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First UKAT Annual Conference

The establishment of a UK body focused on supporting personal tutoring and academic advising has been a vision for a number of years. So it is good to see this come to fruition in the form of  UKAT under the able guidance and direction of chair Penny Robinson.

UKAT is now well established and the first Annual Conference was held on 17 and 18 March 2016 at Southampton Solent University. With over 100 delegates attending from 7 countries, the event was lively, exciting and inspiring. Numerous delegates praised the warm, welcoming, collegial atmosphere in which delegates were willing to share experiences to help one another in their common goal of advising, tutoring and supporting students to help them achieve success. UKAT is an allied association of NACADA and we were privileged to welcome several key members of NACADA to the UKAT conference, including NACADA executive director Charlie Nutt.

The conference was opened by leading figures from the two universities in Southampton. Jane Longmore, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Southampton Solent University gave the formal welcome. This was followed later by a refreshing insight from Sir Christopher Snowden, Vice Chancellor of Southampton University, on the importance of personal tutoring in Higher Education and the potential this has for making the most important difference to outcomes for students.

The conference didn't quite go according to plan on the first day when the opening keynote speaker had to withdraw at short notice for personal reasons. Fortunately, Karen Sullivan-Vance of Western Oregon University was attending and, with less than 2 hours notice, gamely stepped in and delivered an insightful presentation on Higher Education in the 21st Century, challenging us to Aspire, Connect and Empower our students and to remember that despite the ever-changing and demanding challenges we face, student success is our goal. Karen reminded us that “Good advising may be the single most underestimated characteristic of a successful college experience" [1] and that “Academic Advising is the only structured activity on the campus in which all students have the opportunity for one-to-one interaction with a concerned representative of the institution.”

The closing keynote on the second day went much more to plan, and NACADA's executive director Charlie Nutt closed the conference with an inspiring, impassioned and moving plea to delegates to really care about and support their students through their roles as advisors and tutors. In fact, it was so moving, Charlie moved an audience of academics to tears with the combination of his words and a rendition of the song I Was Here from YouTube.

There was a rich programme of breakout sessions and workshops which touched on a wide range of issues relevant to all involved in advising and tutoring. Particularly interesting to me were Sam Grogan's (Salford University) presentation on co-creating the student journey, in which he outlined the approach that his institution is taking in collaborating with students to really take the student voice into account and to improve the student experience together. The session provoked much interest and discussion from the audience, as did all of the breakout sessions and workshops. Mike Dobson's (Exeter University) session on supporting transgender students was extremely well received and hats off to Mike for dealing with a deeply personal and challenging subject in a sensitive manner whilst to being afraid to challenge the adjustments made for transgender students. I'm not sure Mike found this the most easy session to deliver but the audience deeply respected him for doing so and thoroughly enjoyed his presentation. Other workshops and presentations provided a mix of discussion and useful practical exercises and guidance which delegates could apply in their own practice. Also of note was the presentation by the CRA on the new joint CRA/SEDA Professional Award in Personal Tutoring. Many in the audience were interested to hear of this award and recognised the value that a developmental award like this has in enhancing effective individual and institutional practice in personal tuition.

Much hard work clearly went into the organisation of the conference. Many congratulations to Ann Bingham, Dave Beeson and the organising team at Southampton Solent University who made this such a successful and enjoyable event.

[1] Light, R.J., 2001. The power of good advice for students. Chronicle of Higher Education, 47(25), pp.B11-B12.
[2] Habley, W.R., 1994. Key Concepts in Academic Advising. In Summer Institute on Academic Advising Session Guide (p.10).  Manhattan, KS: NACADA The Global Community for Academic Advising

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