Universities in a Changing World: HR’s response to the COVID-19 crisis

People with notebooks discussing in a group
23 - 24 Sep 2020
Amity ACU

Join us for our virtual HR in HE Community conference, looking at Universities in a Changing World: HR’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

How will the current crisis affect the future world of work and HR in higher education?

COVID-19 has disrupted life globally, and the higher education sector is no exception. HR professionals continue to play a significant role in supporting university leaders, staff, and students to navigate the challenges caused by COVID and future ways of working and learning.

This event aims to maximise learning from good practice in HR in higher education institutions from around the world.

Over the course of two days, delegates will gain valuable insights into how other HR professionals are responding to COVID-19 at their institutions. From mental health to remote working - expert speakers will explore a range of timely topics pertinent to HR in higher education in this current climate.

Sessions will explore the following sub-themes:

  • HR professionals as higher education strategists
  • Shifting priorities in HR
  • Mental health and well-being
  • Diversity, inclusion and belonging
  • HR in a digital age

Organised in partnership with Amity University, this is an excellent opportunity to virtually connect with colleagues across the Commonwealth and ask our speakers questions during the live Q&A at the end of each session.

Continue the conversation on social media using #HRinHE2020

How to register

Registration has now closed.

If you have any questions about the conference, please contact HRinHE2020@acu.ac.uk

The event is free of charge for ACU members and GBP 75 for non-members. Please check that your university is an ACU member before registering. 

Sessions will be available to watch on-demand for anyone who registers. 

The conference will be hosted over Zoom and participants will be able to join with a laptop, computer or mobile device. 

Contact us

If you have a query about this event, please email HRinHE2020@acu.ac.uk


Day 1: Wednesday 23 September

8:00-8:45 London, UK BST

9:00-9:45 Johannesburg, South Africa

3:00-3.45 Toronto, Canada

12:30-13:15 Mumbai, India

17:00-17:45 Sydney, Australia

Welcome and opening

This welcome and opening session will introduce the conference’s main theme and five sub-themes.

Chair: Dr Joanna Newman, Chief Executive and Secretary General, ACU


    • Dr Atul Chauhan, Chancellor, Amity University Uttar Pradesh, India
    • Professor Ian O Williamson, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Wellington School of Business and Government, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

10:00-11:15 London, UK BST

11:00-12:15 Johannesburg, South Africa

5:00-6.15 Toronto, Canada

14:30-15:45 Mumbai, India

19:00-20:15 Sydney, Australia

Leading in the time of COVID-19

This panel discussion will explore:

  • how those in leadership positions are dealing with the crisis
  • how HR have been supporting and leading the response to the crisis and driving their university’s strategy
  • how Vice Chancellors have been relying on HR in their responses to the pandemic
  • how university associations have been dealing with the crisis
  • the impact this may have on the role of HR in universities post COVID-19

Chair: Alison Johns, Chief Executive, Advance HE, UK


  • Dr Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities, India
  • Professor Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Vice Chancellor, the United States International University-Africa, Kenya
  • Beth Bundy, Group Director, People and Culture, Auckland University of Technology (AUT), New Zealand

14:00-15:30 London, UK BST

15:00-16:30 Johannesburg, South Africa

9:00-10.30 Toronto, Canada

18:30-20:00 Mumbai, India

23:00-00:30 Sydney, Australia

Mental health and well-being in the time of COVID-19 and beyond

The current crisis places a significant strain on the mental health and well-being of staff and students. Join this session to hear about the ways HR has been supporting staff and students during COVID-19, including lockdown and university closures – from adapting to a new way of working, dealing with the anxiety and uncertainty from fear of losing their jobs, managing the stress associated with working from home, and maintaining a healthy work and home life balance, while looking after their own mental health.

This session will also look at how HR plans to support staff and university leaders as they re-adjust to the new normal as universities re-open.

Chair: Tarrance Ryder-Downes, Director of HR, ACU


  • Abel Caine, Head of the Rethinking Youth Programme, UNESCO MGIEP (Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development)
  • Lorraine Gaytten, Director of Operations, University of Birmingham, UK
  • Dr Marilyn Thompson, Associate Provost HR, The University of Waterloo, Canada
  • Professor Wendel Abel, Professor in Mental Health Policy, University of the West Indies, Jamaica

Day 2: Thursday 24 September

10:00-11:25 London, UK BST

11:00-12:25 Johannesburg, South Africa

5:00-6.25 Toronto, Canada

14:30-15:55 Mumbai, India

19:00-20:25 Sydney, Australia



Diversity, inclusion and belonging: are we at a tipping point?

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, and the existing inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 crisis, this panel discussion will explore issues of diversity, inclusion and belonging and how the higher education sector internationally can seize this moment to tackle inequality. The panellists will share good practice and strategies for promoting diversity, inclusion and a sense of belonging among staff and students.

Chair: Professor Shaun Ewen, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Indigenous) University of Melbourne, Australia; Visiting Professor of Indigenous Health & Leadership, King’s College London, UK


  • Dr Claire Kelly, Acting Head of Transformation, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
  • Kul Mahay, Founder and CEO, Ignite Your Inner Potential Ltd, UK
  • Umar Zamman, Director of Human Resources & Organisational Development, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

14:00-15:25 London, UK BST

15:00-16:25 Johannesburg, South Africa

9:00-10.25 Toronto, Canada

18:30-19:55 Mumbai, India

23:00-00:25 Sydney, Australia

Transforming technology, transforming people: the future of HR in the digital age

This panel discussion will explore how HR in universities have been using digital technologies to solve the challenges arising from the pandemic and remote working, including how they have been using technology to communicate and carry out HR functions. The session will also discuss the new technology that has emerged and the future technologies we envisage beyond the crisis, and the opportunities and challenges that this creates for HR in universities.

This is the closing session of the conference and will end with closing remarks and a summary of key learnings from the two days.

Chair: Willorna Brock, Senior HR Business Partner, ACU


  • Dr Sujaya Banerjee, CEO, Capstone Consulting, India
  • Professor Teresa Mwuese Nmadu, Professor of HR and Strategic Management, University of Jos, Nigeria
  • Yusuf Saleh, Deputy Director of HR, Kenya Business Registration Services, Kenya

Conference closing comments: Professor Dr Balvinder Shukla, Vice Chancellor, Amity University Uttar Pradesh, India

Thank you from the ACU: Kirsty Cockburn, Director of External Engagement, ACU


Alison Johns AHE

Alison Johns

Alison Johns

Advance HE, UK

Alison has worked in higher education for 25 years and was appointed Chief Executive of Advance HE in autumn 2017. Prior to this, she was the Chief Executive of the Leadership Foundation. Alison has extensive international experience of higher education - including leading the review of teaching and learning for the Australian government. This led to the establishment of the Office for Learning and Teaching to enhance teaching quality across the Australian higher education sector.

Joanna Newman

Joanna Newman

Dr Joanna Newman MBE

Association of Commonwealth Universities

Dr Joanna Newman is Chief Executive and Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU). Prior to joining the ACU in April 2017, Joanna was Vice-Principal (International) at King’s College London. Her previous positions include Director of the UK Higher Education International Unit (now known as Universities UK International) and Head of Higher Education at the British Library. Joanna remains a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of History at King’s College London and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Southampton. She has also taught history at University College London and the University of Warwick. In 2014, Joanna was awarded an MBE in recognition of her work promoting British higher education internationally.

Headshot of Tarrance Ryder Downs

Tarrance Ryder-Downes

Tarrance Ryder-Downes

Association of Commonwealth Universities

Tarrance Ryder-Downes is the Director of Human Resources for the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU). At the ACU, Tarrance has developed the HR function from being mainly operational, to playing a key role in the strategic planning and decisions affecting the ACU’s people. He has over 15 years of human resources experience in the not-for-profit sector in the UK in progressively more senior roles. Tarrance also has a leading role in the ACU’s HR in Higher Education Community. Tarrance has an MSc in Human Resources and a bachelor’s in business and History.

Shaun Ewen (1)

Professor Shaun Ewen

Professor Shaun Ewen

University of Melbourne, Australia

Professor Shaun Ewen is Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) and Foundation Director of the Melbourne Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the University of Melbourne, and visiting Professor of Indigenous Health and Leadership at King’s College London. He is also convener of the ACU’s Peace and Reconciliation Network. In his role as PVC, Professor Ewen has responsibility for institutional policy, strategy and advice in relation to all aspects of Indigenous higher education. Professor Ewen has a clinical background in physiotherapy, and holds postgraduate qualifications in international relations and education. His area of research expertise relates to Indigenous health.

Willorna Brook

Willorna Brock

Association of Commonwealth Universities

Willorna Brock is Senior HR Business Partner at the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU). Willorna contributes to the ACU's HR strategy and works with the Director of HR to transform HR service delivery - devising and implementing key initiatives to support the ACU’s ambition to become a high performance organisation. With a background in teaching, Willorna has worked in a variety of HR roles within the public, private and not-for profit sectors including at the London Borough of Sutton, Atkins, EY, CGI and Save the Children. She was also a Committee member at CIPD Southwest London Branch for five years during which she organised and hosted various events for members.


Abel Caine (1)

Abel Caine

Abel Caine

UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development MGIEP, India

Abel Caine is the Head of the Rethinking Youth Programme at the UNESCO MGIEP based in New Delhi, India. To achieve the UN SDGs, particularly SDG 4.7, the MGIEP Youth Programme empowers youth (aged 18 – 34 years old) to transform non-formal and formal education systems through innovative digital pedagogies, inter-generational dialogues, and a global #KindnessMatters campaign leading to a new United Nations International Day of Kindness in 2021.

Dr Chauhan

Dr Atul Chauhan

Dr Atul Chauhan

Amity University, India

Dr Atul Chauhan is the President of the not-for-profit Amity Education Group and the Chancellor of Amity Universities. Over the last 30 years, Amity has established over 10 universities and multiple schools/institutions across India and 15 countries with 175,000 students. The flagship Amity University is the number one ranked not-for-profit private university in India. Offering over 400 degrees, Amity University is highly research and innovation focused with US Regional Accreditation (WASC) and UK Accreditation (QAA). Born and educated in Germany, Dr Chauhan and studied engineering and finance from the University College London (UCL) and London School of Economics.

Prof. (Dr.) Balvinder Shukla

Dr Balvinder Shukla

Dr Balvinder Shukla

Amity University Uttar Pradesh, India

Dr Shukla is a Professor of Entrepreneurship, Leadership and IT, and the Vice Chancellor of Amity University Uttar Pradesh. She has been one of the key team members spearheading the exponential growth of the Amity Group's engagement in higher education. Dr. Shukla is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and honours for her extraordinary contribution in education, research, social engagements, and entrepreneurship development.

Headshot of Beth Bundy

Beth Bundy

Beth Bundy

Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand

Beth's experience as an HR Executive over the last 20 years spans finance, IT, hospitality, education, local government, health and utilities sectors in the UK and New Zealand. In her current role as Group Director, People and Culture at Auckland University of Technology, she implemented a new People and Culture service delivery model focussed on sunsetting bureaucracy, digitising and automating transactional processing, and releasing capacity to support leaders to achieve their strategic goals. As a senior executive, she works with leaders to develop organisational cultures that attend to the history, soul and journey of an organisation.

Headshot of Claire Kelly

Dr Claire Kelly

Dr Claire Kelly

Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Dr Claire Kelly is the current Acting Head of Transformation at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She has a long-standing interest in diversity, identity, and social change, having managed and contributed to research projects into diversity, inclusion and transformation in South African organisations and racial transformation in small towns. Her current interest is in transformation in the higher education sector, with a particular interest in the emancipatory role of the university, and what this means for the functioning of universities (as sites and systems of human relationality) at various levels.

Headshot of Professor Williamson

Ian O. Williamson

Professor Ian O. Williamson

Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Ian O. Williamson is the Pro-Vice Chancellor and the Dean of the Wellington School of Business and Government at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand). Prior to joining Victoria University of Wellington, he served on the faculties of the Melbourne Business School (Australia), Rutgers Business School (USA), the Zurich Institute of Business Education (Switzerland), the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland (USA) and Institut Teknologi Bandung (Indonesia). He received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA).

Headshot of Kul Mahay

Kul Mahay

Kul Mahay

Ignite Your Inner Potential, UK

Kul served for 32 years in the UK police service, of which two thirds were spent at leadership level. In his life as a police leader, he oversaw complex and varied departments and commanded critical and major operational scenarios. Using his deep knowledge of Emotional Intelligence, Kul has worked with police forces, universities, fire services and the oil industry in the UK, UAE, Qatar, India and the Ukraine to help develop empowered cultures. He is the founder of the fastest growing personal leadership events company in the UK, Ignite Your Inner Potential. Kul also founded Create and Speak, a very successful intensive public speaker training programme from which he chooses his speakers for his annual events.

Headshot of HR in HE conference speaker Lorraine Gaytten

Lorraine Gaytten

Lorraine Gaytten

University of Birmingham, UK

Lorraine Gaytten has more than 20 years of experience in higher education, initially as an academic but for the last 17 years she has been in leadership roles in international education and, most recently, leading a high performing professional services team at the University of Birmingham, College of Social Sciences. Planning for and managing risk and change has been a key element of her role for her entire career as she trained originally to manage time, cost and quality in a property and construction environment. Those basic principles have been used time and time again to ensure resilience in an ever-changing environment whilst looking after their greatest resource – their staff.

Headshot of Marilyn Thompson

Dr Marilyn Thompson

Dr Marilyn Thompson

University of Waterloo, Canada

Dr Marilyn Thompson is currently Associate Provost, Human Resources at the University of Waterloo, Canada, where she oversees the administration and long-term planning of all university human resources, organisational and human development, and total compensation activities and programmes. As the chief human resources officer, her responsibilities include playing a key role in strategic planning, providing both university-wide vision and HR leadership in service to Waterloo’s mission. She acts as the steward of strategies, activities and programmes that impact the people of the university, modelling best practices in leadership, learning and growth, fostering relationships, and getting things done within a complex environment.

Headshot of Dr Pankaj Mittal

Dr Pankaj Mittal

Dr Pankaj Mittal

Association of Indian Universities, India                                                     

Dr Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General (SG) of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), is the second female SG of the AIU in its 95 years of existence. She has been serving the higher education sector for over three decades in senior positions at the University Grants Commission of India. Dr Mittal is a Fulbright Scholar, and has also served for two terms as the first regular Vice Chancellor of Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Vishwavidyalaya, Haryana - the first rural women’s university of North India.

Headshot of Paul Tiyambe Zeleza

Professor Paul Tiyambe Zeleza

Professor Paul Tiyambe Zeleza

United States International University-Africa, Kenya

Prof Paul Tiyambe Zeleza is Vice Chancellor (President) and Professor of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the United States International University-Africa, Nairobi, Kenya.  He has worked at several universities in the Caribbean, Kenya, Canada, and the United States and held distinguished academic appointments and administrative positions. Professor Zeleza’s academic work has crossed traditional boundaries, ranging from economic and intellectual history to human rights, gender studies and diaspora studies. He has published more than 300 journal articles, book chapters, reviews, short stories and online essays and authored or edited 27 books, several of which have won international awards.

Headshot of Dr. Sujaya Banerjee

Dr Sujaya Banerjee

Dr Sujaya Banerjee

Capstone People Consulting, India

Dr. Sujaya Banerjee is a change management professional with over 30 years of experience in driving cultural transformation, through leadership for organizations like Godrej, ADNOC, Lowe Lintas and Partners, British Gas and Essar where she was the Chief Talent Officer. Dr. Banerjee is currently Founder/CEO of Capstone People Consulting – a new age consulting firm in the space of leadership and change working with leading organisations both Indian and multinationals and also with leading government bodies.


Headshot of Professor Teresa Mwuese Nmadu

Professor Teresa Mwuese Nmadu

Professor Teresa Mwuese Nmadu

University of Jos, Nigeria

Teresa Mwuese Nmadu is a professor of HR and Strategic Management and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) of the University of Jos, Nigeria. She is also an international facilitator on the British Council’s Active Citizens Programme for Youth in Nigerian Universities. Her core strengths are facilitating organisational change and development in public institutions. Professor Nmadu is a 2015/2016 Fellow of the International Women’s Leadership Forum, and a member of the  Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM); United States Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship Educators (USASBE); The Academy of Management of Nigeria (TAMN); Association of Commonwealth Universities Human Resource (ACU HR) in Higher Education (HE) West Africa 2018; and the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPM).

Headshot of Umar Zamman

Umar Zamman

Umar Zamman

Sheffield Hallam University, UK

Umar Zamman is the Director of Human Resources & Organisational Development at Sheffield Hallam University, responsible for the HR, OD, Leadership Development, Payroll, Pensions and Electronic Data Interchange agenda for over 5,500 staff and is part of the senior leadership group. He has experience of working in a number of sectors and has held senior executive roles in HE, NHS, Fire & Rescue Service, Policing and the Civil Service and was an advisor in the private office to the Home Secretary and senior civil servants. He has led national and international projects on culture change, leadership and EDI and is focussed on integrating EDI into all HR and OD practices. 

Headshot Professor Wendel Abel

Professor Wendel Dwight Abel

Professor Wendel Dwight Abel

University of West Indies, Jamaica

Professor Wendel Dwight Abel, is a professor in the Department of Community Health and Psychiatry and the head of Section of Community Health & Psychiatry, UWI, MONA; he is also a consultant psychiatrist at the University Hospital of the West Indies. Professor Abel has training in medicine and psychiatry, public health and addiction studies. His academic focuses are in mental health policy, suicide, depression and cannabis.

Headshot of Yusuf Saleh

Yusuf Saleh

Yusuf Saleh

Kenya Business Registration Services

Yusuf served as the Chief Manager for Human Resources at the United States International University (USIU)-Africa. Currently, he is the deputy director of Human Resources at the Kenya Business Registration services, a state corporation established under the BRS Act of 2015.

Yusuf is a full member of the Institute of Human Resources Management (IHRM) Kenya and a member of the continuing professional development (CPD) and membership committee. He served as a member of the ACU’s HR in HE Steering committee and as Regional Representative for Eastern Africa. Yusuf is an ABD doctoral candidate and holds an MBA in HR management and a BSc degree in international business administration with a specialty in finance and management.

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