Reflections from #AMOSSHE2016

Student services leaders conference in Glasgow

July 14, 2016
The 2016 AMOSSHE Annual Conference - Breaking Boundaries

The AMOSSHE national conference took place last week in sunny/rainy/cloudy Glasgow, Scotland. An association for student services professionals, AMOSSHE is at the center of the student experience in higher education in the United Kingdom.

Having attended numerous NASPA and ACPA conferences in the United States, the AMOSSHE event represented the first "student affairs" meeting that I've attended in the UK. With delegates from the UK, Canada, the United States, Australia, the Republic of Ireland, China and New Zealand, "Breaking Boundaries" (the conference theme) created myriad opportunities for knowledge exchange and networking.

Over the course of 3 days, attendees discussed a variety of issues that are pertinent to student services departments including mental health support, disability services, wellness programs, customer service, digital engagement, and "non-formal" learning spaces.

The #amosshe2016 hashtag was quite active as participants shared thoughts, comments, memes, and resources.

One of the most memorable moments of the conference was the powerful keynote from Doreen Lawrence, Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, OBE. Lawrence emphasized the importance of staying grounded and that "life isn't about titles or honorifics, but about what we do to help others."

On the second day of the conference, the founders of End Rape on Campus spoke about their efforts to end sexual violence in higher education:

Throughout the conference, presenters from around the world shared insights about their efforts to engage students:

Similar to conversations about "grit" that are happening within the context of US higher education, resilience has taken hold as a focus for student success, retention, and support. This definitely represents a shift in the cultural fabric of UK higher education.

Outgoing chair of AMOSSHE, Ben Lewis, Director of Student Support and Wellbeing at Cardiff University, provided insights into the future of student services in the UK:

Mental health issues were frequently mentioned during the conference. Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA (the largest student affairs association in the world), spoke at length about the role that US student affairs practitioners have in supporting student mental health.

It's not often that you get to hear from a lawyer at a student services event. However, that's what happened when Smita Jamdar, Head of Education at Shakespeare Martineau, gave the conference's closing keynote:

Unlike the US where student affairs is a highly professionalized field, most people who work in UK student services do not have specialized academic credentials in HE administration / student affairs. However, as UK higher education shifts towards a model that looks more and more like the US style, student services professionals may gravitate towards programs like the Student Affairs in Higher Education MA degree at Anglia Ruskin University.

The UK government currently recognizes students as consumers. However, the students as "consumers/customers" label doesn't sit well with a lot of people in higher education. In the UK, this may be due to the fact that customer service isn't as much of a priority as it is in the US. If students are consumers, that may require an increase in service, experience, and engagement efforts:

As a first time AMOSSHE attendee, I must say that it was a well-run event filled with robust sessions and ample opportunities for networking. Hearing how student services work is constructed in the UK compared to the US model that I "grew up with" made for countless moments of comparison/contrast.

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