Manager, Worcester Business School, University of Worcester | Vicki Lancey, School Manager, School of Psychology, University of Worcester

This session will be an interactive discussion showcasing the digital journey in the Department of Professional Administrative Services at the University of Worcester. The presenters will be outlining their own experience of being at the heart of digital excellence within the University. They will demonstrate their journey of implementing process improvement, utilising automation and re-evaluating operational activities in the context of a new blended work environment, alongside the availability of newly accessibly software packages within the University.

Delegates can expect to share, discuss and compare their own progress towards a digital future in HE, exploring challenges, successes and cultural impact. The session will give attendees an opportunity to explore potential implementation strategies in their own organisations, taking into account varying individual and wider organisational acceptance.

By the end of the session, delegates will be able to:

  1. Evaluate their own digital position through discussion and comparison with peers within the session.
  2. Identify areas for potential change, taking in to account operational barriers as well as cultural and organisational impact.
  3. Capture and reflect on potential implementation strategies, utilising the experiences of others within the group.
103 |  Improving the digital experience of university administrators post-COVID 19: The Knust experience

Christopher Addo, Senior Assistant Registrar, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology | Felicia Amankwah, Senior Assistant Registrar, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology

This session will explore the experience of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) with improving the digital experience of university administrators. In higher education institutions, administrators are crucial to the growth, development, and maintenance of the institutions. As well as taking part in day-to-day operations, they also play a pivotal role in the overall control and direction of a university. Just as communication, organization, planning, teamwork, and several other skills are important for administrators, digital skills are also a must. Digital excellence is a journey that looks to improve the overall performance, engagement, and development of an institution.

During the pandemic, Universities around the world were forced to make drastic changes in their operations and delivery. KNUST was no different to this situation. The pandemic had a massive impact on the educational activities as well as administrative activities of the university. There were changes in the KNUST system, such as admissions, registration, matriculation, graduation, as well as teaching and learning. These sudden changes also required the university’s administrators to evolve toward an online setting of working and going about their usual activities and responsibilities.

In this session, we will focus on the approach KNUST used in providing hands-on practical digital training to its administrative staff to help position them to remain relevant after the pandemic (post-Covid). First, we will focus on the available digital tools that are relevant in the field of administrators. These tools are organized into communication tools, documentation tools, collaborative tools, and networking tools. Next, we will discuss the case study of how KNUST trained its administrators in using these digital tools to empower them to be part of the digital excellence journey. Finally, we will discuss the challenges faced by administrators of KNUST in adopting, adapting, and actively being part of the digital excellence journey, as well as some recommended workable solutions.

By the end of the session, delegates will be able to:

  1. Identify and use the most common and advanced digital tools available for HE Administrators.
  2. Describe the processes it takes to empower Administrators to actively partake in their institution’s digital transformation journey.
  3. Determine the advantages of including professional staff in digital transformation in HE.

104 | How do staff build belonging in a virtual or hybrid world?

Helen Curtis, School Manager, University of Bristol | Imogen Debbonaire, Senior Executive Administrator, University of Bristol

The pandemic highlighted many social inequalities and the impact they have on the way we work. For example, the disproportionate effect on women due to childcare predominantly falling to females; the higher proportion of deaths and serious illnesses amongst disabled and ethnic minority communities; and the unequal access to vaccines between countries due to wealth. As more organisations move to hybrid and working-from-home arrangements as standard, it is important for us to consider the longer-term equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) impact of these new models. This presentation will draw upon work that we have completed at the University of Bristol Medical School. In our recent Cultural Review of Professional Services, we identified that belonging is a key attribute to staff feeling included. However, our recent University hybrid working surveys have shown that despite staff, on the whole, preferring hybrid working, the sense of community and connection has been lost. We would like to explore how a staff community can build a sense of belonging in a hybrid or working-from-home environment.

In this session, we will introduce findings from our Cultural Review interviews with underrepresented staff to explore how the pandemic impacted their sense of belonging and what we are doing in response to these findings. For example, one area highlighted was the increased isolation felt by staff who had no one to talk to when processing important world events such as Black Lives Matter, as they were not having regular catch-ups. We will also juxtaposition this with work that is going on in other organisations inside and outside the sector.

The workshop with begin with a short presentation exploring the interview results, our learning from it and research from other sectors, with practical solutions that we have adopted and are working towards adopting. This will include some ‘top tips’ that delegates can adopt in their own organisations. There will be an opportunity for delegates to ask questions, moving into a group discussion on other organisations’ approaches to hybrid working and ways they have built or would like to build a sense of belonging.

By the end of the session, delegates will be able to:

  1. Explore and understand the EDI impact of the change to hybrid and home-working models.
  2. Consider the importance of belonging in inclusive practice.
  3. Develop ideas for practical ways to start belonging initiatives in their own organisations.

Working Session 2

201 | How to use data effectively to enhance the student and staff experience (Case Study)

Nav Ahmed, Principal Lecturer (Quality and Enhancement) – The Institute of Foundation Studies, Arden University

Within this interactive workshop, delegates will be introduced to a case study about how we have successfully utilised data within the Institute of Foundation Studies at Arden University to create a positive impact and deliver successful outcomes for students and staff.

The session will start with a Padlet/Mentimeter activity in which delegates will be invited to share their thoughts about the importance of data in a HE context and what types of data are particularly relevant. A short presentation will provide an overview of Arden University and context about the challenges initially faced across both blended learning and distance learning provision. Analysis of data sets will be used to demonstrate key differences between these study models in terms of student demographics and key performance metrics such as recruitment, retention, submission and progression rates. Delegates will learn about how data was analysed to drive targeted interventions resulting in significant improvement of these metrics and the development of a more inclusive curriculum.

Delegates will then work in break-out groups to discuss and share their own experiences about how they have used data within their own institutions, the challenges they have faced (or are currently experiencing) to identify common themes. The presenter will then facilitate a whole group discussion in which delegates from each break-out group will report back, providing a summary of what they discussed. Any particular areas of interest, examples of best practice or areas of concern will be drawn out in order to highlight these and collectively recommend solutions. In another short activity, scenarios will be provided (using examples of data sets), which delegates will individually be asked to analyse and pick out ‘headlines’ as well as suggest any possible qualitative reasons which may support the merely quantitative data provided. They will be asked to develop their own intervention strategies e.g. based on the information provided, what they would do and providing a justification to support this action.

The presenter will facilitate a plenary activity in which delegates will offer their thoughts and talk through the data together, being provided with a ‘model answer’ of what should have been identified and agree on what the majority consider to be the most effective action to take. The session will conclude with an ‘open floor’ discussion in which delegates can ask questions about anything identified during the session they would like to learn more about.

By the end of the session, delegates will be able to:

  1. Identify the importance of data within a HE context and where to find relevant data.
  2. Understand how to analyse data effectively in order to develop appropriate strategies to improve the student and staff experience.
  3. Evaluate data and make justified recommendations about possible solutions
202 | Disconnect from Tech

Laura Harvey, Digital Skills Trainer – Digital Literacy and Productivity, King’s College London

Do you feel like you are always looking at a screen? Is every spare moment filled with emails, social media, or the latest must-see box set? Constantly being online can have negative impacts on our mental health, reduce our ability to concentrate and affect the quality of our sleep.

The Disconnect from Tech session has been designed to support Digital Wellbeing in the workplace and beyond. This interactive, click-along session has been designed to provide you with some top tips to look after yourself and others with technology use, and share advice and best practice with each other around ways to disconnect. We know that excellence in HE is easier to achieve when we take regular breaks and balance our tech and non-tech time.

In this session, you will have an opportunity to think about and assess your technology use at work and home, discover some top tips for different settings within Outlook and Teams and practice them live, and share thoughts and tips on different activities to disconnect. You will also be provided with an opportunity to try one or two of the suggested disconnect activities for yourself at the end of the session. You may find it useful to have two screens during this session – one to watch the trainer’s tips, and one to try the interactive settings for yourself.

By the end of the session, delegates will be able to:

  1. Identify behaviours that can be changed.
  2. Apply practical tips for reducing the amount of time they spend on technology.
  3. Apply practical tips for helping others to disconnect from technology.
203 | Remote and Digital Working – Environment Friend or Foe?

Rachel Hill-Kelly, Assistant Company Secretary, Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) | Kate Mori, Academic Engagement Manager, QAA

Institutions increasingly have environmental commitments and support sustainable development goals. The expectation from students is that environmental considerations should be embedded into organisational approaches, and different ways of working are often included as part of these considerations. Online working and teaching may offer environmental gains, but there is complexity surrounding remote and digital working and how it contributes to an institution’s sustainability agenda. Engaged leadership and informed thought is crucial to ensure sustainable practice within this domain.

This session will unpack how remote working may or may not contribute to an institution’s sustainability drive, and we will offer space to discuss and explore issues such as
– The policy and practice of hybrid working
– The balance of responsibility for the environmental impact of hybrid and remote work environments.

Does sustainable practice remain the remit of the higher education institution, does it shift to the individual, or is it a mix of the two?
As many staff often now work flexibly, be that hybrid working or working from home, the cumulative carbon and environmental impact of this is likely to be the same or even higher than that of a classic office environment. Institutions and sector organisations may be transferring their carbon footprints (and costs) to their individual staff, and potentially also losing economies of scale for things like heating. However, staff are likely to appreciate flexible working patterns as this can help with work-life balance, there is less travel and some staff feel they can get more done working from home. With this, as remote working becomes more the norm, staff may feel isolated and miss the social interaction that working on campus can offer. Balancing these types of considerations with the institutions environmental and financial responsibilities will need consideration when devising workplace and sustainability strategies.

How can we ensure we get the balance right? Arguably, organisations should still have a responsibility to mitigate the environmental impact of their work wherever it takes place, but how do we do that from a practical and a governance perspective? Beyond that, how do we monitor and evaluate whether environmental and sustainability targets and indicators are being met when a percentage of the workforce is working from home or hybrid working? This workshop is unlikely to provide answers but will offer space for you to explore such pertinent issues to help develop the knowledge, competencies and ability to pursue sustainable visions of the future at a micro level.

By the end of the session, delegates will be able to:

  1. Explain the complexities of building a sustainable future and embedding environmental considerations into planning ways of working and teaching.
  2. Consider ways that digitally-based practice supports their institution’s drive towards sustainability and if there are gaps between policy and practice.
  3. Assess how to engage staff to drive sustainable best practice within a digital environment and how such considerations may be embedded within institutional strategies
204 | Digital Transformation of HE Governance – Learning from beyond the Sector

Lucy Dixon, Principal Consultant, SUMS Consulting | Fola Ikpehai, Principal Consultant, SUMS Consulting

As part of effective governance, all Higher Education Institutions require a high-performing board and committees that are equipped to determine the strategic course of the organisation, manage risks, and oversee internal controls. This session considers the potential to use digital capabilities to modernise governance processes in Higher Education. Reflecting on experience and learning from the financial, retail, insurance and manufacturing sectors, the session will consider a range of tools and touchpoints that can help transform governance from a focus on the process to one that is fit-for-purpose and user-focused.

Delegates will work through real case studies from projects within and external to the HE sector. Following brief outlines of project objectives, technology deployed and key outcomes, delegates will be invited to reflect on lessons from each case and consider how these can be applied to their institutions. The cases themselves will range from relative ‘quick wins’ to large-scale technical transformation of governance infrastructure.

The key themes that will be covered include:-
•Digital upskilling – leveraging technology to make the governance process more efficient and effective
•Data and its use to ensure a robust, risk-based approach to governance and decision making
•Technical tools to drive leadership accountability and improve transparency in governance execution
•Defining ‘good governance’ in line with OfS guidelines and exploring how technology can help institutions meet these standards
•A focus on outcomes and continuous improvements for key stakeholders

At this session, delegates will expect to:-
•Listen to a short introductory presentation which gives practical examples from within and outside the sector linked to the themes highlighted above
•Contribute examples that demonstrate good practice from within their institution against the themes covered

By the end of the session, delegates will be able to:

  1. Consider elements of practice from beyond the HE sector that would result in improvements to governance within their institutions.
  2. Identify a range of digital competencies that are fundamental to successful governance.
  3. Reflect on existing gaps and what needs to happen to ensure continuous improvement

There are a number of sponsorship options available for our online Autumn Conference to suit your budget and business aim. Whether your organisation is currently working in HE or looking to enter the HE sector, AUA events can help you to:

  • Increase your presence within the HE sector
  • Promote brand awareness to different institutions across the UK


Keynote session

Reaching the full delegation of up to 150 HE professionals, prices for this session are as follows:

– Slide advertisement | £200+VAT
– Logo on presentation slides* | £100+VAT
– Both packages combined | £250+VAT

*Subject to speaker approval. Invoices will be adjusted accordingly.

Panel session

Reaching the full delegation of up to 150 HE professionals, prices for this session are as follows:

– Slide advertisement | £200+VAT
– Logo on presentation slides* | £100+VAT
– Both packages combined | £250+VAT

*Subject to speaker approval. Invoices will be adjusted accordingly.

Working session one or two

To sponsor a single working session, the following prices will apply:

– Slide advertisement | £100+VAT
– Logo on the presentation slides | £75+VAT
– Both packages combined | £150+VAT

To sponsor all sessions in working session one or two reaching the full delegation of up to 150 HE professionals, the following prices will apply:

– Slide advertisement | £200+VAT
– Logo on all presentation slides* | £100+VAT
– Both packages combined | £250+VAT

*Subject to speaker approval. Invoices will be adjusted accordingly.

Interested in becoming a sponsor?

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