SACACA Repost: Higher Education Conference, Amsterdam

Author: Thomas Davidson 
The Wibuat Building, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. The Conference Venue
The Wibuat Building, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. The Conference Venue

Continuing our recent attendance of numerous conferences, we were lucky enough to be invited (as a group) to attend the Higher Education Conference in Amsterdam. This is a highly prestigious conference, with in excess of 500 delegates from over 30 countries. It was a privilege therefore that the group decided that I should attend with Thomas Rowledge. The trip was arranged a while in advance so we had both been looking forward to it for a long time, and when the trip finally came around last week, we were both extremely excited.

Flying from Southampton was a breeze, and after a slightly shaky/Hunger Games-like experience of trying to secure a taxi outside the airport, we were cruising in the back of a Mercedes to the city of Amsterdam. The hotel we had been recommended by the conference was perhaps appropriately called the “Student Hotel”. While “student” is not a word commonly associated with quality living standards, we were more than pleasantly surprised to discover a lovely, well-situated and stylishly furnished hotel, with immensely friendly staff. The provision of a free waffle on arrival would have won me over regardless of quality, but from that free waffle onwards the hotel did not disappoint in any area. I am aware I’m not writing for TripAdvisor so won’t dwell much more on the free to use Nepresso machine in every room and other services offered, but a personal highlight was the TedTalks booth in reception, where you could go and watch a huge selection of Ted Talks right there in the lobby – if only we had longer to enjoy!

But we were there to do a job, and an exciting one at that. The conference consisted of three different types of session – keynotes, symposiums and presentations. We attended a number of each. Over the course of the 3 days, we were spoken to by academics and leaders in a huge number of fields in higher education. We heard about how MOOCs can contribute to a sense of learner-isolatedness and how to combat this, the impact of UK government policy on “student consumerist” mindsets and how this trickled down to a direct influence on academic achievement and why co-creation could be the next big thing in education (obviously we’re slightly bias in favour of this viewpoint!). It would have been possible to dedicate each day to each one of those areas, but they were are only a small proportion of the topics discussed. Sure, some of the content was slightly daunting but every time I personally attend an event like this, instead of thinking “Ugh, I’m never going to understand this…where’s the nearest PokeStop?”, I am instead refreshed by the level of dedication and professionalism going into innovating higher education for the benefit of US. All academics at the event were aware that Universities are nothing without their students, and this is why education innovation and research, which in some institutions is neglected, should be at the forefront of the decision makers in universities minds.

Returning to what we learnt before this post gets too “ranty”, we were really interested to hear from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. McMaster hosted the Students As Partners Summer Institute a couple of months back, and they share our opinion on the importance of Students, and co-creation, in education innovation. We took a number of ideas away from the symposium they spoke at, and will be following these up over the Summer and the start of the next academic year: watch this space! A more formal write up of what we learnt has been submitted to Business School academics, and we hope to hear back from them soon, so we will be able to share more with you after that.

For those of you who read my article about my trip to Newcastle, you’ll know I am a fan of cities (indeed I wrote my MANG1020 assignment on this fact). I therefore will dedicate the rest of this article to the city of Amsterdam. For as much as I enjoyed what little I saw of Newcastle, I have to say Amsterdam took it to the next level.

We were treated to a gorgeously scenic city, with tree-lined canals winding their way through quiet roads and relaxed pedestrianised squares, and so many window boxes providing a kaleidoscope of colour, we were convinced there must be some sort of law compelling citizens to have at least 5 of them per flat. From canal-side bar, to the conveniently-located Spar, the people of Amsterdam were friendly, welcoming and ever-tolarent of our “Sorry, English” remark when offered something in Dutch. Both Tom and I decided almost on our first night that we would be returning at some point in the near future to properly sample the delights the city had to offer. In only our short time there, we were able to visit Anne Frank’s house (but unfortunately not go inside due to long queues), take a walk through the museum district and peak inside the Heineken brewery. I can’t speak for Tom, but to me Amsterdam was a distinct and unique city; a city it seemed with more bars per square-mile than skyscrapers in the whole place. While Amsterdam has it’s place in popular culture for a number (namely two) reasons it is perhaps best not to dwell on here, it is so important to see past this and to see the restrictions (or lack of) as a part of the city, not as defining it. You can’t talk about (or for that matter walk in) Amsterdam without thinking about the bikes. Oh the bikes. We were in Amsterdam for four days, and by the time we left could still not cross a road without at least one 360 degree spin to ensure there wasn’t a cyclist hurtling toward you. Cycling in Amsterdam was again something we did not have quiet enough time to squeeze in, but I think if I did return…I would perhaps keep my cycling to one of the many parks, and leave the roads to the professionals!

The last thing I’d like to mention is the closing conference address by Didi Griffioen (and if she reads this I hope Didi does not mind me calling her out) on Friday. The address was full of excitement about the future of higher education, and inspiring for how each individual in attendance could make a difference. But Didi also took the time to express solidarity with the victims of the horrific atrocity in Nice the night before. This was a very moving moment, as people from a huge number of countries joined together to collectively mourn the loss of over 80 citizens of the world, men, women and children.  I would like to join the millions, billions even, across the world in expressing sorrow at the tragedy, and am sure I speak on behalf of Tom, and the rest of the Co-Creation Group here at Southampton.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and I will hopefully be able to share some photos and more information from the trip with you all soon – continue to enjoy the rest of your Summer guys, looking forward to seeing you all in September!


Update: Here are the aforementioned photos, including some Pokemon we happened to find!

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