Glenn Bowdin is Head of the UK Centre for Events Management at Leeds Beckett University and Chair of the Association for Events Management Education (AEME). He is also a Chartered Member of the International EMBOK (Event Management Body of Knowledge) executive and on the editorial boards of Event Management and Journal of Convention & Event Tourism, so anyone looking into what is going on in academic corridors of power – event management course-wise, would do well to listen to what he has to say.
“Events management is becoming more complex, requiring professionalism, strategic, creative and forward thinking, use and critical understanding of data, cultural sensitivities and technological skills,” says Bowdin.
“A degree is about moving beyond the first jobs and providing resilience for the longer term. Event degrees also include a requirement to gain industry experience, both through formal work placements and also working and volunteering alongside studies.
“Events graduates are, therefore, joining our events industry with a qualification and industry experience, with clear knowledge and skills that can help them and our events industry to develop throughout their career.
“When a graduate leaves with a degree in a specialist subject they can enter their career running. We get great feedback from recruiters about how professional our graduates are.
“Our graduates will enter the industry at a level appropriate to their qualifications but also with experience, as it is a combination of both that allows a graduate to enter the industry and progress further and faster than they may otherwise have done.”
Leeds Beckett University
Bowdin says his university is seeing an increasing pattern of students wishing to join its courses who are following family and friends into the industry and who see education as a route to develop the knowledge and skills required to give them a good foundation for their career ahead. He also says the media has played a role in this, due to the success of hosting high profile major events such as London 2012, Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and a multitude of professionally run festivals and concerts.
“An increasing number of students are arriving with experience of working in sporting, cultural and business events (including conferences) too,” he adds.
The number of students entering Leeds’ events programmes, and nationally, has stabilised and is showing signs of continued growth. At Leeds they are supported by a team of over 30 staff.
At Leeds, events management degrees are applied management courses – providing a clear understanding of key aspects of management in context, alongside event specific content including areas such as event planning and production, managing clients, creative event design and health and safety.
The management aspects include finance, HR, marketing, strategy, management and information and communication technologies.
“There is clear evidence nationally and internationally that graduates earn more over their career than non-graduates,” Bowdin notes. “Event degrees are one sign that our events industry is professionalising.
“The Leeds course and module content is reviewed annually to ensure it continues to reflect the changing external environment and developments within the industry.
“The courses are also informed by continuing research and input from industry to ensure the employability of our students and that we remain at the cutting edge.” They include a range of graduate attributes embedded, including enterprise, digital literacy and a global outlook.
Pass rates for Leeds Beckett are good, with 17 per cent getting a first-class degree, 46 per cent an upper second, 25 per cent a lower second, while six per cent pass without honours and five per cent gain an ordinary degree. An impressive 89 per cent go on to work and/or further study within six months of completing their course.
The students come from all over the UK and, increasingly, overseas. They enter with a range of qualifications including A Levels and Advanced GNVQs together with an increasing number who have finished their formal qualifications years ago and are entering higher education as mature students.
Sheffield Hallam University
The event management faculty at Sheffield Hallam University sits within the business school. Principal Events Management Lecturer, Phil Crowther MBA, believes event management education has many overlaps with business education and this, plus regular input from industry experts, ensures the courses are “real world connected”.
“There is now much more of a link between education and employability. We therefore focus on case study based learning, invite guest speakers, run live event modules and employ ex and current practitioners as tutors,” he says.
More creative assessment methods are also used, which test students in a wide variety of ways that are more consistent with industry challenges.
To add further value beyond the classroom, an event management hub was set up six years ago to ensure students and professionals are regularly linked up through lots of events.
A recent seminar entitled ‘Industry Insight Afternoon’ focused heavily on the increased need for strategic thinking, and bringing ‘the real world’ into the classroom. It was led by chair of the Event Marketing Association, Richard Waddington, and business owners Charlotte Wilson and Simon Lodge.
Waddington encouraged the students to look at the bigger picture, stating: “Strategy means thinking and planning, why and what do you want your event to look like at the end of the day.”
Crowther and three other Sheffield event management lecturers recently published a book entitled: Strategic Event Creation. It focuses on the step change from the old norm of ‘making events work’ to help students cope with a society that is outcome obsessed and always looking for a better result.
The authors explain how strategic awareness, and stakeholder focus are now crucial to event creation.
The book describes how ‘the new normal’ places a much greater focus on a return for funders and stakeholders, increased attendee expectations and an even more competitive event marketplace.
“Events are deliverers of outcomes from the host organisation, attendees, and also sponsors and communities,” Crowther says. “They all have stakeholders, therefore the identification and relationship with these people is key.”
Three to five years ago, undergraduate courses grew considerably at Sheffield, but since then numbers have been reined in somewhat.
The postgraduate courses are growing, however, and two professional development courses have also been launched recently.
Around 20-30 per cent of the students come from within a 90-mile radius of the university, while the rest come from around the country. A small 3-5 per cent of undergraduates are from Europe, with slightly more coming from Asia.
The post-graduate courses are more heavily weighted with international students.
Janna Wood, Senior Events Management Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield agrees that ‘real world experience’ helps students.
“Our event management degree encourages them to gain as much practical experience as possible,” she says.
“Volunteering at events enables them to apply what they learn in the classroom, allowing them to build their confidence, learn problem solving skills and gain the competitive edge when it comes to securing placement positions and graduate jobs.”
Like Sheffield, Huddersfield is also keeping the number of first-year student intake low (approximately 40 a year), with students coming from the UK, Asia, Europe and the United States.
“We keep the class sizes small due to the range of practical activities we do. We want to ensure we deliver a student centred experience – if we had hundreds in the class we wouldn’t be able to do this,” Wood notes, adding that the international dynamic allows for great networking experiences and a diversity of opinion.
It seems to be working, judging by Huddersfield’s healthy employability statistics of 97 per cent being employed, or in further education, within six months of graduating.
Other universities are also following this thinking, with Coventry University joining forces with event management software company Eventsforce to help develop undergraduate and postgraduate event management degree programmes.
Eventsforce is involved in the strategic course planning, helping students to gain a qualification that has practical and commercial benefits.
The challenge of compiling creative courses that will engage students, teach strategic planning and give them links to an understanding of the working world can clearly not be underestimated.
Thankfully, those leading the way in this field appear to have their fingers on the pulse. The international market clearly thinks so.
This was first published in the January issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor