Events > Conference > Conference 2018


UHR Conference 2018, Bristol, 22-25 May 2018

Universities: competitive advantage or collective advancement?

This year, our 2018 Conference and Exhibition took place in Bristol from 22-25 May.  

Following on from the huge success of our previous conferences, the 2018 event was as stimulating and inspiring as ever. The conference brought those working in the sector an exciting mix of plenary speakers, workshops, legal sessions, evening social activities as well as a fantastic Gala Dinner and the UHR Awards.

The conference was held at the historic Mercure Grand Bristol Hotel in the heart of the city.


2018 Programme

We were delighted to welcome Margaret Heffernan, Professor Moira Clark, Matthew Syed, and Professors Susan Rigby and Steve West as our main plenary speakers.


Margaret Heffernan


Margaret Heffernan is international recognised as a leading media executive.

She produced programmes for the BBC for 13 years before spearheading multimedia productions for Intuit, The Learning Company and Standard&Poors in the US. She was Chief Executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and then iCast Corporation. She is now Lead Faculty for the Forward Institute’s Responsible Leadership Programme.

Margaret is the author of five books, one of which was named one of the most important business books of the decade by the Financial Times. She also writes for the Financial Times, the New York Observer and the Huffington Post. Her TED talks have been seen by over seven million people.

She holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath and continues to mentors CEOs and senior executives of major global organisations through Merryck & Co.


 Professor Moira Clark.


Moira Clark is Professor of Strategic Marketing at Henley Business School and Director of The Henley Centre for Customer Management. She also serves as a consultant to a number of leading UK and international companies. Her major area of research and consulting is in Customer Management, Social Networking, Customer Retention and Internal Marketing. She has worked extensively in the area of culture and climate, its impact on retention and loyalty and the critical linkages between employee behaviour and customer retention.

Moira has researched and published widely on the subject of Relationship Marketing, customer experience and service excellence. Publications include for example, the Academy of Marketing Science, International Journal of Management Reviews and the Journal of Relationship Marketing. She is also co-author of 'Relationship Marketing for Competitive Advantage, Winning and Keeping Customers and Relationship Marketing: Strategy and Implementation'. Her book 'Business Success through Service Excellence' examines the crucial factors needed to achieve and maintain service excellence.


Matthew Syed



Matthew Syed is one of the world’s most influential thinkers in the field of high performance and cultural change. He has worked with some of the world’s leading organisations to build a mindset of continuous improvement. Matthew is the author of two bestselling books – Bounce and Black Box Thinking – having released his latest book, The Greatest. He is a multiple award-winning journalist for The Times and a highly-acclaimed speaker, regularly contributing to radio and television.

Matthew explores a thought provoking approach to high performance in the context of a complex and fast-changing world. He draws on a vast array of case studies and real-world examples across sport, business, education and politics. Matthew looks at the inside story of how success really happens – and how we cannot grow unless we are prepared to learn from our mistakes.


Our fourth plenary involved Susan Rigby and Steve West in conversation with Ant Bagshaw, Deputy CEO of Wonkhe.


Professor Susan Rigby commenced her role as Vice-Chancellor of Bath Spa University on the 22nd January 2018.  Previously she was Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Student Development at the University of Lincoln where she was responsible for the student journey from application to alumni activities, and had oversight of the Colleges of Science and Arts.

Sue is a palaeontologist by background.  After being an academic at  Cambridge, Leicester and Edinburgh she moved into senior management, first as Assistant Principal and then Vice Principal at the University of Edinburgh.  She is an HEA Principal Fellow. She is Chair of the HEFCE Learning Gain project, is chairing work on the design of a PGT national survey and is Chair of the Natural Sciences TEF Pilot Panel.  Internationally, she has contributed to the development of reward and recognition processes for staff in learning and teaching through the U21 network, and developed the first MOOC to be shared by students in the U21 Universities.

Professor Steve West took up the post of Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of the West of England Bristol in 2008 at the age of 46. He trained as a Podiatrist and Podiatric Surgeon in London and developed his research interests in Lower Limb Biomechanics and the Diabetic Foot at King’s College London. He worked as a clinician and clinical tutor in the NHS, University Sector and undertook research and consultancy in industry and the retail healthcare sectors. 

He holds a number of national and international advisory appointments in Higher Education and in his discipline, healthcare policy and practice.  He is Non-Executive Director for the Office for Students, Non-Executive Director for HEFCE, Board Member for the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and Chair of the UUK Mental Health in Higher Education Working Group. He is also a member of both the Education and the Diversity Honours Committees.


Theme - Universities: competitive advantage or collective advancement?

League tables, rankings and periodic assessments of Research, and, now Teaching, Excellence, place universities firmly in competition with each other. Brexit will heighten the focus on each institution’s ability to recruit and retain a diminishing pool of highly talented staff. 

At the same time, we’re seeing increased emphasis on partnerships, including: increased collaboration to address research challenges; local partnerships and the regional role of universities; and, consortia of universities to achieve economies of scale and increased efficiency in delivering core functions and professional services.

Can this tension be met collectively or will universities become more fiercely competitive in this new environment?

The 2018 UHR Conference focused on the people management implications of identifying opportunities for competitive advantage and distinctiveness in our own institution’s mission, whilst recognising the value of collaboration as a sector in responding to common opportunities and threats.  

  • How is HR responding to this potential tension and adapting as a function to a trend of increasing individualism?
  • Is our traditionally open culture amongst HR colleagues, where we readily share information and potential solutions to issues, still relevant and appropriate?
  • What's the tradeoff between a focus on the HR strategy, activities and achievements of our own institution and the success of the broader UK HE sector?


Did you make it into the #UHR2018 Flickr gallery?



Workshop presentation slides

The following presentations were made during the workshop and legal sessions. Please note that you will need your UHR member log-on to access these pdf documents.




Bookings for our 2019 Conference will be open from later in the year. Save the date:

UHR Conference 2019 will be held in Manchester from 21st to 23rd May 2019


UHR Conference 2017

The 2017 Conference took place in Newcastle and followed the theme of ‘All things to all people: what are universities for?’. With over 35 exhibitors and sponsors from across the sector on hand to offer useful advice and services throughout the event, and afterwards, there was lots of information and knowledge shared.

Get a taste of last year’s conference by watching our highlight reel or download the presentations.

Please email us at with any delegate, exhibitor or sponsor enquiries. Alternatively, you can call us on 0161 428 1250.

Previous UHR Annual Conferences

2019 - Manchester

2018 - Bristol

2017 - Newcastle

2016 - Brighton

2015 - Leeds


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