Commercial Business in HE, working in uncertain times

The 5th annual UHS Conference put an uncertain future for commercial operators within HE, under the spotlight

The one-day conference – Commercial Business in HE, Working in Uncertain Times, took place at the headquarters of Pinsent Masons in London on 2 November.

Professor Paul White OBE, Emeritus Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Sheffield, opened the debate with his views on how we respond to change and challenge. Paul provided a whistle-stop tour of the issues affecting and potentially changing the future of UK HE as we know it – and it certainly got everyone thinking. 

Paul also gave ten predictions and suggestions for HE delivery in modern times, “UK HE as a whole is strong enough to withstand the current period of turbulence but institutions will have to be flexible in their approach to threats and opportunities,” he said. 

“We want to retain a vibrant and successful sector, but to do it we are going to have to do things in a rather different way. If we want the sector to stay successful we are going to have to be flexible to change.”

Next up was Colin Blair, Director of Estates and Facilities at the University of Huddersfield. Colin has been with Huddersfield for over 25 years and has been instrumental in managing the transformation of its academic estate into one of the best examples in the HE sector. 

As well as running through some of the University’s most impressive new-build developments – notably, Student Central, a learning and leisure centre which opened in early 2014. The University invested £2m in the new-build as a response to student feedback. “We not only delivered on time and on budget, but we delivered with passion,” said Colin.

He then went on to ask delegates “do you know where your university is going?” To which nobody could reply with a confident ‘yes’. Colin stressed the importance of why we need to understand the business that we are in – and that HE is very much a business. Colin’s presentation highlighted that Huddersfield, and it’s staff, are very clear on its direction, and that has also been a contributing factor to its success in recent years.

UK HE as a whole is strong enough to withstand the current period of turbulence but institutions will have to be flexible in their approach to threats and opportunities

Another presentation was lead by Antony Guy, Director at Velresco Consultancy. Antony introduced delegates to the vWall – an interactive video wall, which allows you to capture and instantly analyse ideas from a group of people. 

Antony created a poll on the topical subject of the impact of Brexit on UK HE, with one of the questions being ‘Do you believe there will be a reduction in student numbers in the future?’ A surprising 52% said yes. 

What’s great about the vWall is that as facilitator you, the user, can move notes, group them and analyse them from your own laptop, or tablet, or directly on the screen if it is touch enabled. Antony’s session was a great way of introducing audience participation, and the vWall is perfect for creating engaging content – almost instantly.


Other speakers on the day  included Raj Verma: Sodexo Global Universities, Nicola Bradfield, Senior Associate at Pinsent Masons, and Tom White, Group Marketing Director at StudentCom. The conference was chaired by Professor David Russell: The Russell Partnership.

The conference is aimed at Directors of Commercial Services, Estates, Accommodation and Conferencing across the HE sector, and is a great opportunity to learn from both the public and private sector is a key feature of the day.


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