In this post Dr Zeta Williams-Brown, outgoing Chair of BESA discusses her reflections on BESA as an association, its progress in the last three years and its future prospects.
I have had the privilege of being Chair of BESA for the last three years and on exiting this post I wanted to write this blog to provide information on what we have done in this time. Writing the blog gave me the opportunity to think back on my time so far as a member of the BESA executive committee. I have been part of BESA as long as I have worked in Higher Education. I started my first co-opted role on the executive committee in 2008 as the first Student Representative while I was studying my doctorate. Since then I have been involved in various roles including Secretary and Vice Chair. A lot of my academic firsts are associated with BESA. My first conference presentation was at the 2008 BESA conference at Stafford University. One of my first academic publications was also published in the BESA journal, Educationalfutures. Since 2008 I have attended every annual BESA conference, except one. For me there is something about BESA conferences that’s different from other conference I have attended. The atmosphere is always friendly and welcoming, and I think this has developed a real sense of community with those who choose to attend BESA conferences on a regular basis. I see BESA as an association that provides a community of academics and researchers with a space for us to support one another in our research and in our teaching. I have always felt really supported by BESA and being part of the association has enabled me to get to know members who have similar research interests. This has led to me collaborating in bid-writing and publishing with past and present members of the association. Being part of BESA also provided me the opportunity to edit my first two books for Professor Stephen Ward’s Education Studies book series. I loved this experience and have gone on to edit a further three books that include chapters from BESA members. I am extremely grateful to BESA for providing me with access to these opportunities and I would recommend members to be involved as much as possible with the association and its events. We have a range of ways you can do this, including executive membership roles, membership to the association, presenting and attending at our conferences. Other benefits of being involved in BESA are detailed in my following reflections.
One of the main things I was keen to do when I began my time as Chair was to change some of the roles of executive committee members. Before this time there were some existing roles that included the treasurer, secretary, journal editors, conference chair, website lead, membership lead, Vice Chair and Chair. The rest of the executive committee attended the quarterly committee meetings, supported developments in the association and were tasked with specific objectives. On beginning my time as Chair I devised a plan where all executive members held a leadership or advisory role on the committee so that they were responsible for and reported on these roles at our quarterly meetings. This included a research funding lead, special interest group lead, research seminar lead and a sub-committee of advisors to support the annual conference. In doing this, I hoped that we could increase the amount of work carried out between our quarterly meetings and also change the way we ran our meetings so that the content was not directed by me, giving space for each lead to report on their progress. Increasing the amount of roles on the executive committee meant that we could also start doing work we had not done before. For instance, we started funding a research project each year and organised research seminars that were separate from our annual conferences. By my second year in post we also advertised for more co-opted members and we recruited a new researcher representative and an academic whose focus is promoting the association. We have since gone on also to recruit a legal representative and we are just about to advertise for an Inclusion Support Officer. I am really thankful to the executive committee that these ideas were embraced and acted on. We are very fortunate that all members of the executive committee are actively involved and all are invested in wanting to move BESA forward. Because of their hard work and dedication we have been able to achieve a significant amount of work in a variety of areas, including developing the BESA website, developing our presence on social media, starting up a BESA blog and sending out a monthly newsletter to our members.
Like many other associations the Covid-19 pandemic has hindered our progress and forced us to work in different ways. We had to make the difficult decision to cancel last year’s conference and as this is our main source of income we had to reduce extra expenditure, which meant we couldn’t fund a research project this year. The executive committee has spent a lot of time this year changing the way we work to make sure we can still reach our members virtually. More work has been carried out on the website, we have organised an online conference for June 2021 and we have focused more on what we offer our members. Our conference this year will be different to any other conference we have held before; however, we hope it will feel just as friendly and welcoming as past conferences. We are delighted that the conference includes three international keynotes and over 40 paper presentations. The programme has been designed to enable attendees to be able to see as many presentations as possible (by having only two parallel sessions) and we have organised a separate link for social activities, book launches and a space for us to develop our first two SIGs on Educational Technology and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. We hope to return to our usual face-to-face conferences as soon as possible, but establishing this way of working has helped us to see the possibilities for more online BESA events. In developing our offer for members we are also working on a membership-only area on the BESA website that will include resources from the conference. Work on our membership offer and conference attendance is two priority areas that our new Chair, Caroline Lewis is keen to take forward and develop. Caroline has been Vice Chair for the BESA executive committee for the last three years and I have no doubt that she will do an amazing job as the association’s new Chair. I am hoping that BESA can go from strength to strength in the coming years that we can increase our membership and attendance at conferences and we can continue to grow our range of ways we support our members. I will continue on the executive committee until I have completed my terms of office and hope to be able to take up some of the other leadership roles in the next few years. I hope this account has provided useful information on our developments in the last three years. Please do get in contact if you would like to know more about BESA, or would like to become more involved in our work.