By Rachel Ley
Since the first BA Event Management degree was launched just over 20 years ago, the interest in events career opportunities has skyrocketed, as has the number of students seeking and universities offering dedicated qualifications.
But surprisingly, in some industry quarters there are still perceptions of a gap – between ‘real life’ and the academic world. There are lingering prejudices around the value of event management degrees, which stem from three out-dated arguments:
1. Students start their first jobs armed with little more than theory
In fact, course content includes essential hands-on experience of a whole range of real-life events; from festivals to charity balls via conferences and exhibitions. This practical grounding allows event management graduates to make a useful contribution from the outset.
2. Event management educators have little or no direct industry experience
Thankfully the industry abounds with professionals who see the value of passing their insights and experience on to the next generation. People like Claire Eason-Bassett, executive producer of creative agency Mackerel Sky Events. She wrote the BA Creative Events Management Course for Falmouth University in 2008 and now delivers it within the course team.
Other educators like Tim Brown, senior lecturer in Events Management at the University of Chester, bring an impressive industry track record to their full-time teaching roles. Tim’s previous roles include events director at ad agency Finch Partnership and Event Manager at international law firm Hill Dickson. Today, he programmes and oversees 20+ events each year as part of his students’ learning experience.
My own time is split between heading-up an events agency, lecturing part-time at four universities, and focusing on the educational needs of the industry within bodies such as EVCOM, BVEP and AEME – the Association for Events Management Education.
3. There’s nothing that university can teach students that they can’t learn on the job
New recruits joining an events business or department are inducted into ‘how we do things here’. But academic rigour gives people the faculty to develop critical thinking. Researching and gathering evidence objectively, students are given the time and space to explore potential outcomes and consider creative solutions.
In a rapidly-changing landscape an open-minded approach can be more valuable than doggedly doing things the way they’ve always been done.
Universities offering event management degrees enthusiastically welcome input from industry – and draw on their network of past alumni (many of whom are now in senior management roles) to provide guest speakers, assessments and placements.
So, for our industry to continue growing in its professionalism, I’d urge any business or department heads who have not yet forged relationships with colleagues in the academic sector, to seize the opportunity now. There’s so much to be gained from working together to educate the people who may well ultimately become our own staff … or our clients.
Rachel Ley is founder and MD of RLC – The Rachel Ley Consultancy. She also heads EVCOM’s Professional Development Committee. She’s a permanent part-time lecturer at Westminster University, a visiting lecturer at the University of Surrey and a guest lecturer at both Solent University and Berufsacademie, Ravensburg, Germany. Rachel co-produced the Global Sustainable Events Summit 2016 and co-organised he BVEP Educational Forum in November 2016.