Conference Keynotes

Keynote Speaker: Cathy d’Abreu, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK

Keynote abstract: What is the purpose and possibility of an HE education? 

The acute urgency of the nature, climate and inequality crises highlighted in the recent IPCC report ‘code red for humanity’ (IPCC, 2023) demands that universities, businesses and individuals address the fundamental question posed by seminal sustainability scholar Stephen Sterling (2001):

How should – and how can – education and learning be re-thought and re-configured to make a significant and central contribution to achieving a more sustainable and just world?’ 

Can we continue with ‘HE as usual’ or do we need to refresh, renew and reframe the purpose of universities and hence our roles within them? The potential of HE to inspire, inform and enable transitions – and the transformations needed to ensure them – is ripe with possibility, yet so is the danger that ‘more of the same’ education will continue to lead us in precisely the opposite direction. This keynote will explore how Higher Education can and must be part of the ‘solution’ rather than part of the ‘problem’ (Orr, 1994). 

Central to this is the concept of transformative education (Mezirow, 2006; Illeris, 2014; Bourn, 2021) – one that that can empower our graduates with the capacities, competencies and mindsets (Rimanoczy, 2021) to envision, create and pursue a more equitable, just and sustainable world.

This may seem a Herculean task; one that requires a move from ‘safe to brave spaces’ (Winks, 2017) through deep reflection and truthful critique of the dominant assumptions, values, purposes and practices of the neoliberal paradigms of our present educational, economic, social and cultural systems. A further foundational element of transformational learning is engaging collaborative, participatory and emancipatory pedagogies, requiring that we embrace uncertainty, discomfort and the emotional aspects of learning. However, here is where the promise lies – pedagogies of purpose ‘can unveil opportunities for hope, no matter what the obstacles may be’ (Freire, 1992). 

To enable changemaker graduates therefore, we must also see ourselves as ‘changemaker educators’ committed to 'an educational change agenda allowing us to look critically at how the world is and to envision how it might be, supporting learners to create and pursue visions of a better world’ (Advance HE QAA ESD Guidance, 2021: p.8).

Cathy d'Abreu
Cathy d’Abreu

Keynote Speaker: Sarah Tammadge-Wall, Oxford Brookes University Students’ Union, Oxford, UK

Keynote abstract: 2 Years of Student Voice - Quality versus Quantity.

This 'Tale of Transformation' is about how we have been reenvisioning Student Voice at Brookes. We have been improving engagement from Student Reps by testing out various methods and working to involve them more with key policy and procedural issues. Alongside this, I have been working on a Student Voice Strategy. This strategy embeds the opinions of staff and students on how to empower the student voice and will give some recommendations on what we could change at Brookes to improve feedback mechanisms. There may be other teachings here also for other institutes to embed into their Representation system.