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SPA attend HESPA Conference 2020

HESPA Conference 2020 header

The 2020 HESPA conference was broadly concerned with two issues:

  1. The rapidly evolving external environment (beyond the HE sector);
  2. Data governance and management.


In terms of the former, there was much discussion around the difficulties this presented with respect to institutional planning. Traditional planning horizons and processes seem to be struggling to meet the needs of institutions; I suspect planning in HEIs will shift towards the model seen in large corporates where the focus is on creating, developing and capitalising on internal capabilities so that the organisation is able to swiftly adapt, remaining competitive in an increasingly complex and unpredictable environment. A key component of this will be Planning teams shifting their focus to pro-actively translating policy shifts (existing and potential) into scenarios which the key decision-makers (i.e. Executive) can use to steer the institution and navigate the challenging and multi-faceted environment within which we operate. This is where data governance and management are critical: whilst compliance is important, we need to remain competitive and thrive by using data to derive insights, and drive strategy and decision-making. Hence the 2020s being termed ‘the data decade’. As a result, some US universities have invested large sums of money in developing their data management and analytics capabilities; it’s unclear as to how UK HEIs will be able to fund this work in the same way.


So what are some changes in the external environment that conference attendees agreed were inevitable?

  • Climate change will be the key issue across many sectors, include HE (some HEIs are planning to put climate change at the heart of their next strategy document)
  • Continuing technological innovation, from which will emerge new and different ways of engaging with technology (for both staff and students)
  • Increasing susceptibility to geopolitical shocks
  • Increasing regulation from the likes of the OfS and beyond (with a high likelihood that there will be a return to student number controls)
  • The market for distance-learning and other less traditional forms of learning will grow
  • The future of HE in interdisciplinary
  • Enhanced student support services (24/7 provision becoming a real likelihood)


We also know that there is a coming demographic uptick in 18 year olds from England alone which means potentially hundreds of thousands more students entering HE by 2030. However, no one in HE has managed to create a compelling model to pay for the opportunity presented by this growth during the next decade.

*For sight of the HESPA Conference 2020 programme please see:

Thu 20 Feb 2020, 11:50