‘Say hello to your new association…Welcome to the Association of Higher Education Professionals’

Development Monthly | #21 July 2023 | Reflections from the Conference

Vikki Goddard (she/her)

Independent Consultant in Higher Education and Chair at Association of University Administrators

An Introduction to AHEP to ‘Welcome to the Association of Higher Education Professionals’

If the question you were most interested in was what the new name for the AUA was going to be, the clue had been there in the title all along. Still, we waited until the end of Conference to announce it. The culmination of a year’s work on our strategic review of the Association, what its purpose is, how we make it fit for the present and, more importantly, the future, was revealed at our annual conference earlier this month. 

We wanted to weave our proposals for the new-look Association across the whole Conference experience, and start to embed our ideas with our members, as well as testing some new suggestions for what the conference can be.  Continual reinvention is a phrase that will resonate with all of us working in Professional Services within HE … as I write this the Prime Minister has just proposed caps on (ahem) ‘rip-off’ degrees … another potential change to the continuing ebb and flow of policy statements and their repercussions that we have to respond to.  Once you also factor in the changes each of our organisations make on a regular basis, whether through government statements, new leadership or by the impact of changes to student numbers or research funding, its not surprising that we need to be agile, innovative and resilient.

All of which brings me back to the Conference and the reinvention of what you will now know is going to be the Association of HE Professionals (AHEP … we do love an acronym …). Professional development and networking will continue to be at the heart of the Association and proudly sit centrally within everything we do. Our conference underlined this from start to finish.  The new garden party on the Sunday evening showcased our commitment to networking, with over 200 people arriving early so that they could partake in giant Jenga and Connect 4 along with other classics, and start to make real-life connections with colleagues. The conference programme itself was organised with sessions for early career professionals, managers, and senior leaders alongside thematic sessions, which reflects our commitment to support professionals across their career journey. It was brilliant also to see so many sessions considering aspects of diversity and inclusion, something that we are very committed to embedding across what we do at the Association.

There’s Power in our People

Meeting new people, making connections and helping other professionals in their journeys is what has always, and will continue to be, critical to what AUA/AHEP is all about.  Two experiences I had this year at conference exemplify this for me. Firstly, I got chatting to a colleague at breakfast on Monday morning.  She told me that she had, after some time in her current role, applied for a new job in the same organisation but that she was worried that she would not be able to sell herself well at interview, particularly as she knew some other people in the running, and had not been well-supported in her own development recently. She asked if I had any suggestions to help.  I knew we had free coaching sessions available … She had a short session with a coach at Conference, followed up with a further session … and last week emailed me to tell me that she had been successful in obtaining the new job.  

The second example was someone who stopped me to tell me that it was ‘all my fault that they were studying for an MBA …’. I’d done a career journey webinar and one of the observations I’d made was that you should say yes when an opportunity came up and work out how to do it later.  The next day she’d been offered that opportunity. I hope she lets me know when she graduates! We may even be able to celebrate it at the Conference Dinner (don’t mention the fire alarm …) as we did with our graduates this year.

These examples, and countless others that people could cite, demonstrate the power of our Association. Professionals from across Higher Education coming together to share their experiences, support and guide each other, and provide the constructive challenge to do things differently.  This is part of our DNA at the AUA, and was amply demonstrated through our plenary sessions. Sasha Roseneil’s tour de force overview of the issues facing the sector at present was a brilliant start point to enable everyone to think about what that meant for their own development and future progression.  Our other speakers reflected on the third space, a place that many of us will recognise as being part and parcel of our roles as HE professionals, not just for people in quite specialist positions but for many ‘generalists’ too. We all interface with and complement the academic world, and build our own career journeys. Considering what it takes to become, and succeed as, a Vice-Chancellor in the complex and challenging world we now inhabit, showed how critical it is for our Association to evolve.  

Whilst it is very difficult, and iniquitous, to pick out just a couple of examples of how issues from these sessions absolutely resonate with the reinvention of the AUA as AHEP, I’m going to do it anyway … Dilshad Sheikh’s inspiring, frank and honest story of her own journey to success, culminating in the reflection that ‘some people are never going to clap for you, win anyway’ to smash the glass ceiling (and so much else besides), speaks to me of the need to continually push for the profession.  The icing on the cake was Stuart Croft’s comment, at the final session before the big reveal … when, to be honest, I was getting very nervous about how it would all go … when he said how much he ‘hated the word administrator’ to a very substantial round of applause from the several hundred HE Professional Services staff in the room. 

It was at that point that I thought we’ve got this … and when we did get to the unveiling of the Association of Higher Education Professionals the reaction was brilliantly positive, as it has been since. A fantastic conference which underlined and brought to life everything that we have been doing over the last year to evolve our Association for the future.  It’s exciting times ahead, as we work up to the full launch in September, when we will offer opportunities building on our past, but fit for the future of a changing and innovative sector profession. 

Join the discussion @The_AUA #Develop

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