HERDSA 2011 – day one

This week I am spending at the HERDSA conference, an annual conference that gathers together a mixture of academics, academic developers, learning support staff, and various PVCs, DVCs etc. Because of this mix, it is a very interesting conference – great discussions can happen when you gather together people from all sections of the university sector. I typically attend discipline specific learning and teaching conferences – focussed on common pedagogical issues, and how we can teach our students better. These are great, but a conference like HERDSA helps give that broader context for what we do, and helps get a handle on the broader (political) climate in which higher education sits.

Last night we had the welcome reception and opening keynote by Denise Bradley. Professor Bradley has made considerable impact upon the higher education sector, with the recent Bradley report being just one representation of this. The Bradley report promises increased student numbers and diversity within the sector, lifting caps on student enrollment at individual institutions and delivering places to all qualified students. The Federal Government has declared that this ideal will not be the implementation – ie from 2013, I believe, there will be caps on enrollment at individual institutions but that these are intended to be sufficiently increased from previous caps as to enable (most) students their choice of institution. This is sensible as without some idea of a maximum cap, individual institutions are left with no idea of how many students will be on campus for any specific year – which introduces the obvious problems in space and staff planning.

Professor Bradley spoke briefly, but gave focus and motivation for the conference attendees. She spoke of the expected changes in higher education, including VET, and of the more central position that higher education will play in meeting the government’s agenda. As we have already seen, this increased focus has introduced the need for higher education to be more flexible and accountable – when in balance, not a bad thing. The key phrase that I recall was that we might not be safe, but it would be interesting.

The reception afterwards gave us a welcome opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends. Often, during the day to day whirlwind at your own institution, there are few opportunities to reflect, either upon your teaching or research. So it is very valuable to get a chance to think and talk with people, outside of the pressures of deadlines, etc. Of course, these deadlines are still there, but somehow we can pretend they are further away at a conference, or at least until we get back to our hotel room, and our email, at the end of the day!

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