Students are pretty committed to action on the climate crisis – and its activist wing is increasingly turning to direct action and protest to shake the state and institutions like universities out of perceived inaction. Meanwhile campuses are seeing increased protest activity in the wake of the Hamas-Israel war – all in the context of heavy demands to reduce harassment and disruption, improve progress on Net Zero and secure free speech. This session will examine the contours of these debates and attempt to plot a way forward for the future.

Aficionados will be avid listeners to The Imaginary University – the podcast where University of Nottingham registrar Paul Greatrix challenges his guests to describe their ideal university. Join Paul and guest Amatey Doku in this live journey to the furthest reaches of the higher education imaginary – and prepare to get involved in spinning the web of fantasy while you’re there.

REF 2028 is an explicit move toward rewarding research as a team sport which recognises that good culture makes for good research and good research needs everyone to be able to fulfil their potential. However, the much discussed people, culture, and environment strand, has led some to question if the new system prioritises a series of nice things that can’t be measured over quality research outputs. In this panel we’ll ask just what is good research culture? How do you measure it? And does all of this come at the expenses of the core purpose of all of this; good research?

There’s an excellence framework for everything these days, so why not student support? Universities are grappling with more complex welfare and academic support needs from a more diverse student body – and while there’s no doubt that good practice exists everywhere, can students really be confident that good-quality support will be there when they need it? Our panel debates what support students need and how best to ensure they get it.

Education institutions today worry about the impact of generative AI on academic integrity. Meanwhile, future students are quietly integrating AI tools into their daily lives – and they will enter university in the expectation of graduating into an AI-infused world. What do universities need to do now to look forward to build a higher education experience that can inspire and challenge Generation AI?

In retrospect the Teaching Excellence Framework looks like a relatively benign effort on the part of government to improve higher education quality (or tackle poor quality, depending on your point of view). But five iterations of the exercise, a national review, and endless debate later, what difference has TEF made – and can it tell us meaningful things about how higher education is working to provide students a transformative educational experience?

Beyond “public engagement” – some university leaders are trying to think differently about how univeristies can work in partnership with their communities, sharing power, and building citizenship capacity, drawing on social action models like community organising. Author of The New Power University Jonathan Grant explores with two such leaders the difference that these approaches make – and how they might be mainstreamed in UK higher education.

A “war on woke” from some parts of government might have made efforts to tackle structural and institutional racism more tricky, but higher education continues to take action on anti-racism. Three years on from the global Black Lives Matter protests, what has changed in higher education – and what still needs to be done to keep anti-racism high on institutional agendas?

The new PolicyWISE initiative based in the Open University leads comparative policy research across the nations of the UK and Ireland, partnering with policymakers and academics in and across each nation, tackling some of the biggest issues facing societies today. This expert panel has diverse experience of academic and government across the nations so is well-equipped to ask what it takes to achieve policy impact.