Lifting us higher…

This year’s HE&FE Show had many lessons for the future as University Business Managing Editor Hannah Oakman reports

There was a real buzz in the air at this year’s event, moved to a larger arena than the 2014 affair in London’s Olympia, mainly to accommodate the hordes of higher and further education specialists who some along to learn at the conference. In fact, The Higher & Further Education (HEFE) Show 2015 at ExCeL London was attended by nearly 1,500 HE & FE professionals and this year’s event provided a unique opportunity for visitors to meet and engage face-to-face with key stakeholders, peers and leading suppliers to the higher and further education sectors.

With the market becoming even more challenging to attract students, both nationally and internationally, the show aimed to highlight best practice. The day included over 70 exhibitors showcasing some of the best business and learning solutions from within the education sector.

But despite the space on offer at London’s ExCel, the audience were still queuing out of the door to get into the variety of conference and workshops on offer. Those unlucky enough to miss out were able to listen in on wireless headphones, while peering around the doors and through glass screens to get in on the action.

So why were people so keen to come along? I’d put it down to the truly focused and targeted nature of the conference sessions and the calibre of the speakers. Combine this with the fact that this is a free conference for education and public sector specialists, and you have a bit of a winning combination. Supported by an array of leading organisations in higher education, including Universities UK, the University Alliance, the Higher Education Academy and 157 Group, to name just a few, University Business was delighted to attend as official media partners.

The main HE conference was billed as offering an excellent opportunity to navigate the government’s latest initiatives and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) even had a drop-in stand for interested parties to learn more about boosting innovation via the university sector. Stephen Jones, an HE specialist at BIS did address the crowd on higher education’s role in the new government’s productivity plan, while Maddalaine Ansell talked about the evolving entrepreunurial role of universities and the challenges faced in the sector. The conference also featured a keynote presentation delivered by Sir Ian Diamond on ‘Efficiency, Effectiveness and Value for Money’ which explored the future of sustainable development and a new efficiency agenda for higher education through asset sharing, innovation in estates and green initiatives.     

Along with the main conference, there were a plethora of seminars taking place throughout the day, all of potential interest to University Business readers. From preventing and detecting radicalisation on campus, to enhancing student recruitment through digital and social media and designing 21st century active learning spaces, the sessions covered all the hot topics.

With the ever growing role estates play in a prospective student’s decision making process, the high number of senior level attendees confirmed that more universities and colleges are keen to adapt and compete to attract more students. One of the key findings in the Diamond Review Phase II (released earlier this year) highlighted the need for greater efficiency in the use of space as a key trend. 

Indeed, there was a great talk from Andrew May, Director of Estates and Hospitality at Hertfordshire University, on how to prioritise estates to enhance the student experience. With a turnover of £250m and 2,700 staff, he told the crowd that he was proud that Hertfordshire had transformed itself into the UK’s leading business facing university, using its estate strategy as a delivery vehicle to drive improvements across campus. From launching its own bus company to developing more than three dozen commercial property arrangements on campus, it seemed like the perfect business model for the future of universities in the UK.  

Andrew May, University of Hertfordshire

The ICT Zone was one of the most popular areas on the day showcasing innovative teaching and learning solutions as well as a dedicated open theatre for the very first time.

After a whizz around the zoned exhibition, to meet some of the top suppliers to the industry, it was time to head off and away from this year’s show. The Higher & Further Education Show received great feedback and visitors, exhibitors as well as speakers took to twitter to share their experience on the day using #HEFE2015 – which resulted in the hashtag trending nationwide on twitter. It created a great buzz – which I suspect will be even bigger and better in 2016…


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