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Event management courses: a degree of certainty

Event management degrees remain a popular path for students, but there has been a lack of understanding about what they cover. Martin Fullard goes back to school

We have been hearing for a while now that there are skills gaps in the events industry. While a lot of these holes may be in service positions, there certainly doesn’t seem to be a lack of enthusiasm for a career in Events Management. We have heard a lot in recent years about apprenticeship schemes and these all come with a deserved merit. However, a degree in event management is still a popular option for students looking to forge a career in the industry. But do we know what is being taught, and is it providing the industry with the brains it needs? To find out, I paid a visit to the University of Greenwich, London, to chat with Jessica Templeton, who is a senior lecturer in Events Management.

We sit down in a glass-walled office overlooking a common area, with students occasionally peering in to see what we’re up to. 

The programmes we deliver are absolutely vocational, and we are preparing our students for work. However, I don’t think ‘theory’ in itself should be a bad word.”

I guess the first place to start is to ask for a general summary. What does the course cover, I ask? With a smile, Jessica explains: “The event management degree programme in the first year covers the event planning process across different types of events. This includes covering financial models like grants and sponsorship, event marketing, operations, and event design. 

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Jessica Templeton receives an award

“We also focus on, in terms of the student’s personal development, their aspirations within the events industry, such as CV writing and ensuring relevant practical experience. This is all part of our ‘passport points’ scheme.

“A lot of the first year centres around orientation. The industry is quite fragmented, so we educate the students on the layers and to figure out what grabs them, be it agency sector, venues and so on.

“The second year is all about applying what they’ve learned in the first year and establishing where they may like to specialise. I teach business events, but there are other pathways like cultural events and festivals. 

“The highlight of the second year is that students must conceive, design and deliver their own live event.

“In the final year, students are focusing on areas of research, event strategy, policy and contemporary issues relevant to the world at the time. I teach a course on venue management, where I take two perspectives: how will you negotiate and engage with venues if you’re an organiser, and how will you manage sales if you’re part of a venue team.”

Of course, what use is a course if it isn’t tailored in harmony with the industry it is looking to serve? How is the syllabus created, I ask: “We determine the syllabus in consultation with the industry,” Jessica says. “There are two mechanisms which help us towards this. One is established by the Quality Assurance Agency [a higher education body]. The other is in collaboration with the industry itself, which is reviewed every four years.”

That should answer some people’s questions, however there are some eventprofs I’ve spoken to who have expressed concern, perhaps anecdotally, that students are spending more time sitting in lectures than they are on practical skills. As it turns out, students spend just four hours in lectures and four hours in smaller group tutorials where they apply what they’ve been taught. “The rest of the time,” says Jessica, “is spent in group work on various projects and conducting primary research, which is important because we’re teaching them events are run by teams rather than individuals.”

Surely the university isn’t just a conveyor belt, I ask what Jessica and her colleagues can offer the industry other than their prize assets (the students). She says: “I’d love for the industry to engage with us as academics who can offer real value to the industry through consultancy and research. In particular, we’re trained as researchers, and we’re already engaging with the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP) and Events Industry Board (EIB). But we’re now also working with DMOs to help them develop strategies around events as value-creating platforms.” 

A key question I’ve been dying to ask Jessica since the start of the interview is how the course is split: is it more theoretical or vocational? “The discussion around whether the course is more theoretical or vocational is, I think, the reason between the disconnect between industry and degree programmes. The programmes we deliver are absolutely vocational, and we are preparing our students for work. However, I don’t think ‘theory’ in itself should be a bad word. Concepts and theories are always related to teaching of how they will be applied in the industry. Every way we design, develop, and evaluate events is grounded in theory. If we show students these theories then they can adapt them in any situation going forward.

“A good example of how academic research has contributed to the way events are practised is the recently-developed ‘Event Canvas’. This is a collaborative event design methodology, at the heart of which is this idea that events themselves don’t have objectives, but the stakeholders do. We must adopt a stakeholder perspective. This is based on David Gray’s ‘Empathy Mapping Model’, which was developed at Harvard.”

Jessica and I could have talked for hours about examples of how students on the course are taught and by the countless methodologies that will shape their futures. While there’s more than I could fit here in the magazine, I am confident that the next wave of graduates will jump straight into the industry and play a role in developing it further.