The ACU HR in HE Community – looking back on 15 years of activity

I can hardly believe it, but the ACU’s HR in HE Community, formerly the Human Resource Management (HRM) Network, is now in its 15th year of existence!

I was present when the very first Steering Committee met way back in July 2002 in Trinidad and Tobago, and we launched the network the following year. During that first meeting, new Steering Committee members presented papers on HR in HE in their respective countries and discussed various issues, including how to evaluate the HR function, new approaches to recruitment and retention and creating more customer focused HR departments.

HR in HE network first committee meeting, 2002

The first HRM Network Steering Committee meeting in action (that's me in pink on the right!)

Regular conferences to bring our community face-to-face

At the meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, the Steering Committee discussed plans for how to take the network forward, which resulted in our inaugural conference in 2004 in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

That conference was a great success, attended by 140 delegates from 28 different countries – pictured below. If you scan the photo carefully I am sure you will still recognise some of the people there. The theme of the conference was ‘Making an Impact: HRM and the successful university’ and saw sessions such as ‘Human Resource Management: does it matter?’; ‘Attracting and Retaining Academic Staff in a Challenging Economic Climate’ and ‘Employer of Choice: strategies for work life balance’. Whilst the first question may not need to be asked any more, the second two topics are still extremely relevant today.

Delegates at the inaugural HRM Network conference in Stellenbosch, 2004

Following the success of the South Africa conference, the Network has gone on to hold a conference every two years in a different Commonwealth country, usually hosted by one of our member institutions – a pattern that is still being followed, with the next conference due to take place later this year at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

So far there have been conferences in South Africa in 2004, Malaysia in 2006, Trinidad and Tobago in 2008, Australia in 2010, Namibia in 2012, the UK in 2014, and Mauritius in 2016. Conference themes have included ‘HRM: adding value or complexity’; ‘Steering Institutional Strategy: the critical roles of HR and PR’ and ‘HR Steps Up’. The conference programmes have included a variety of whole conference plenary sessions, smaller concurrent presentations and workshops and social events to allow delegates to network.

Dorothy Garland, ACU’s former Director of Professional Networks, at one of the more memorable conference social events!

The Australia conference in 2010 (pictured above) saw the HRM Network join forces with the ACU’s PR Network for the first time with the two conferences running one after the other, with a joint day in the middle looking at internal communications. This conference saw a record 228 delegates. Members felt that there was much that they could learn from one another and so the Networks went on to hold two more joint conferences in 2012 and 2014, reverting back to HR only in 2016.

The conferences have always been the highlight of the Network’s activities as they offer a unique opportunity for HR in HE professionals from throughout the Commonwealth to interact and share good practice. It is at these conferences where the highly valued connections, both professional and personal, and many happy memories are made.

Delegates at the 2008 Trinidad and Tobago conference

A magazine and newsletter to stay in touch and share knowledge

Besides the conference, the Network established a magazine, ‘Capacity’, the first issue of which was published in August 2003. 17 issues were published between 2003 and 2014, containing 58 substantive articles covering issues including:

  • Performance management
  • Recruitment and retention
  • Early career academics
  • ACU’s academic salary survey results
  • Institutional change
  • Staff motivation
  • HR in Indian HE
  • Internal communications
  • Relationship with trade unions
  • Work-life balance
  • The role of social media in HR
  • Succession planning
  • Leadership development

Capacity magazine ran until the end of 2014, following which it was replaced by a regular electronic newsletter.

Capacity magazine ran until the end of 2014

Scholarships and grants to offer opportunities for development

Another early activity of the Network was to establish scholarships for our members. From 2003 to 2009, the ACU (in conjunction with Chevening, University of Westminster and International Students House) was able to support 11 individuals to do the MA in HR Management at the University of Westminster, and many of those individuals are still working in HR in HE today.

In addition to the Westminster scholarships, the Network was also able to support 13 people to attend the UK’s Universities Human Resources conference and over 80 people to attend our own Network conferences.

An aim that has stood the test of time

In 2016, following an extensive review led by Jennifer Ellis (Chair of the Steering Committee), the Network became the HR in HE Community. John Kirkland’s (the ACU’s former Deputy Secretary General) original aim in setting up the HRM Network, and the ACU’s other networks, was to improve connections between the ACU and the staff of its member universities, to make the ACU more relevant to the whole institution.

The idea was to bring together HR professionals in member institutions to share and compare good practice globally. This rests on the belief that individuals and institutions can develop and improve through collaborating with their international colleagues. 

Back then, we hoped that the Network would assist HR in adding value in its member institutions and thus help to drive up standards of higher education. This is still very much the aim of the HR in HE Community today.

ACU HR in HE CommunityMembers of the HR in HE Community are part of a Commonwealth-wide network of professionals working in HR and related fields (e.g. registrars, heads of department etc.). If you’re interested in joining the HR in HE Community, please email

The University of Waterloo will be hosting the next ACU HR in HE Community conference, taking place on 23-26 September 2018, in Toronto, Canada. Register your interest at:

Last modified on 26/04/2018
Tags: support, life-long learning, ACU HR in HE Community, Member Communities, Canada, Human Resources