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What’s on at the Buckingham Festival of Higher Education?

  • 16 June 2017
  • By Diana Blamires

This guest blog comes from the University of Buckingham, where HEPI is hosting two debates at the Festival of Higher Education later this month.

The term ‘HE conference’ usually conjures up images of dingy lecture theatres, central London and concrete. Nothing could be more different when it comes to the Buckingham Festival of Higher Education. The inaugural event was held last year at the University of Buckingham’s beautiful riverside campus, with the cream of HE mingling with students on lawns and at picnic benches. And the second Buckingham Festival of Higher Education, on June 28th and 29th this year, will be just as stimulating.

The marquee is already rising from the rolling lawns as final preparations are being made. The harpist is booked to help delegates ease themselves into the day at registration. Lunch will again be al fresco, weather permitting, and to enhance the festival feel this year, HEPI is holding a festival within a festival, just as Glastonbury does! HEPI, led by Director Nick Hillman, will hold a debate on the first day – ‘Is it time to call time on Univerity rankings?’ – and on the second day there will be a debate on whether there is a role for the profit motive in higher education.

Crucially, some of the key ingredients of conferences remain the same. The Festival has attracted a strong line-up with Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson giving the keynote. This will be particularly poignant, as it will be the Minister’s first major HE event since he was reappointed and since the election. It is, therefore, a vital opportunity to quiz him about how the new political landscape affects you, after he is interviewed by University of Buckingham Vice-Chancellor Sir Anthony Seldon.

One of the issues Sir Anthony will be highlighting is Buckingham’s new status as the UK’s first ‘Positive University’. A huge overhaul of the working and learning environment is taking place to ensure that Buckingham is the best place it can be to work and learn.

What else is on at the Festival?

  • At a time when we have reached crisis point with student mental health, Lord Layard will be talking about wellbeing issues.
  • PizzaExpress founder Luke Johnson will give a speech on how entrepreneurship must be integrated into education and, to add variety and spark debate, former England cricketer Ed Smith will highlight the links between sport and education and how these need to be developed much more.
  • The uncertainty of the political future could be a problem for students making choices and former UCAS Chief Executive Mary Curnock Cook will be able to shed light on what universities and parents should do for the best and highlight the impact of a hung parliament on UCAS choices.
  • Further government changes have affected the recruitment of international students and Lord Bilamoria will speak about what the government should do to ensure that we don’t deter overseas applications.
  • Widening access will come under discussion with Les Ebdon of OFFA and there will be a couple of more general debates.
  • Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies, will be key in a discussion about the impact of Brexit on education and Buckingham’s Professor Anthony Glees and Professor Dennis Hayes of Derby will be sparring partners in a session on free speech.
  • Priya Lakhani, OBE, Chief Executive Officer, Century Tech, will talk on artificial intelligence.

The two days are set to be a lively mix of information and debate but in a relaxed atmosphere, where watching the ducks as you talk over lunch with a delegate you have just met is as much part of the day as listening to the presentations!

For full details about the Festival and to book, please visit

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