In October 2013 Conference and Incentive Travel Magazine published this article: The Big Debate – Are Event Management Degrees a Waste of Time? The Event Wide Blog then responded with this piece: A Response from an Event Student and Joanna, another event management student, blogged about it here: To a Degree of Relevance. Event Management qualifications certainly seem to be a controversial subject! As a graduate with an event management degree myself (graduating over 10 years ago with a 2:1 BA Hons Events Management from Leeds Metropolitan University) I also wanted to write a blog post and to add my thoughts into the mix!
In the C&IT article Simon Maier from the TFI Group suggests that the degrees are too wide-ranging. He says “The content is too broad. It mostly covers management and logistics – very little about delivery, measurement, ROI and the full gamut of event technology. I suspect that not all the lecturers who design the courses are practising events professionals and tend to come from the academic, hotel or travel side.”
Obviously I only have first hand detailed experience of the content of my own course which I imagine has changed and developed a lot in the last 10 years and so it is impossible to speak authoritatively for all event management degrees across the UK. I would suggest though that it was largely a business degree with elements of planning, finance, marketing, HR, etc, alongside the event planning specific content. However with many of the modules we were of course expected to put the learning into an event context.
The events industry is varied and although certain principals and planning elements apply to any event genre the specifics of organising a conference are very different to managing an outdoor festival for example. My degree opened my eyes to the many opportunities in the industry and like many I started the course thinking I wanted to get involved in music festivals and came out realising that actually conferences and corporate event projects are my forte and passion.
When I did my degree there were very few event management degree courses and Leeds was definitely the place to be! We had less than 75 people in the year group and you could not progress unless you had completed a minimum of 48 weeks full time work placement in the industry. This placement took place during your 2nd year and then you returned to university for years 3 and 4. That first hand experience was essential and certainly made the rest of the university content more real, fusing together the academic with real life experience. One thing that does worry me nowadays is the intake in each year group and therefore the amount of event management students studying each year. In the current economic climate does the demand by students for work placements and jobs in the industry outstrip the actual requirement in the real world?
Another element that I really valued in my degree was the regular contributions from industry speakers. This really brought to life the realities and scope of the world of events.
Glenn Bowdin was (and still is) the Head of UK Centre for Events Management, Leeds Metropolitan University. He has written event management text books and is Chair of AEME (Association for Events Management Education).
I had some great lecturers and it was really apparent those that “knew their stuff” and had a lot of experience. I particularly valued the knowledge of Nick Jordan and I was lucky enough to have Nick as my dissertation tutor (now a Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University). Perhaps it was Nick that sparked my love of organising conferences too! Of course not all of the lecturers encountered had the same level of experience and one in particular seemed to crack under questioning from inquisitive students and seemed to have only have organised a handful of events (they are no longer at Leeds Met I hasten to add!). I agree that it is absolutely vital that anyone who teaches the event managers of tomorrow must have credibility and many years of experience running events. A background in event management (not hotels, travel and tourism or academia) cannot be faked and so you will soon be discovered and lose the respect of the students otherwise. Also to be able to direct research or advise students around their dissertation topic you surely need to have that deeper understanding?
We did plan, develop and execute some real events as part of our course although sometimes we had to undertake the planning for imaginary event projects too which was perhaps frustrating. Looking back though I imagine it was very important as it gave us the opportunity to think big as if we were planning a really innovative event project with a complicated brief and a specific budget and is similar to putting forward ideas to a client and developing new opportunities in the real world.
I agree wholeheartedly with Simon Maier that delivery, measurement, ROI and event technology are vital elements to be studied. The events industry is moving at such a fast pace I would hope that event management degrees are keeping abreast and tweaking their course content every single academic year. Social media and health and safety are other vital components I would suggest should be given priority and whereas 10 years ago we learnt about video-conferencing, students today should be learning about hybrid events. I know we had the opportunity to learn video editing for one module and skills such as this are obviously more important than ever for a well rounded event manager. I hope also that all students at all universities nowadays (whatever the course) also have access to training in entrepreneurship, business planning and guidance on how to set up your own company.
One thing I think it is important to remember though is that University is not school or college. It is about independent learning – research, critical thinking, study, reflection combined with work experience. University is not about hand holding and telling people what to think and do – the student must come to their own conclusions and it is true somewhat that they get out what they put in (as with life in general!).
More recently I have had some links with the BA (Hons) Event Management Course at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). I have had the pleasure of meeting the Course Leader and Senior Lecturers, I have presented to students about my career and experience of the events industry, I have participated in an industry focus group around course content and development, I have interviewed students for an events role, I have attended events organised by the students and I have worked first hand with several students who volunteered and came forward to work on a challenging event taking place within very short timescales. I have to say I have been nothing less than impressed – the students have been really proactive and keen, the lecturers have a true background in events, the student intake each year is small and as part of the course they have to put on real events.
When I graduated my industry work placement as well as the other voluntary and paid work experience I had gained were essential in helping me find a job. Then in 2004 I set up my own company: Events Northern Ltd. (note I wrote an earlier blog post here about Starting an Event Management Company). I know of at least 2 other graduates from my year group that did the same. Others went on to top high flying jobs with some of the biggest companies in the events industry. Inevitably though there were also many that didn’t go into the events industry and found jobs in human resources, marketing, retail and so forth. I think it is a strength that our course was broad enough to allow this if people decided the events industry wasn’t for them. The business elements of an event management degree and indeed the skills developed in terms of event planning are easily transferable, whereas someone without that event management background would not necessarily have the skills an event organiser needs.
I would suggest from an employers perspective if someone has a degree in Event Management this shows me that they are very focused on their career path (like I was – I couldn’t imagine studying anything else). I agree that event experience would have the greater weighting if I had to choose between event management experience or having an event management degree but if recruiting I would largely favour someone with an events management degree rather than someone who had studied another subject.
I really do not envy current event management (or any students) today. Not only do they have to pay high tuition fees (up to £9k per year) they also face a really difficult job market at the end of it. Luckily the top students seem to realise that this is a competitive market and are raising their game and thinking ahead.
I have been impressed by the event management students I have come into contact with in person and also via Twitter and #eventhour. They have shown an inquisitive and intelligent perspective, are gaining valuable work experience whenever they can (both paid and unpaid) and it is great to see them networking with event professionals via the virtual world through Twitter chats and face to face opportunities as well as taking the time to blog. For me as an employer this shows real commitment.
In conclusion I would wholeheartedly defend my event management degree. The academic preparation and inspiration it provided, in conjunction with lots of work experience has prepared me for my career as a professional event and conference organiser. I would love to hear more from Universities that offer event management degree courses and find out about their specific course content and how they respond to this debate.