Two delegates watching a talk at GSL Conference 2019.

Fresh perspectives on the Global Student Living Conference 2019

In GSLC by Jen Steadman

After the success of 2018’s inaugural Global Student Living Conference, we decided to do it all over again – this time in London. Hosted at BMA House, near to Euston station, we packed in hours of student experience content, covering subjects as diverse as social mobility, gambling, climate change activism and sex toys.

This year, we were joined by our 2018 Fresh Perspectives scholarship winners, Edward Bowness and James Gardner, who were undertaking a two week paid internship as part of their scholarship prize. By working as student ambassadors throughout the day, they were integral to the smooth running of the event.

Here, they tell us in their own words how they found the experience, what they learned from it, and what really resonated with their student experience.

Edward’s experience

“I had just finished my first year at university, and looking at the agenda for the day, it was clear to me that the Global Student Living Conference would be a thought-provoking and highly relevant event. The conference was ambitious and far-reaching, both in terms of its aim and its sphere of influence; welcoming professionals, representatives and delegates from a host of different institutions, all involved in refining and perfecting the student experience.

Hold app’s founder, Maths Mathiesen.

My role as a student ambassador gave me a unique insight into the operations and activity that underpin student life as I know it. It was a privilege to spend the day in the prestigious venue of BMA House, London: the perfect setting and hub for the dissemination of innovative ideas, and a place that gave student wellbeing the significant recognition and attention it deserves.

The day ran smoothly, with guests flowing between different streams, all with their own unique flavour and perception of how student living can be enhanced and improved. For instance, the Technology Stream explored how the ongoing age of digital transformation offers new and exciting opportunities to maximise the student experience, and combat the growing mental health crisis at universities on a global scale.

I took interest in Maths Mathisen’s presentation about the Hold app, which uses smartphones as a means of promoting healthy relationships, particularly between young adults. His implicit message was to addressing the increasing numbers of students struggling with feelings of loneliness, stress and anxiety at university, which was something that the whole conference did with sensitivity and honesty. It was the confrontation of an issue that is often swept under the carpet, explored and understood in a dignified environment.

Peter Hedley, of the University of Saskatchewan, presents a Masterclass on his university’s successful campus wellbeing programme.

It was intriguing to see student welfare at the fore, and learn about the way in which institutions – sometimes viewed as apathetic in this regard – were seemingly prioritising student support, and dedicating resources and time into this area. This is especially evident in Peter Hedley’s masterclass, Implementing a Whole Campus Wellbeing Strategy, where he explained how his ‘BeWell’ strategy at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada singlehandedly transformed an ongoing mental health and suicide crisis that had been worsening over recent years. It challenged university representatives and those in positions of influence and power to establish a similar positive culture around student welfare in their own institutions, regardless of the resources available.

As a student, the day was eye-opening for me. It encouraged me to be more pro-active in this student wellbeing movement by being more outspoken about universities’ responsibilities in student welfare, and encouraging others to do the same. There are societies at my university that are involved in wellbeing, and I’m now hoping to join one next year so I can be involved in ongoing discussions about it.

The GSL Conference 2019 venue, BMA House in London.

Tim and his team at Red Brick Research deserve credit for hosting such a successful and inspiring event. Additionally, thanks to the conference, I now understand the many processes and extensive research that companies like Red Brick carry out to continually strive for the most positive and fulfilling experience for students around the globe!”


James’s experience

“Being a part of the Red Brick Research team for the GSL Conference gave me invaluable experience of what goes into running an important, influential conference. The team brought together a wide range of speakers who provided interesting and accurate points on student life, particularly on issues of mental health and general wellbeing.

As a university student, it was interesting to see how many speakers spoke about issues that I have seen first-hand. This was particularly true of those speaking about mental health, which gave me renewed faith into universities’ attitude towards this, as well as the efficacy of research in this area. Other speakers hit the nail on the head in how they perceived student attitudes towards new products and technologies, discussing why and how new products have influenced the student population, and why others have not.

Dr Michele W Milner, Director of Learning and Wellbeing at the Royal Veterinary College

Richard Cook of Monzo was one of the most interesting speakers, highlighting the benefits of ‘radical transparency’. He argued that all information of the company should be disclosed unless there is good reason not to, which ignited interesting and active debate amongst people listening, and has really made me think about how this could be applicable for universities.

In addition to giving me a look behind the scenes at what insights universities use to improve life for students, I learned a lot about the role and value of research and how it leads to effective outcomes – for example, Alex Carlton (CEO at Stryyk) identified the correct target market for his non-alcoholic drinks product through commissioning research into the matter.

Above all, I learned how tough it is to run a large conference like the GSL Conference, but also how a professional and organised team like Red Brick’s can make it look effortless. It was a fantastic opportunity to attend the conference, equipping me with knowledge and skills that I carried into my two weeks of work experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!”

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