gradireland Higher Education Awards & Symposium attendees


The Symposium content for this year's event is still to be confirmed. Please see below the line up for last year's sympoium.


Dr Graham Love, Chief Executive, Higher Education Authority


Plenary session

Developing a whole institution approach to improve student retention and success

Presented by Prof. Liz Thomas, Liz Thomas Associates Ltd

Improving student retention and success is a priority for all higher education providers, and outcomes are increasingly informing students’ choices.  Research undertaken during the last decade has matured our understanding of these issues: initially the focus was on retention by bolting on interventions to ‘fix up’ students at risk of leaving.

Through the WhatWorks1? programme the focus shifted to wider conceptions of success, aiming to improve the wider success of all students through increased engagement and belonging in their academic learning (Thomas 2012).

WhatWorks2? worked with institutional and discipline teams to implement changes to improve student success, and found that the whole institution needs to be actively engaged to effectively improve the retention, attainment and success of all students (Thomas et al 2017). This requires changes in: leadership; culture; policies; systems and processes; student involvement; staff engagement; data and evidence – and an effective approach to managing change.

Ongoing research for the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) (Thomas forthcoming) has used case study research to explore how institutions implement and manage a whole institution approach to widening participation – including retention and progression. This has demonstrated that even when widening participation is an explicit institutional priority at the highest level, much of the implementation relies upon informal networks and on-the-ground collaboration by highly committed individuals and professional WP teams.

Institutions are, however, grappling with, and developing, a more strategic approach to improvement. Our research finds that a ‘top-down-bottom-up’ approach, based on vertical and horizonal alignment (throughout the student lifecycle and across the student experience) and addressing both structural and cultural features of the institution is necessary, and provides a framework for action.

This presentation will share the research findings and approaches to help institutions to move from pockets of excellence, to a strategic approach to improving student retention and success, and encourage institutions to reflect on their own strengths, challenges and next steps.


Breakout sessions                                                          

Session 1 - The entrepreneur or the entrepreneurial graduate   - what matters in Higher Education in Ireland?

Presented by Dr Breda Kenny, Chair, Campus Entrepreneurship Enterprise Network (CEEN)

This session will present the findings of a 2017 body of research carried out of the student, employer and educator perspective on the role of entrepreneurship education and employability. Attendees will hear best practice case studies and outcomes of a whole-institution approach of embedding entrepreneurship. There will be a strong focus on the learning outcomes of entrepreneurship education from a teaching, learning and assessment perspective.          

Session 2 - Content marketing masterclass for Higher Education

Presented by The Irish Times Content Studio

Content Marketing is an effective marketing technique; it helps you move beyond the mindset and mechanics of simply selling a course but to sell your institution’s ideas, knowledge and reputation. It is the best way for Institutions and Universities to engage with and start conversation with prospective students.

This session will equip you with the knowledge of the different types of content marketing, best practice and the benefits of good content marketing

Session 3 - A practical guide to developing student resilience

Presented by Dave Kilmartin, Head of Service, Dublin Institute of Technology

The nature and speed of change in the economy, society and our personal lives so often results in greater challenges and stresses.  The way in which we reflect on and frame experiences will have a big impact on how we think and act in the future.  Developing the capacity to recover from set backs and adversity has never been more important.  When it comes to career, developing career resilience is central to realising our potential.

This highly practical workshop will focus on tips, tools and techniques to use with students to support them to develop career resilience - be it in terms of career identity and decision making, job hunting or performing at interview. 


Plenary session

Improving the student experience

Presented by Sean O'Reilly, Project Manager, Irish Survey of Student Engagement

What is the student experience in higher education in Ireland? Internationally there is a growing focus on the student experience and an increasing number of institution - wide initiatives aimed at understanding and addressing the student experience as a whole.

Seán O’Reilly will discuss the key messages from the most recent Ireland-wide research, the Irish trends, present the developing international trends and explore how to use big data when implementing effective campus wide change when improving the student experience.


Chaired panel Q&A

A round-up of the day’s presentations and findings, concluding with a chaired Q&A session between attendees and presenters.