Just back from The University of Cardiff where the Lean University Team hosted a fantastic conference for Lean HE practitioners. The theme of the conference was student experience; the conference agenda was filled with people who have been working to improve processes that directly affect the student experience.
The conference was well attended by many UK institutions, and also practitioners from the USA, Canada, Norway and Australia. The international element of the conference was really beneficial and helped us to think about Lean HE with a broad remit. Interestingly, the challenges and problems we identified appear to cross borders.
There was a pre-conference meeting on the Wednesday evening, this really helped to set the tone of the conference; to encourage colleagues to share and explore the work they have been doing in a constructively critical way.
The main conference was held in the stunning Glamorgan Building, it’s featured in the recent television series Sherlock and Dr Who. The keynote address was given by our Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir Keith Burnett; the speech was both encouraging and knowledgeable about the challenges of working on improvement projects in the current climate. He was also very clear that we needed to continue to do this, my favourite quote was "Lean is a refined form of love", reflecting that process improvement is as much about respect for people as continuous improvement.
All of the sessions were excellent; a recurring theme was the discussion about whether we see students as customers. Many of the attendees did see students as customers, this is possibly a reflection that In Lean terms customers define value and all processes should be in place to deliver value to the customer. The debate was lively, and some of the student representatives argued quite forcefully about being partners rather than customers. Perhaps, unsurprisingly the consensus was that we should not get too involved in debating semantics, and focus on improving things.
As with many conferences, the real value was being able to talk to people in similar roles at different institutions, learn some things, share some things about the work we are doing at The University of Sheffield and perhaps most beneficial was having some time to reflect, re-energise and identify ways of improving our way of doing things. This conference did not disappoint it delivered all of these things.
Next year's conference will be hosted at The University of Waterloo, Canada 10-11 September 2015, further details to be released in the new year on the Lean HE Hub website www.leanhehub.ac.uk