From policy making to technology, estates to procurement, leadership and commercialising shared services, the recent Future Proofing Commercial Success conference, organised by University Hospitality Seminars (UHS) was a very varied affair. Held at the ultra-smart Pinsent Masons law offices in central London, the event always draws a great crowd of university professionals from across the commercial sphere and a great range of speakers on a very diverse range of subjects.
The conference aims to equip the audience with some key take-aways, useful information and tips to transfer back to their institution and colleges to ensure that they can meet all the demands of tomorrow’s students, government regulations and increasing complex processes.
It certainly didn’t disappoint. With such a diverse range of speakers and topics, it offered something for everyone, keeping us engaged from start to finish. It was a nice touch to seat people around informal tables, rather than in a traditional conference style set-up, as this encourages networking from the start. After all people, don’t just attend events to listen, but also to share and discuss ideas, and meet new faces along the way.
Following a brief welcome from Pat McGrath, Chair of UHS, who wished us all a fruitful learning experience, the enigmatic David Russell, Chairman of the Russell Partnership, bounded on stage to chair the day’s proceedings. He promised to keep the talks on time via a green, amber and red card system and remarked that the key principals of bringing flexibility and increasing shelf-life were key to all sectors including higher education, as well as the strong necessity to apply a long- term strategy.
Pat McGrath, Chair of UHS
The day unfolded with a series of presentations from some very senior people in higher education as well as key commercial businesses operating in universities. Among the latter were Oliver Cock, Managing Director – Commercial at Compass Group on generating the most effective procurement for your university, as well as Stuart Cairns, Head of University Procurement at host company Pinsent Masons, who walked us through the maze of legal issues regarding procurement in universities. Paul Marshall, Group Director of Business Development at UPP, spoke about one of their latest developments, with the University of London – Cartwright Gardens – and the issues inherent in designing student living fit for the 21st century. He also invited the audience to take a visit to the new accommodation when open in September 2016.
Tom White from StudentCom and Campuslife, best known for their multi-media video work across UK campuses, entertained us with a thought-provoking look at Generation Z (those students born after the year 2000) who will hit campuses in 2018. For these ‘digital natives’, the latest technology is a given, while they are also characterised by being very money conscious and made up of a very diverse ethnic mix.
We were shown a very illuminating video of the campus of 2025, with student accommodation packed with virtual boards and technology to boost communication, networking and even health and mood. Tom then talked us through the five key tech trends for the future. The first was wearable technology as: “People are sick of technology being an intrusion.” The further trends were the growth of screenless displays, the use of virtual reality for key events such as virtual university open days, ibeacons to direct information direct to mobile and the Internet of Things, which will ultimately connect everything in our lives together.
Universities were well represented on the speaking panel with a series of talks including one on leading and managing successful universities from Steve Cannon, Executive Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hong Kong, who had travelled all the way from the far east to give his take on how HE has shifted and involved to the sector we have today.
Richard Maccabbee, Director at the University of London, spoke on the challenges of managing ULCC, a vast careers group and a housing service and how to effectively bring it all together.
John Hogan, University of Newcastle Registrar, spoke about the role of managers in our universities and how their numbers are increasing faster than academic staff, also an issue in the US where it’s referred to as ‘administrative bloat’. “Our universities are “complicated” he stated and “world-class in creating acronyms.” He talked through the reasons for boosting management staff, including freeing up academics to teach and research, meet growing regulation and compliance issues and develop new income streams.
The UHS event also featured two speakers from the world of policy and research. Maddaleine Ansell, CEO of the University Alliance, gave a very informative speech on key themes now emerging in the HE sector, including how universities within a geographical area are more often pooling resources to achieve better outcomes as well as how increased resources, low interest rates and the need to compete for students have led to more and more universities investing in their estates, even taking on local council facilities and running them on behalf of local authorities; “making hay while the sun shines”, as Maddeleine referred to it.
We were also entertained by Nick Hillman, Director of the HE Policy Institute (HEPI), who gave us great insight into a number of key issues, including highly-educated guesses about the contents of the since-released Green Paper, and how vital the lifting of the student numbers cap will prove to be in boosting access for every socio-economic group, university and subject group across the UK.
All-in-all, it was a great event; a fortuitous time to discuss hot topics in an era when the UK government is seeking quite striking reforms of the HE system via the new Green Paper. I’m sure these changes will be a hot topic at the next conference…