As well as providing a host of meeting options for conference organisers, for just over a decade, UK universities have been providing a variety of events qualifications allowing thousands of young people to enter the profession with en events degree or even a Masters. Whilst many old hands argued about whether such skills could be taught, the result is that the status of events has risen inexorably, and the industry is awash with bright young things.
The sector even has its own body, the Association for Events Management Education, created by Glenn Bowdin, Subject Group Leader, at Leeds Metropolitan University. AEME’s objective is to “support and raise the profile of the events management discipline through the sharing of education and best practice.” Founder members include universities, colleges and institutes across the UK.
The creation of such degrees was not without controversy; the first universities were, in effect, simply adding on the occasional event management module to marketing, tourism or hospitality programmes. After a decade, however, the approach is very different, and courses undergo frequent revision and development. “As a direct result of our consultation with industry experts, our BA (Hons) Events Management programme includes a module focusing on entrepreneurship and business development,” explained Julian Robinson, Programme Leader at the University of Derby. “This develops students’ creative thinking skills and commercial awareness, attributes necessary to be successful in business as well as the competitive job market.”
However, universities are not immune to the pressures of the commercial world, and some are looking carefully at where future demand may come from. “When senior management reviewed its portfolio of courses a couple of years ago, the consensus was that a range of courses including most of the marcomms and events subjects did not fit the new design-based vision for the college, which led to their being closed,” Polly Larner, Course Director at London College of Communication UAL told CN. “But with the Olympics in London, and changing trends around the world, a new range of events courses are being considered for CPD and as pathways to other UG and PG degrees which will keep this subject live at LCC and aid the ongoing professionalisation of this discipline.’
Many of the universities have developed strong links with industry. John Brackstone, Bournemouth University spoke at the Event Production Show about their relationship with Millbrook Events. Students are invited for placements with the Bedfordshire Centre and go through a comprehensive assessment process to secure one of the coveted internships, which delivers both real salary and responsibility. Head of Events Kevin Leaver, is adamant that this approach works, and points to two of his event managers having been through the process. “The blend of academic knowledge and commercial experience is priceless.”
But for anyone over 30, what opportunity is there for professional development and recognition within the events sector? There are a variety of courses available, but no real structure of progression. Can universities provide the answer? “Yes”, says Conor Moss, Head of Learning at University of Derby Corporate, who recently launched the Centre for Events Professional Development (CEPD). Derby’s track record is impressive; they created the Diploma in Event Safety Management, delivered with Capita Symonds, as well as qualifications in temporary structures with The Star Group, and the new “Event Control” qualification with MRL. CEPD is already delivering management programmes to clients such as Showsec and Southwater Event Group.
It’s also about being nimble in responding to commercial demands. David Preston, Director of the Event Network and a part-time lecturer on a number of events programmes spoke at the “Hybrid events” conference that sat alongside this year’s Confex. Seeing 80 paying delegates in the audience convinced him of the need to create a professional qualification; “currently, most event managers are learning about virtual and hybrid technology from the suppliers, which is simply not a healthy solution. You can expect to see some accredited qualifications in this area coming along some time very soon.”
Accredited learning has changed; much of it takes place on-line, and is delivered in modules that allow you to build up large qualifications through an accumulation of smaller ones. There’s also a process called APL – the Accreditation of Prior Learning – that allows students exemption from studying if they can prove they already have the necessary qualifications and experience. Couple that with “Work-Based Learning”; using what you do in a day to day role, reflecting and learning on it, and building a portfolio that meets the rigours of academia whilst delivering genuine corporate benefits.