Reflections on the AccessHE Annual Conference 2018 with BT

September 27, 2018

AccessHE Annual Conference brand


AccessHE Annual Conference 2018

AccessHE Annual Conference 2018, BT Auditorium

On Thursday 20 September, AccessHE welcomed 83 delegates to BT Centre in St Paul’s and the AccessHE Annual Conference 2018 with BT. Presented with a full programme (PDF, 836 KB) of speakers, discussions, panels and networking opportunities, delegates were empowered to share their challenges in widening access in London, learn from each other, sit alongside education and business leaders, hear from policy makers and network with like-minded travellers on similar journeys.

Mark Sexton, London Regional Director at BT, was joined by Professor Peter John, Vice-Chancellor of The University of West London and Chair of AccessHE, to open proceedings and give some background to the Conference and the day ahead. Professor John then invited our first key note speaker – Rushanara Ali MP, Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow – who spoke passionately about her own background and how this helped inform some of the work she has done herself to support widening access for disadvantaged learners into higher education.

AccessHE Annual Conference 2018

Dr Tuba Mazhari, AccessHE

Following some Q&A, Dr Tuba Mazhari was invited to the stage to present an overview of the research report she had co-written with Dr Graeme AthertonPreparing for hyper-diversity: London’s student population in 2030. Tuba’s presentation slides can be downloaded here: Session2-Tuba-Mazhari-AccessHE (PDF, 5 MB). You can also read Tuba’s summary of the findings here.

During the first break – with refreshments kindly provided by BT – delegates were invited to network and also look at the various exhibition stands facilitated by Ai-Media, BT, Cisco, Crimson, Mitel, mytutor, and The Access Platform. Moving into the next session and Loic Menzies, Director at LKMCo, highlighted some research that his organisation has been involved in, exploring three interlinking themes for effective engagement with disadvantaged learners. Loic’s presentation can be downloaded here: Session3-Loic-Menzies-LKMCo (PDF, 1.05 MB).

Loic was followed by Laura Tressler, Universities and Housing Manager at BT, who introduced a new video from BT – Why BT Universities : Delivering a smarter, digital, more responsive student experience (on Vimeo) – before talking through some slides about how technology is and is likely to widen access to higher education. Her presentation can be downloaded here: Session3-Laura-Tressler-BT (PDF 1.5 MB). AccessHE then welcomed Ian Pretty, Chief Executive at the Collab Group, to speak about how Further Education is supporting widening access in London. He shared some interesting thoughts on what is happening now but also how closer working relationships between government, education sectors and business could push the agenda further in the future. Personally, I think many of us are interested to see what happens as T Levels are rolled out in the next few years.

AccessHE Annual Conference 2018

Sarah Howls, The Office for Students

After lunch, Sarah Howls, Head of Access and Participation Funding and Programmes, the Office for Students, took the stage to speak about how the Office for Students (OfS) is taking a new approach to access and participation in English higher education. Anecdotal feedback from some delegates from sectors outside higher education welcomed this presentation as an update on what happened to the HEFCE and where the OfS now fits in. Sarah’s presentation can be downloaded here: Session4-Sarah-Howls-OfS (PDF, 2.16 MB).

After Sarah’s presentation and some Q&A, I then stepped up to introduce three students – all based in London and all from different widening participation backgrounds. Mahnoor Khan is studying MSci Biological Sciences at the Royal Veterinary College with a year of Neuroscience at Kings College London; Rachael Ellens is studying PPE at London School of Economics and Political Science and Teni Disu recently graduated from Queen Mary, University of London and is now Uni Connect intern with AccessHE – you can read more about Teni here. During this panel, I was keen for delegates to hear, first hand, about some of the barriers our own current students have faced in accessing higher education in London and so I was really pleased when each contributed some quite striking examples of barriers they – or people they know – have faced. This really brought the message home that whilst London HEIs are actually very good at widening access, there is still more to be done.

AccessHE Annual Conference 2018

Panel session: The future of widening access to HE and social mobility in London

After another refreshment break, delegates were invited to interact with a panel session, chaired by Dr Graeme Atherton, Chair of AccessHE and including representatives from business (Christina Chan, Head of Marketing, Major Corporate & Public Sector, BT), education (Jan Parnell, Assistant Director of Education, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham) and  local government (Larry Culhane, Cabinet Member for Children & Education, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and Joel Mullan, Senior Policy Officer – Skills & Employment Strategy, Greater London Authority). This turned into quite a lively debate and, personally, I look forward to seeing how these sectors work together to address some of the ideas suggested to widen access to HE and social mobility in London. Watch this space!

In summary, I was really proud to be involved with putting together this Conference – not only instigating quite a diverse range of speakers but also welcoming a really diverse audience to complement. Indeed, during the networking sessions, I was encouraged to see colleagues taking part in deep discussions and sharing ideas about how they might work together in the future. I look forward to catching up again in 2019.

Dr Jamie Mackay, Deputy Head of AccessHE