AHEP Conference and Exhibition 2024

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Damien Page speaks at Association of Higher Education Professionals conference

Today, BNU’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Damien Page, spoke at the Association of Higher Education Professionals Annual Conference and Exhibition. 

Held at the University of Warwick, Professor Page’s session titled, ‘Working class leaders in Higher Education: journeys, challenges and opportunities’, saw him speak candidly about his personal journey from a traditional working-class background, to taking on executive leadership positions in the university sector. 

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor also addressed the challenges faced by colleagues in the educational sector, before foregrounding the potential of a collective approach, the aims of the new Working Class Leaders in Higher Education Network and how it can increase the number of working-class leaders within the sector. 

Professor Damien Page speaking at the AHEP Conference 2024

Professor Damien Page speaking at the AHEP Conference 2024

Speaking about his own journey, Professor Page recalled growing up in a white, working-class Medway town where he felt like an outsider for being interested in fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons and his love of reading. 

He attended a Grammar school and was the first in his family to go to university despite being given no preparation or support network to draw on. 

The sense of being an outsider was exacerbated at university where he studied English Literature in a middle-class setting, surrounded by peers discussing their skiing trips while he was living on a food budget of £15 a week. 

Professor Page went on to set out what needs to be done as a sector, including normalising and celebrating working class cultures and non-standard accents; understanding class within a wider EDI agenda; and understanding how issues of class are exacerbated during the cost-of-living crisis amongst not only students, but colleagues at universities. 

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor also spoke about the importance of the issue through highlighting the lack of data on the percentage of working-class professional service colleagues, before reporting unsettling statistics on the primary signifier of class in higher education. 

He reported that over 50% of respondents feel social class affects career progression, 47.4% say it influences recruitment at their university, while working class academics earn nearly £6k less than their middle-class peers (research by the Social Mobility Foundation). 

It comes following Professor Page’s ‘Working Class Leaders in Higher Education Network’, the latest initiative arising from our new ‘Being You Network’.  

The informal network was designed with one aim: to support working class origin colleagues into leadership positions. 

The sessions offered places to listen, learn and share with colleagues at BNU and beyond, to develop and celebrate an ethos of inclusion. 

By including a blend of discussions with existing senior leaders talking about their backgrounds and experiences; sessions on career progression; working with exec search companies; leadership dilemmas; finance; and understanding policy, key issues for leaders from working class backgrounds and an agenda for support over the coming year were established.  

The series was hugely successful and featured emotionally raw stories from individuals of being mocked or singled out for regional accents, as well as esteemed guest speakers relaying their own experiences. 

So far, the Network has featured the likes of; Professor Marcia Wilson Ph.D, Pro Vice-Chancellor: Student Experience at London Metropolitan; and Professor Ken Sloan, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer at Harper Adams University. 

Peter Viqueira, Partner at Odgers Berndtson, will be speaking on 29 April at 2pm, and Karen Omisore ACIB, MBA, MSc, Executive Director of Student Administration and Academic Affairs at Southampton University, will be speaking on 20 May at 4pm. 

If you’d like to join our upcoming ‘Working Class Leaders in Higher Education Network’ sessions, keep an eye on our social channels for further information.