UCISA Plus One winners reflect on UCISA23 part 2

26 May 2023 - UCISA Plus One winners reflect on UCISA23 part 2

PlusOne Bursary Recipients Experiences of UCISA23

UCISA23 brought together a range of IT leaders from across HE. As part of UCISA’s ongoing commitment to supporting the development of colleagues, UCISA supported 12 individuals to attend UCISA23 through our PlusOne Bursary Scheme.

This blog post is the second in a series presenting the experiences of colleagues who received support through the PlusOne Bursary Scheme.


What were you looking forward to about UCISA23?

Julian Dobson, Business Relationship Manager, Goldsmiths, “I attended the UCISA 2023 leadership conference, on a Plus One bursary place. Unlike my colleague, I didn't take home any of the impressive vendor prizes, but I did come away with some common themes and some memorable quotes.”

Julie Lockwood, Digital Product Manager, Goldsmiths, “I had not attended an in-person conference since pre-pandemic, so it was amazing to be given the opportunity to join this conference. It was also my first ever Leadership conference so there was a little bit of apprehension involved too, but I really did not need to worry as I was well looked after.”

Lee Hall, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning, Northumbria University, “Primarily I was looking forward to making some great connections through networking with like-minded individuals. I was also looking forward to hearing from some of the high-calibre speakers that were announced – I certainly wasn’t disappointed on either point!”


What were your first impressions?

Lee, “Obviously one of the first things that strikes is the scale of the event. It was great walking into the event hall to see all the supplier stands and the auditorium being prepared for the talks throughout the event. It’s on a size and scale that perhaps I wasn’t expecting but it was a good surprise. The actual venue in Liverpool was top class too; I hadn’t been before to the ACC, but I would certainly now go again for future events!”

Julian, “Check in was swift and the venue was awesome. It was lovely to have everything under one roof and the hotels so close to the venue. We were given our conference passes, this is where the ‘freebie collection’ started; pens and laptop bags were on offer from the get-go. We were also given a card to encourage us to visit the Exhibitors, as simple as going and collecting a set of initials from the exhibitors on your card to go into a draw to win a PS5. This definitely encouraged me to visit each of them.”

Julie, “I had no clear preconceptions about the conference but was quite curious to see what the various HE leaders had to say.”


What were your top three key takeaways from having attended?

Julie, “Day 1 sessions highlighted the fact that AI and digital transformation are high on the agenda in HE. Students are expecting more and more to be delivered digitally and they want easy-to-use systems and information at their fingertips. ChatGPT has been a hot topic for a few months now and there were discussions and concerns around how students will use it and the possible threat it may cause regarding assessments.

Day 2 started well with Speakers highlighting the importance of creating a culture of innovation, collaboration, diversity and inclusion. They also highlighted the issue around recruiting ‘Technology Talent’ and the struggle facing all HE’s as we cannot compete on private sector salaries. We need to ensure we sell our non-pay benefits and speed up our hiring processes, so we do not lose talent in the long-winded processes that most HE’s have.”

Lee, “I would start with firstly by saying that making an effort to push yourself to talk to each supplier is valuable, even if at first sight perhaps the suppliers offer might not seem to be of immediate worth to your goals. I found myself making connections that, longer term, will be of value to my organisation’s goals.

I would also say that the talks are hugely valuable. It’s great hearing from so many perspectives, and their own journeys past or present. Again, you might not immediately acquiesce with the topics at hand (or hopefully you do) but the learning and advice on offer is first class. I took a lot away from the speakers and found myself regularly noting down ideas or concepts to pursue myself.

Lastly, I would recommend taking as many business cards as possible and then spending a little time post-event noting down who you were talking to and something memorable about the conversation, as there’s a lot of email traffic post-event, so it’s good to remind yourself whom you’re dealing with to have better post-event conversations.”

Julian, “AI: it's not going away. ChatGPT was obviously on many people's minds, as an opportunity as well as a threat. Several speakers referred to the obvious impact on HE and academics: assessment methods will have to change, but the University of Durham, explained how they have used Microsoft AI to create Holly, an AI assistant, to answer common student queries. Apart from improving the student experience, it led them to the nirvana of virtual teams. Key advice: start small, because if you get it wrong, it could cost millions.

CIO: getting a seat at the table. Technology is all-pervasive, and critical for HE institutions, and the CIO is at the central to these developments, so needs to be advising, and be part of decision-making: this was one "reason to be cheerful" (Ian Dury, for us non-digital natives). However, to get that seat, CIOs need to bring more to the table than just their knowledge of managing IT. One panel member even looked forward to the day when a CIO becomes a Vice-Chancellor. Related to this was the need for the CIO to work closely with active teachers and researchers so they know and understand the needs. A good personal relationship isn’t essential, but trust and respect is.

Team building! 10-pin bowling really is the ideal team activity: you praise fellow players, offer advice, and have time to chat and drink between your turn.”


What would be your top recommendation for someone attending UCISA23 for the first time?

Julian, “Travelling back to London on the train Thursday afternoon, I felt I'd been informed, entertained, and inspired to focus on my personal development plan (and wondering if I could use ChatGPT to write my report for UCISA!”

Julie, “I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and would highly recommend it. I would definitely attend again, even if there were no freebies. The conference was a highly informative and engaging event that provided me with valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities facing all higher education institutions. It was nice to know that the challenges we are facing are shared. An amazing conference to network at too.”

Lee, “Without a doubt, take time to talk to everyone. Everyone was very friendly and can offer value, even if not in the immediate. But to add to that, ask yourself before you attend, what value can you offer to these people who have taken time out to be there and make these connections? Your time is as valuable to them as it is to yourself!”