Confex 2014: How relevant are events management degrees in the industry?

On Thursday (13th March) I made the trip down to London to attend the final day of the 2014 Confex. It was my first time at the show, but after attending the Event Production Show in February, for the Eventice, I realised how important it is to both network and keep up to date with the industry. 
One of the reasons I went was because of a debate I was interested in attending: Academia meets Industry to address the ‘real industry.‘ As a soon-to-be-graduate I seem to have become even more concerned with understanding how the events industry links with academia, mainly because i’m at the point where I am having to apply for jobs and justify the last four years, but also because a major interest of mine is career development of students. 

The Panel consisted of a mix of educators and industry professionals; with Liz Sinclair (From ESP Recruitment & creator of the Eventice), Glenn Bowdin (Head of UK Centre for Events Management at Leeds Metropolitan University), Matt Bunday (Associate Lecturer at Southampton Solent University & Owner of Matt Bunday Events), Nis Arend (Founder of The Corporate Confidante) and Gareth Dimelow (Executive Director of Experience planning at GPJ). 

It was a very interesting debate that mainly focused on the question ‘how highly regarded are event management degrees in the industry?‘ 

Whilst I wish I could have walked away with a clear re-assurance that there is a benefit from doing a four year events management degree, it became clear that those in industry value experience over everything. 
Sadly there is an obvious lack of communication happening between industry professionals and academics, and the overall consensus was that whilst degree’s in general are useful in providing studies with skills such as time management, an events management degree doesn’t necessarily set you above from others & it shall always be the experiences that gives you an edge. 
L-R: Iona Kenyon, Nis Arend, Matt Bunday, student from Winchester University & myself (credit)
That isn’t to say that studying an events degree is irrelevant and gives you NO benefits, Nis Arend pointed out that to get your foot in the door of the events industry a degree is very useful but companies will always look for more ‘flesh’ and a passion for the events industry. Gareth Dimelow agreed in saying that companies do recognise events management degrees but students need to be able to show they can hit the road running. And both Glenn Bowdin and Matt Bunday agreed that more needs to be done between linking the industry and academics & students need to be aware that they cannot do a three year degree and just walk into a job. 
The ‘thing’ that most stood out for me was Gareth’s final point about how event students seem to have a misconception about what the event industry is like & graduates tend to only think about how to deliver events rather than why the event is being held. 
I don’t want current, past and future event students to feel that there is no point to studying an events degree because whilst experiences is deemed the most valuable aspect when applying for jobs, there are an immense number of skills that you can learn whilst at University. I know why I decided to come to uni at 17 – because I was not ready to enter the work of work. University has allowed me to grow as a person and figure out what my skills and passions are, and for that I know studying for 4 years has been worth it.

I want to hear your opinions on this topic, if you are an events student, lecturer or work in the profession! 

Does this make you think you have picked the wrong degree? 
Or do you disagree with what is being said? 
How would you make events management degrees more relevant to the industry, so that it’s recognised by event professionals? 

Also another panel talk at Confex (which I sadly missed) talked about how professionals in the conference industry don’t think that event degrees ‘cut it’ – Event Magazine covered those views.

  • Alphonsine

    My degree is in general management, and to be honest, I’m still not sure if it was the best pick for me. However, like you, my time at uni allowed me to discover what I like, don’t like, what I’m good at, etc. So I would say it was worth it.

    It’s really annoying, though, when you hear “experience counts most of all” because it’s Catch 22: How are you supposed to gain experience when you don’t have a job? I know there’s merit to volunteering, but too much of the “experience above all” mentality feeds a host of unpaid internships which end up counting for nothing in the end.

  • Thanks for comment, I
    totally agree about the catch 22 point it is very difficult to get around it
    & the worst thing is unpaid internships.
    I always keep coming back to the
    point that for any development to be made in making sure event management
    degrees are recognise is for communication to happen between academics and
    industry professionals – and this needs to be done to justify the increase in
    tuition fees & to make sure graduates coming out have the key skills that
    make them employable.

  • Brian Jones

    My degree is a BA(hons) Events Management degree, and I have a split opinion on whether it was the right decision in going forward in a career. The university experience itself has been of huge benefit in discovering my strengths and weaknesses and what I dislike. Although this has been beneficial, the degree itself has had very limited bearing on this. In the 4 years of the degree (one being a 12 month work placement); I could honestly say that I can count the units on one hand that have actually been useful and were put into practice in a working environment. I believe that the degree is somewhat outdated and could use a modern make over! Units such as design (teaching the use of colours) and economics were in hindsight a complete waste of time which could of been better spent on useful tools such as PR, Marketing, digital elements and social media which are all taking huge prominence in industry.

    University giving the opportunity for a work placement and volunteer experiences can take you a lot further than the actually degree. To cut a long story short; my BA (Hons) Events Management degree is just a very expensive bit of paper/grade that quite frankly won’t hold much standing when moving from education to industry.

  • Hi Brian, I definitely think you are right about students being taught about social media, PR etc because that is where the industry is changing and adapting to. Also the design of events are things that are easily picked up when working for a company & I believe just owe a lot to common sense!

    It is a shame that after 4 years of hard work on your degree you feel it won’t help in gaining a job, but I fully understand that. Most of the valuable skills I learnt where from the volunteer opportunities and work experience I did whilst studying. However I know that I wouldn’t have gotten those same opportunities had I not been at Uni & I also wouldn’t have felt confident enough to do them without the support from my course!

    It is a really tough decision to decide to spend 4 years on an events course & they need to develop and change so that no-one leaves thinking ‘I’ve just wasted a s**t ton of time and money’!

    Thanks for your comment, really interesting to hear from other event students 🙂