Are Event Management Degrees Worthwhile?

There has constantly been debate about event management degrees. On one side, people claim they are a waste of time, on the other hand, event planners passionately defend the opportunities that studying event management at university has given them.

Event management qualifications certainly seem to be a controversial subject! As a graduate with an event management degree myself (graduating with a 2:1 BA Hons Events Management from Leeds Metropolitan University, now Leeds Beckett University) I also wanted to write a blog post and to add my thoughts into the mix!

I am also now an Associate Lecturer at UCLan and have been impressed and inspired both by the approach and delivery of the teaching staff and the quality of the students graduating.

Are Event Management Degrees Too Wide Ranging?

In a C&IT article Simon Maier from the TFI Group suggests that the degrees are too wide-ranging. He says

“The content is too broad. It mostly covers management and logistics – very little about delivery, measurement, ROI and the full gamut of event technology. I suspect that not all the lecturers who design the courses are practising events professionals and tend to come from the academic, hotel or travel side.”

Obviously, I only have first-hand detailed experience of the content of my own course which I imagine has changed and developed a lot in the last 10 years and so it is impossible to speak authoritatively for all event management degrees across the UK. I would suggest though that it was largely a business degree with elements of planning, finance, marketing, HR, etc, alongside the event planning specific content. However, with many of the modules we were of course expected to frame the learning within an event context.

I agree that event management degrees are quite broad, however, this reflects the wide range of skills which anyone working in events needs. It is not a simple job. Narrowing the teaching to only one element of event planning is not going to produce an event manager that is equipped to deal with the complete event planning process, nor the realities of a career in the event industry, or even the possibility of starting their own business and developing the entrepreneurial potential.

I agree that it is VITAL that event management degrees are designed and taught by experienced event professionals. I salute UCLan for working with qualified and experienced event professionals (like me!), rather than just academics.

Should Event Management Degrees Be More Focused?

The events industry is varied and although certain principals and planning elements apply to any event genre the specifics of organising a conference are very different to managing an outdoor festival for example. My degree opened my eyes to the many opportunities in the industry and like many, I started the course thinking I wanted to get involved in music festivals and came out realising that actually conferences and corporate event projects are my forte and passion.

Becki Cross Event Management Degree Graduation Photo ColourWhen I did my degree there were very few event management degree courses and Leeds was definitely the place to be! We had less than 75 people in the year group and you could not progress unless you had completed a minimum of 48 weeks full-time work placement in the industry.  This placement took place during your 2nd year and then you returned to university for years 3 and 4.  That first-hand experience was essential and certainly made the rest of the university content more real, fusing together the academic with real-life experience.

Are There Too Many Event Management Students?

One thing that does worry me nowadays is the intake in each year group is growing very large at some universities and therefore drastically increasing the amount of event management students studying each year. When working with such large numbers of students the opportunities for real-life event experience must be reduced.

In the current economic climate does the demand by students for work placements and jobs in the industry outstrip the actual requirement in the real world?

The Important of Industry Input into Event Management Degrees

One element that I really valued in my degree was the regular contributions from industry speakers. This really brought to life the realities and scope of the world of events.

I had some great lecturers and it was really apparent those that “knew their stuff” and had a lot of experience. I particularly valued the knowledge of Nick Jordan and I was lucky enough to have Nick as my dissertation tutor. Perhaps it was Nick that sparked my love of organising conferences too!

Of course, not all of the lecturers encountered had the same level of experience and one, in particular, seemed to crack under questioning from inquisitive students and seemed to have only have organised a handful of events (they are no longer at Leeds Beckett I hasten to add!).

I agree that it is absolutely vital that anyone who teaches the event managers of tomorrow must have credibility and many years of experience running events. A background in event management (not hotels, travel, and tourism or academia) cannot be faked and so you will soon be discovered and lose the respect of the students otherwise.

Also, to be able to direct research or advise students around their dissertation topic you surely need to have that deeper understanding of the real world?

Planning Real Live Events

We did plan, develop and execute some real events as part of our course although sometimes we had to undertake the planning for imaginary event projects too which was perhaps frustrating. Looking back though I imagine it was very important as it gave us the opportunity to think big as if we were planning a really innovative event project with a complicated brief and a specific budget and is similar to putting forward ideas to a client and developing new opportunities in the real world.

Event Management Course Content

I agree wholeheartedly with Simon Maier that delivery, measurement, ROI and event technology are vital elements to be studied. The events industry is constantly moving at such a fast pace I would hope that event management degrees are keeping abreast and tweaking their course content every single academic year.

Social media, health and safety, and hybrid events are other vital components I would suggest should be given priority.

When I was studying we had the opportunity to learn video editing for one module and skills such as this are obviously more important than ever for a well-rounded event manager.

I hope also that all students at all universities nowadays (whatever the course) also have access to training in entrepreneurship, business planning and guidance on how to set up your own company.

At UCLan, I am teaching Enterprise to final year event management, tourism and hospitality students. The module requires them to produce a business plan. There is also lots of support available for any students that want to start their own business.

The Responsibility of the Event Management Student

One thing I think it is important to remember though is that University is not school or college. It is about independent learning – research, critical thinking, study, reflection combined with work experience. University is not about hand-holding and telling people what to think and do – the student must come to their own conclusions and it is true somewhat that they will get out what they put in (as with life in general!).

VolunteerMy industry work placement as well as the other voluntary and paid work experience I had gained were essential in helping me find a job when I graduated and the importance of this cannot be stressed enough. If you do not have lots of event experience listed on your CV you are unlikely to even get asked to interview.

A Career in Event Management – Life After Graduation

In 2004, whilst still in my early twenties, I set up my own event management company. I know of at least two other graduates from my year group that did the same.

Other students went on to top high flying jobs with some of the biggest companies in the events industry.

Inevitably though there were also many that didn’t go into the events industry and found jobs in human resources, marketing, retail and so forth. I think it is a strength that our course was broad enough to allow this if people decided the events industry wasn’t for them. The business elements of an event management degree and indeed the skills developed in terms of event planning are easily transferable, whereas someone without that event management background would not necessarily have the skills an event organiser needs.

Event Management Degrees – An Employers Perspective

I would suggest from an employers perspective if someone has a degree in Event Management this shows me that they are very focused on their career path (like I was – I couldn’t imagine studying anything else).

I agree that event experience would have the greater weighting if I had to choose between event management experience or having an event management degree.

If recruiting I would often largely favour someone with an events management degree rather than someone who had studied another subject. If, however, there was an applicant with lots of event experience but no event management degree they could still get an interview.

When interviewing for past vacancies at Events Northern Ltd we have often had over 100 applicants and so experience and the degree course studied are often the two biggest factors in selecting the strongest candidates.

The Future for Event Management Students

I really do not envy current event management (or any students) today.  Not only do they have to pay high tuition fees (up to £9k per year) they also face a really difficult job market at the end of it.

Luckily the top students realise that this is a competitive market and are raising their game and thinking ahead to make sure they are all set for an exciting career.

I have been impressed by many of the event management students I have come into contact with. They have shown an inquisitive and intelligent perspective, are gaining valuable work experience whenever they can (both paid and unpaid) and it is great to see them networking with event professionals via the virtual world through social media and face to face opportunities. For me as an employer this shows real commitment.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would wholeheartedly defend my event management degree. The academic preparation and inspiration it provided, in conjunction with lots of work experience has prepared me for my career as a professional event and conference organiser. I remain passionate about the fantastic industry I am priviledged to work within,.

I would love to hear more from Universities that offer event management degree courses and find out about their specific course content and how they respond to this debate.

Likewise, are you an event management degree graduate? Or are you currently studying events at university? What are your thoughts on the continuous debates about the value of event management degrees?

Further Reading:

Kirstie Allsop and the Great Event Management Degree Debate

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