ENOHE Conference in Prague: All-time High Participation, New Leadership Elected, Goals set for the Future

Participants at ENOHE Conference in Prague 2023

With almost 100 participants from more than 20 countries from Europe and beyond the annual conference of ENOHE in Prague this week showed the highest attendance in this association’s recent history. Celebrating 20 years of networking among higher education ombudspersons was the background for the event, hence the title was “From Amsterdam 2003 to Prague 2023. Higher Education Ombuds Offices: Reviewing! Reforming! Restarting?”.

In 20 working sessions during the three days essential topics of the work of ombudspersons were covered, including ombudsperson positioning vis-à-vis the decision makers; reporting; relations with student representatives; professionalisation; evaluation; interaction with the broader community; and practical issues in everyday work. Three keynotes were delivered on current issues in academia.

On the Wellbeing of Students, Developing the Ombudsperson’s Role
Radka Wildova, Director General of the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, set the scene in her opening speech: the topic of ombudspersons as part of broader issues concerning wellbeing of students and social dimension is emerging in Czech higher education recently. Universities must prepare students to become active, critical and responsible citizens and support them in their societal role. The role of ombudspersons is crucial in this development; they are at the same time committing to safeguard students’ rights in their academic environment.

Milena Králíčková, the (first female) Rector of Charles University, stressed the fact in her opening remarks that ENOHE with its network will be giving global insight and room for further developments of the profession. Her university considers ombudspersons as a great opportunity for professional growth.

The three-day conference was preceded by ENOHE’s first Training Activity Program on mediation, conflict resolution and complaint handling skills, topics which were further explored during several of the conference sessions.

Changed Statutes, New Governance Team
During the Annual General Assembly meeting of the association, the statutes (first set out in 2019) were adjusted to incorporate changes needed to comply with Austrian Association Law, and in the light of experience of working with the statutes since becoming a registered association four years ago. Provision has been made for the designation of deputies and advisers for key roles, to ensure continuity of business processes. Changes were made to the membership, fiscal and governance years to enable smooth transition of governance.

Having sought nominations for posts falling vacant this year, a new president, vice-president, treasurer and seven new board members were appointed. Honorary membership for a lifetime was awarded to four long-standing activists for ENOHE – two from the UK, one from Spain and one from Mexico.

After the Prague Manifesto: Extending and Supporting Further Professionalisation
As laid down in ENOHE’s Strategic Plan 2021 to 2025 and requested by several conference participants, the further promotion of the development of university ombudspersons’ role is an important achievement to come, especially with regard to the next “Bologna Ministerial Conference” in Tirana, Albania in 2024. This and other issues are laid down in the “Prague Manifesto” issued at the end of the conference and serving as an orientation for the time to come.

“We have achieved a lot during the last week, together with a crowd of friends and colleagues from five continents. We are very happy to be the heads of such a group of enthusiasts and are looking forward to the next twenty years.”, said the outgoing president Josef Leidenfrost and the incoming president Jean Grier when summarizing the conference’s results.

A conference publication and a photo collection will be made available in due time.

Ursula Meiser was elected and will be replacing Jean Grier as vice-president of ENOHE.

The new members of ENOHE’s Board are: Guadalupe Barrena, Mexico; Brent Epperson, Luxembourg; Gizem Güray, Turkey; Anna-Katharina Rothwangl, Austria; Thomas Rypka, Austria ; Ryan Smith, United States of America; Pelin Zenginoglu, The Netherlands