Over 100 CUBO (College and University Business Officers) delegates and corporates joined forces at CUBO’s Winter Conference to ‘Vision the Future’ – a future which sees universities engaging with passion, optimism and increasing immersion into smart technology and social media (eg Instagram), in order to keep up with today’s ‘Generation Screensaver’ digital era and with the ongoing transformation of next tier students (Generation Alpha).
Delegates praised the content as being highly strategic, giving valuable differentiation of CUBO from more operationally orientated associations in the sector.
Professor Peter Mathieson, principal and vice-chancellor of The University of Edinburgh, ranked alongside high-profile speakers such as: Dave Gorman, director, Department for Social Responsibility & Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh; Mark Fawcett (founder of ‘We are Futures’, originally the National Schools Partnership); the respected author, Neil Gaught; and Helenor Gilmour, director of insights at Beano for Brands (Beano Studios).
Universities need to ‘get with it’ and get closer to social feature apps such as Instagram – Julie Barker, non-executive director, CUBO
Key themes debated were all linked to generational profiling, including universities’ adaptability towards issues such as climate change, gender neutrality, sustainability, changing campus’ experiences, and how evolving and smart technologies of the future are set to shape these.
Julie Barker, founder of Julie Barker Associates and non-executive director for CUBO, reinforced that this year’s content was powerful and relevant amidst the current uncertainty that prevails in the sector. She said: “We really got into the mindsets of students and the upcoming traits of Generation Alpha to ‘vision the future’ in a way to help members look at the student experience afresh.
“We know that young adults are contradictory, and they respond to, and value, optimism. Gen A is a fascinating age. Generational profiling shows us that likely student traits will include: young activists, digital masters, creative entrepreneurs and a compulsion to question everything while being hands on in driving change(1).
“We know that students don’t feel ‘listened to’ by politicians with HEPI’s recent findings debated, which showed that over 75% of students feel that the government has let them down in the way it has engaged over Brexit( 2). Furthermore, 41% of students feel that the government should be paying more in relation to student fees (reference source – HEPI).
“We learned that we need to ‘get visual’ with our messages and invite students to review what we do. Students want to receive clear messages in a way that resonates with their culture – which is increasingly aligned to smart technologies, online portals and apps. Universities need to ‘get with it’ and get closer to social feature apps such as Instagram.
“As gender diversity becomes the norm, at least 50% of students believe that their gender doesn’t matter(3). Campuses are already moving towards gender neutrality, modifying services and features accordingly and we can learn from sharing best practice.
“We debated how the HE sector can make a difference on climate change. There is no question that this topic is close to students’ hearts as young activists, and we can change behaviour through motivation. Already, there’s a marked increase towards plant-based menus and veganism, but there is a great deal more to be done across emissions, across estate’ assets and also when it comes to plastic waste – by 2050, it is estimated there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
“In general, students have modest ambitions for the future, but make no mistake that they are under immense pressure to achieve. When looking at university accommodation of the future, we should be prioritising wellbeing, affordability, a blended community and experiences, and we should consider our residential life programmes by outcomes, not inputs.”
*1 Getting to know Gen Alpha (Beano for Brands)
*2 HEPI – 2019 Election Briefing
*3 HEPI – 2019 Why British Students Live Away From Home and Why it Matters