Full house at HE&FE Show 2014

University Business team headed to London’s Olympia for one of the main events in the university and further education sector

Managing Editor Hannah Oakman reports…

This year’s Higher & Further Education Show aimed to highlight the key issues afoot in the industry right now – and it didn’t disappoint. I can’t remember a past event where delegates had to queue to get into the conference area, but we readily stood in line to hear what the great and good from the world of HE and FE had to say. 

Speakers from across the spectrum – from the Higher Education Policy Institute, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Association of Colleges, Jisc, Universities UK and more – regaled the audience with a a series of lectures and seminars on everything from student recruitment, the digital future, how to best engage your workforce, procurement issues and overcoming obstacles to succeed in internationalisation. 

There were a few highlights from the conference and key facts which piqued my interest. Thomas Velt, Director of External Relations at the University of Leicester spoke about the challenges ahead in student recruitment. ‘Competition is fierce,’ he stated, with students attending at least eight open days on average and parents rated as a major influence in the choice of university ultimately taken (65%). ‘We are now holding sessions at open days just for parents,’ he revealed, which sounded intriguing to say the least.   

He also believed that universities and FE colleges need to start understanding the student journey earlier on. ‘We need to be talking to students in Year 10 at the latest,’ he stated. The University of Leicester also has careers services on hand at Freshers’ Week, reinforcing the message that a great university education also includes a strong employability focus.

A further speaker who generated a lot of questions and feedback was Gordon McKenzie, representing the government view point, in his role as Deputy Director – Higher Education Strategy and Policy at BIS. Looking to the future of higher education, he aimed to focus on the ‘known knowns’ at this current stage of the electoral cycle with the planned expansion of HE when the cap on student numbers is lifted next year. ‘When we look globally, there is still tremendous demand for higher education and we appear to have a funding model which does not put people off,’ he commented. With 378,000 UK and EU undergraduates registered in 2013/14 (up 8% on the previous year), the numbers are still set to grow.

‘When we remove the cap on student numbers, we are uncertain of exact figures but we estimate that unmet demand in the system currently amounts to around 60,000 places.’ It will be interesting to see how university campuses will cope with these boosted numbers. 

He also talked about why HE and FE education benefits the UK, not only the economic case for both the individual and the exchequer but also the non-economic benefits such as generally better health, higher levels of tolerance within society and resilience, which is certainly a different way of looking at things. 

The event also included a busy exhibition which we just about had time to zoom around, zoned into themed areas such as: energy, estates and facilities management; ICT; office, print and furniture; recruitment and careers; and travel and transport. In amongst the usual free pens, sweets and prize draw entry for leaving a business card, there were some innovative solutions on offer for the higher and further education sector.

There was a lot on offer at this year’s event in terms of seminars and speakers; almost too much, in my opinion, for a mere mortal to cover! The show could easily entertain for a couple of days, with such a pedigree of speakers on offer. As such, University Business will definitely be back next year…

Image courtesy of Olympia.co.uk