Innovative Practices: Unlocking the Future of University Commercial Services

12 - 14 June 2024
Queen's University Belfast


2024 CUBO Summer Conference

Insights and Innovations: CUBO Summer Conference Round-up


CUBO Summer Conference at Queen’s University Belfast had been a long time coming. Originally planned for 2020, history had other plans as the world shut down in the wake of Covid-19. Now, four years later, we are delighted to have finally brought CUBO to the beautiful city of Belfast. And what an incredible few days!

Exceptional Keynotes

The conference kicked off with a fantastic introduction to Queens University Belfast by Caroline Young, Vice-President for Student and Corporate Services, and Professor Judith Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students; followed by some clever tips and case studies on how to innovate from thought leader Kevin Jackson.

Global Student Living CEO Tim Daplyn presented the results from this year’s CUBO-GSL Insight Report, Closing the Gap, which explores the experiences of vulnerable students in university accommodation; including those with a disability, who are neurodivergent, from ethnic minorities and who identify as LGBTQIA+. The report’s recommendations include: creating more diverse communities; appointing a senior leader responsible for improving accommodation for vulnerable students; conducting accessibility audits on marketing and comms materials; and co-creating with students to understand what they need.

Business Broadcast Journalist Declan Curry gave a fascinating overview of the current political and economic landscape, discussing potential outcomes of the upcoming UK election and the implications for HE commercial services, including immigration policies impacting international student numbers and the role of universities in sparking the creativity required to allow students to thrive in a rapidly evolving economy.

Co-founder of Black and Irish, Leon Diop, delivered an inspirational talk before leading a panel discussion on taking EDI beyond performativity with James Greenwood, Head of Residential Life at London School of Economics, Melissa Browne CUBO Chair Elect and Deputy Director of Commercial Services and Estates at the University of Kent, and Jenny Shaw HE External Engagement Director at Unite Students.  Journalist Kate Russell wrapped up the conference with a look at the latest tech and AI news - the rise in internet users worldwide, increasing use of voice assistants, generative AI - and how we might leverage this developing technology on our campuses.







Engaging Workshops

The breakout sessions were equally insightful. They included motivational sessions to help attendees boost their careers and impact, including APSAA Board members Marion Grey and Jacob Waitere's relatable talk on accidental managers becoming intentional leaders, which included honest reflections and useful techniques to maximise leadership impact. Charlotte Axon introduced us to Job Crafting: personalising our jobs to our strengths, passions and experience.

Workshops for different campus service areas included residence life insights from the US presented by Acuho-I Vice President  Olan Garrett, and Michelin star chef’s Michael Deane’s discussion of his catering collaboration with Queen’s.

The important focus on vulnerable students continued in the workshops. Bobbi Pickard and Carley Owen’s talk on the partnership between University of the Arts London and Trans in the City was particularly impactful, with sobering statistics on the challenges faced by trans people (such as the 186% increase in hate crime over the past 4 years, and the 48% of people who identify as trans and non-binary who attempt suicide). Queen’s University shared best practice and challenges in Wellbeing and Mental Health Risk Management in higher education, an invaluable insight into something all universities must get right.

We got a glimpse of the generation of students to come with Pete Maginn’s look at Generation Alpha, and what their values are likely to be. And we were reminded of the impact of strategic collaboration from Queen’s University presentations on One Elmwood and with Visit Belfast, as well as through Co-op and Kinetic’s partnerships with universities to deliver bespoke services that benefit everyone. As one of the UK’s largest food retailers, Co-op shared useful data on current food and retail trends.







Expanding Networks

Networking is among the top reasons why CUBO members attend summer conference and there was plenty on offer during the breaks and on the social night at Ulster University and the historic Cathedral Quarter.  Conference is a fantastic opportunity to get to know national and international colleagues, strengthen existing connections and forge new ones that contribute to a more collaborative HE landscape and the sharing of invaluable experience and information.  An exhibition of 38 CUBO partners provided opportunities to discuss new collaborations and the innovative services on offer to enhance campus experiences.



Celebrating Excellence

The CUBO Awards were a perfect end to an amazing conference, celebrating exceptional work by commercial services teams across the UK and Ireland to support students and enhance the campus experience.

This year the awards were hosted by the brilliant and hilarious Emer Maguire, and catered by the talented team at Queen’s.  Congratulations to all of our winners and nominees on their achievements.








The CUBO Summer conference exceeded all of my expectations. As well as an outstanding programme of speakers, workshops and events, I came away with countless new ideas, connections and opportunities to help me deliver greater value in my corner of the HE world, and do my bit to shape the future of university campus services.

Amy Poynter, Residential Services Manager, University of Salford


As someone new to the sector, CUBO Summer Conference provides a brilliant opportunity to learn from my peers and to build a network of friendly support and advice that I can access all year.

Rachel Athey, Head of Commercial Services, Queen Margaret University


Must offer my thanks to the CUBO team and all at Queen's University Belfast for staging and hosting such an engaging summer conference. It has got to be right up there as one of the best for content. Great breakouts on some interesting topics, and some fab social activities allowing time to catch up with other HE colleagues which culminated with the annual awards dinner. Looking forward to the next installment!

Phil Steele, Director of Sport and Commercial Services, University of East Anglia


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