The Inaugural Student Engagement Conference

Posted on 26 May 2010

The Cardiff Student Engagement Conference. Photo by Claire Morgan

Spanning from April 22nd – 23rd, the second floor of Cardiff’s plush Park Plaza Hotel was alive with chatter. Moderators, validation staff and delegates from both international and domestic institutes convened for the inaugural University of Wales Student Engagement Conference. This was an opportunity for alliance members and collaborative centres to engage and participate in sessions relating to student engagement issues.

The Icelandic volcanic ash-cloud did little to deter the 50 delegates who made the journey to Cardiff from various corners of the UK, Ireland and Germany. Worthy of notable mention are Doctors Hubert Schafer and Silke Mittrach (of Hochschule fur Unternehmensfuhrung), who after having spent several hours navigating their way through Germany’s autobahn, France’s autoroute, the Channel Tunnel and finally, Britain’s meandering A-roads, arrived at our civic centre with their enthusiasm intact.

The event itself was organised by Helen Knifton and Claire Morgan of the UW Validation team. Chairing the conference was Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Palastanga, with Student Liaison Officer Ben Gray assuming the role of organiser. Drawing on his experience as former NUS President, Ben delivered a Staff Student Liaison Support workshop, which was well received by all in attendance.

The two-day event was punctuated with talks held by 10 speakers, which centred on issues dealing with how institutions should effectively engage with students. The keynote speaker, Derfel Owen QAA Development Officer, conducted a presentation outlining the QAA’s approach to student involvement. A short film was then shown detailing the pressures experienced by students and highlighted their expectations of higher education. A lively debate ensued leading to a Q and A session with Derfel. Alex Bols, Head of Education and Quality NUS followed with another presentation examining how to make the appeals and complaints procedures more student-focused.

Giving their speaking contributions were representatives from: UWIC (Peter Redding); Glyndwr University (Liz Edwards and Gemma Rochester); Holborn College in London (Nina Mitreska) and Resource Development International (Claudia Luca), who each delivered presentations on student induction from the perspective of their own institutions. Overseas, online and traditional inductions were among the topics covered.

In addition, Matt Armitage and Professor Palastanga delivered a pas de deux to the tune of Global Campus and the University of Wales’ ever-expanding reach. Their presentation stimulated great zeal from delegates and staff alike.

Yet, the old adage holds true that all work and no play makes for a dull conference. Thus all attendees were invited to an evening dinner at Cardiff Castle’s 15th century banquet hall. The night proved to be a rich and fruitful experience for networking and conversation between collaborative centres and The University of Wales Validation staff. After some entertainment from Cardiff Castle’s own so-called ‘Bute-iful Nights’ act, the congregation were privy to an impromptu stage performance, as acted out by distinguished members of University staff that required those participating to mimic the sound and behaviour of certain farmyard animals.

In all, the conference was a fertile ground for mobilising collaborative centres to enter into constructive discussions with one another about common concerns surrounding student engagement. It is hoped that the success of this event will set the precedent for the upcoming Student Engagement Conference taking place in Singapore on May 26th. Present will be 10 institutions from Singapore, India, China and Malaysia, together with representatives from the British Council in Singapore.


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