‘Beyond Brexit’: Our experiences of the 2018 AUA Conference | AUA Blog


Harmanjit Kaur Sidhu | Information Analyst | University of Oxford

Jessica Keating | Impact Assistant in Research and Enterprise | SOAS University of London









Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. This year’s AUA Conference, held at the University of Manchester, was themed ‘Beyond Brexit’. It did, surprisingly, offer a lot more hope and positivity than initially expected as delegates explored not only the challenges facing HE as a result of Brexit but also focused on the opportunities and potential for HE. This came out particularly well in a unique session led by Alison Johns, CEO of Advance HE, where we were asked to consider the future of HE – and not even in the context of Brexit, but beyond that. There were some interesting responses from the audience, ranging from- ‘will robots replace academics?’ and ‘Will we even need a physical space for the university anymore’ to some more sobering questions like ‘will the UK still be seen as welcoming to foreign students despite Brexit and associated anti-migrant rhetoric?’ And ‘will we finally have effectively challenged the dominance of men in positions of HE leadership?’ This talk left us with plenty to think about.



Anna Jenner’s session on ‘Social Mobility’ was a fantastic session exploring the PARTNERS Programme at Newcastle University. It was an interesting insight into how another institution approaches Widening Participation, especially with a scheme that has grown from being quite local in scale (Jess remembers getting a visit to her high school in Northumberland about the programme, it might even have been done by Anna!) to having a national reach. It was also very valuable to be able to talk to other delegates about what social mobility means to us and our institutions. This showed that despite us all agreeing that it is extremely important, each institution has its own focus and approach (which is exciting but can make things more difficult!). It was particularly encouraging to see a focus on continuing to support the success of WP students throughout and beyond their degrees and acknowledging that the process doesn’t, and shouldn’t, just end once they enroll as a student.

‘Finding your True North’ by Gillian Ledgerton was a great session on the importance of setting aside some time for professional development and career planning. As some of us on the scheme found, it is easy to get caught up in ‘day to day’ tasks or project related work and forget that one of the main reasons for signing up to a graduate scheme is to develop/stretch yourself. It was also a reminder that we need to take ownership of our own development and that it is an ongoing process that will often involve discomfort and vulnerability, but is hopefully worth it!

The legendary AUA gala dinner was also an excellent, and very much needed, break from spending a whole day talking about Brexit. Aside from a few awards presented to exceptional AUA members in their respective fields, we had the evening to ourselves. As well as engaging socially with people from across the country, in really interesting and varied roles, we got to catch up with each other. Having this time to share our issues, congratulate each other on achievements and assure each other that we are all in the same boat was totally invaluable.

The biggest takeaway from the conferences (beyond the freebies…!) was getting to meet the diverse and fascinating members of Association of University Administrators and engage with them on such a wide variety of challenges and opportunities. It was extremely refreshing to get out of your own institution and be able to develop a wider picture of the UK HE environment and explore the similarities and differences between all of us.

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