The standout session is...

12 May 2022      Ruth Turner, Membership Officer

It would be entirely ungallant to refer to UHR Conference Chair Kim Frost, UHR Executive Director Helen Scott and the Chair of our Conference Committee Mary Luckiram of City, University of London, as ‘big cheeses’, writes UHR Communications Officer Martin Higgs – but nevertheless if you are looking for reflections on #UHR22 these are the ones to take note of!

UHR member delegates can rewatch favourite sessions or check out ones they missed once more on the UHR website. A bit of UHR Catch-Up TV – it’s better than Netflix.

For Kim, “The standout session for me has to be Eddie Obeng’s plenary (Wednesday 9am). And not just for what he said, but at least as much for the style in which he said it. It’s an art to deliver any kind of learning remotely as we’ve all been realising from sometimes painful experience over the last two years. I thought the session was very good indeed. In terms of how to deliver a masterclass, well, it was a masterclass. Involving, engaging, humorous, digressive sometimes but nevertheless able to keep us all marching along together at an absolutely amazing pace, the graphs and cartoons of ideas all delivered in live time via energetic scribbles…the delegate feedback was hugely positive, as it was for Jennifer Moss’s very different plenary (on Tuesday at 10am). Jen is the burnout specialist that got us all thinking about the way we are constantly overstimulated by close-up face to face interaction via remote technologies, and shared some of the shocking stats around the ways in which our working lives have changed in the last few years – meeting numbers more than doubling, 40 billion more emails being sent per year than before Covid – as well as the signs of burnout we should look for in ourselves and others: lack of focus, cynicism, disengagement and more. There was also a good note to register that burnout and poor performance can look similar, but fundamentally aren’t the same. I think there’s a really good case to say that the plenary sessions at #UHR22 have been stronger than they ever have been, and I’m conscious that I’m writing this note before we’ve even met our closing speaker David Olusoga yet.”

In contrast, Helen loved the Q&A format with Mohsin Zaidi on day two. “It would hardly be possible to think of two more contrasting styles than Eddie’s and Mohsin’s. I enjoyed the conversation with him enormously. For many of us trying to think about intersectionality is an intellectual challenge rather than a lived experience. I thought he did a brilliant job of helping colleagues think and talk about these issues, from his comment about ‘the sheer inconceivability of leaning in to his sexuality given his cultural background’, to his sense from his early days at Oxford (on repeatedly being asked what school he came from) that he was ‘undergoing a rapid crash course in the English class system’. He's an accomplished writer and there will be more than one delegate that has already bought his book (‘A Dutiful Boy’) having heard this session. Several times he came up with a new and apparently off the cuff image or way of explaining his ideas, and that felt like a naturally flowing conversation rather than a ‘performed presentation’. He put story-telling at the heart of cultural change, saying stories are ‘like Trojan horses, with the power to enter hearts and minds’ – and that they should therefore be right at the centre of any culture change task. There was so much to take from this session and I’d really like colleagues to catch up if they didn’t see it live. I appreciated the nuance he gave us that BLM in a UK context has to include the experience of South Asian people at the fore – Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities are among the most economically deprived in the UK. But Kim’s right, I’m also making my notes ahead of David Olusoga’s session and choosing favourites at this stage feels like a fool’s errand.”

Kim’s other point related to the UHR Awards, where “the sheer range of what people are doing, the good work across the sector and the willingness of people to share” really struck a note. “Watching the comments in the chat boxes throughout conference I’ve seen again and again people connecting over shared interests, people have popped up saying they’d like to start a working group and they’ve found their colleagues virtually instantly from being prepared to engage like this. I just don’t think the same would be happening in many other sectors. It’s really impressive.”

For Mary, “If you two have gone for our lead speakers I’m going to happily point towards some of the workshop sessions where there has been real value, and immense hard work from contributors to help UHR put together such a great conference programme. So for instance there was a great session from the Pinsent Masons team on Positive Action Initiatives in Recruitment (Tuesday 4pm) – where Rebecca and Trish skilfully covered a range of initiatives and developments which can help to foster positive change in achieving greater diversity and inclusivity in our workforces. Particularly valuable for me was the clear distillation of the positive action measures and the 'Tie-Breaker' option introduced in the Equality Act 2010. These are still not widely used in the sector. The session helpfully clarified the options for using these measures, together with points to watch for. A very good way of busting a few myths and focussing on the original intention of this legislation. As with many conference sessions this was pitched at just the right level - as was evident from the very engaged Chat from participants who shared many great ideas and initiatives that they are working on in their institutions, or have come across. It was great to see the energy and experience shared in the Chat together with an openness to learn.  I certainly gained several key ideas to discuss with our recruitment and OD teams.

“It was also very good to hear of the work at Bangor University in creating a sustainable and many-faceted approach to developing an embedded approach to mental health and wellbeing for staff and students. They are using the Stepchange framework as a means of shaping and evaluating progress in delivering on the University's 2019 Strategy which has wellbeing of the entire University community at its heart. The session helpfully outlined the range of means by which Bangor works with the Students' Union and wider student body to create genuine change. Delegates learned about the impact of the i-act training programme, accredited by the British Psychological Society, which has been instrumental in raising understanding and awareness of mental health and wellbeing amongst staff, including Personal Tutors. Those of us in urban universities were also very envious of the University's Botanic Garden and use of the wider campus environment in fostering a mentally healthy community. The wealth of information to be gained from the conference can hardly be captured by one person in live time, which is why I am pleased UHR is able to share recordings of presentations with member delegates right away, and with the rest of the UHR membership later in the summer.”

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