The HEIR 2021 Conference

16 November 2021

by Dharini Balasubramaniam, University of St. Andrews

The UK and Ireland Higher Education Institutional Research (HEIR) network aims to bring together researchers and practitioners working in the higher education sector to improve learning and teaching practice and to provide relevant evidence to support management decision making at all levels of HE institutions. As an important part in achieving this aim, the network supports host institutions in organising the annual HEIR conference.

The 2021 HEIR conference took place from 22 to 24 September 2021, with an overarching theme of Inclusive Institutional Research. It was hosted online by the University of St Andrews with generous support from sponsors SICSA Education, Explorance, Caption.Ed and PresentPal.

Over three days, more than 250 delegates from 13 countries attended talks, engaged in panel discussions, and took part in themed networking events. 98 delegates were from Scotland, representing 12 institutions. Inspirational keynote lectures were delivered by Prof Lee Elliot Major (University of Exeter), Dr Zainab Khan (London Metropolitan University), Dr Greg Walton (Stanford University) and Dr Celia Whitchurch (University College London Institute of Education), sparking discussion and debate throughout the conference.

In keeping with the conference theme, the organising committee, consisting of academic and professional services staff from across the University of St Andrews at different stages of their career, set out to be inclusive in all aspects of the conference. Financial support from sponsors enabled the committee to make the conference truly inclusive by offering free registration to all delegates. The conference programme was scheduled within core working hours. A transcription service was made available to any delegate who required it. A family friendly evening reception was hosted online on the second day, with entertainment and activities for delegates and their families including children. Delegates provided overwhelmingly positive feedback on the conference.

Three key themes emerged from the lively conference sessions:

  • The importance of a sense of belonging in staff and students for institutions to be perceived as inclusive.
  • The value of Third Space professionals in collecting and analysing evidence for institutional change.
  • The importance of the narrative, both at individual, cohort and institutional levels and in how we hear and respond to the minority voice.

The HEIR network planning group will develop events around these themes over the coming year.