UA Summit: Day one summary

University Alliance’s (UA) annual conference, under the banner ‘Building on our strengths and serving our communities through crisis and beyond’, is being held as a virtual event on Zoom this year.

Over two days Summit attendees are hearing from a range of external speakers, and discussing how, as professional and technical universities, we are learning from and responding to the challenges posed by COVID-19, and how we can continue our ambitions to serve our communities throughout the crisis.

An introduction

UA’s mission has always been driven by the students, communities and industries we serve, and as we have seen over recent weeks, this role has never been more important. During her opening Summit speech, Vanessa Wilson, CEO of UA, stated that during the COVID-19 crisis the value of Alliance universities and their impact on society is shining through for all to see.

Vanessa went on to say that ‘in these uncertain times we need to find strength in navigating disruption and reveal our strong sense of identity and value as universities’. While the challenges are far from over, as we look to the future Alliance universities will have a vital role to play in supporting an economic, social and cultural recovery from this crisis.


A message from the Universities Minister

A video message was delivered by the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan MP, thanking Alliance universities for their ‘pivotal’ work during the COVID-19 response. The Minister gave tribute, saying “I’m so proud and grateful of the leadership from the sector, rallying to the call’ and recoginsed the role Alliance universities will continue to play in a recovery period.

View her full pre-recorded speech here. 


In conversation with Lord O’Donnell

Our main session of the day featured Professor Quintin McKellar, Vice Chancellor for the University of Hertfordshire, hosting our keynote speaker Lord O’Donnell, former adviser to three Prime Ministers; Blair, Brown and Cameron.

Their session journeyed through the career of Lord O’Donnell, touched on his advice for the years ahead and discussed why we should be centering people and communities in strategic change, policy and decision making in times of crisis. Along the way he noted that his support of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 remains.

Lord O’Donnell stressed that wellbeing should be at the heart of what the government measures as success, not just the salary a graduate earns, and that Alliance universities will be invaluable in upskilling the younger generation so they can find the right work in this uncertain time. He listed those on the NHS frontline at the moment as an example of those who are improving the wellbeing of others, many trained at Alliance universities, and stressed that a university can be an education beyond the courses that they teach – and those life lessons will always be of benefit.

His main advice? For universities to encourage students to put happiness in a future career above all else. And his thoughts on where the HE sector will be in ten years’ time? That the current pandemic is only accelerating the inevitable – a greater focus on technology.

You can view the recording of the discussion below

Further reading