With a packed agenda and a whole host of expert speakers, the 2019 Empower Conference was the biggest and best yet. Here are just some of our session speakers, who informed, inspired and invigorated you. 

Aaron Powell

Aaron Powell 

Chief Technology Officer at UCAS, the UK’s shared admissions service for higher education

Aaron joined UCAS from NHS Blood and Transplant, where he had been Chief Digital Officer since 2014. He has held several senior roles in delivering digital, technology, and operational transformation, both in the UK and overseas, for a variety of customers. 

Aaron is currently fourth in CIO’s top 100 list of the UK’s chief information officers, rising from numbers 38 in 2016, and 20 in 2017. He was awarded Chief Digital Officer of the Year at the 2016 V3 Digital Technology Leaders Awards and was recently named Digital Leader of the Year in the Information Age Tech Leaders Awards 2018. 

During his career, Aaron has worked in software development, training, business analysis, and system design, for a variety public and private sector organisations. Aaron holds a first-class degree from the University of Manchester, and an MBA in IT Management. 

The Chief Technology Officer post at UCAS is a new role and will give a real boost to the delivery of its Future Focus strategy. Aaron will be leading digital transformation, accelerating programme delivery, and contributing to creating a stronger and more sustainable digital business, delivering real value to customers.

Professor Alister Jones

Professor Alister Jones

Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Waikato

Alister currently leads a number of major change projects within the University of Waikato including implementation of student systems.  He is responsible for international engagement and delivery with a strong focus on the Asia-Pacific regions including development of off-shore programmes and campuses.  A former Dean of Education and Research Professor, Alister is an international consultant in curriculum and assessment on building educational research capability.  A current member of the Establishment Board of the Forum for World Education, Alister holds a number of professional leadership positions including adjunct professor and director.
Barbara Staruk

Barbara Staruk

Managing Director, Product and Development at Tribal

Barbara joined Tribal in February 2015 and has 20 years of software industry experience. Barbara has led global market expansion, portfolio rationalisation and product transformation initiatives across multiple software product lines. Barbara has also worked on large-scale government transformation programmes, such as the NHS National Programme for IT.


Chris Davis

Deputy Service Owner at the Department of Education

Chris Davis has worked in the civil service for over twenty years advising on policy across HM Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Education (DfE). In the last 5 years he has worked on delivering a number of  major Government digital programmes.

He is currently working for the DfE as the deputy service owner for the new Apply for postgraduate initial teacher training service, with one of his key roles to engage with interested stakeholders as the delivery plans are developed.

Christine Ennew

Professor Christine Ennew OBE

Provost at the University of Warwick

Christine Ennew is Provost at the University of Warwick where she supports the Vice Chancellor in the academic leadership of the University. A key aspect of her role is leading the development and delivery of the University’s academic strategy, ensuring that Warwick remains competitive and relevant within HE and beyond. She is responsible for the efficient and effective use of academic resources (including departmental resources, capital planning and space management, and information resources). In addition, she is Chair of the University’s Equality and Diversity Committee and is the Executive Board lead for the University environmental sustainability strategy and its implementation. 

Christine graduated from Cambridge University and completed her PhD at Nottingham. She began her academic career as an agricultural economist at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1985. She then moved to the University of Nottingham and in 1995 was promoted to Professor of Marketing. She also held visiting academic appointments at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta. She has served as Deputy Director of Nottingham University Business School and Academic Director of the Business School at the University’s Malaysia Campus during its start-up phase (2000-2001). From 2004-2007 she was Dean of Social Sciences and from 2008-2016 she was one of Nottingham’s Pro Vice Chancellors, and served as Provost and CEO of the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. She joined the University of Warwick in August 2016. 

She is currently a member of the Advisory Board of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, a member of the Board of Directors for Common Purpose Student Experiences. She is also a Board Member for the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and Chair of its Regulation Committee. 

She has been actively involved in research in the financial services sector for most of her academic career. She has focused her research on key strategic themes, including service quality and delivery, loyalty and retention, and service failure and recovery and has completed a range of funded projects, most notably in relation to the development of the Trust Index. She has also undertaken business-oriented research specifically in the areas of customer satisfaction, marketing relationships and trust, including on behalf of several major banking organisations. 

In addition to her work on financial services, she is increasingly involved in writing and speaking about the management and marketing of higher education with emphasis on the nature, growth and development of international higher education. 

She has published over 100 articles in refereed journals, presented over 80 refereed conference papers and produced five books.

Jill Whittaker

Jill Whittaker

Managing Director, HIT Training

Jill is an award-winning Director with a strong bias for growth and commercial success in unreliable market conditions. She has had a varied career, including experience in the not-for-profit and private sectors, and for the last 20 years has worked in the adult education sector specialising in apprenticeships and skills.

In 2006, Jill co-founded HIT Training Ltd together with colleagues from a previous company; HIT now employs 400 people and supports over 10,000 apprentices and 3,300 employers a year. HIT Training is listed in the Times Best Companies to Work For and is the Times Education Supplement’s training provider of the year for 2018. 
On a personal level, Jill was named Institute of Directors' Director of the Year for the South East & London and is listed in the Shine Awards 100 Most Influential Women in Hospitality.

Jill is a Fellow of both the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, and the Hospitality Professionals Association (HOSPA). When not working, she enjoys skiing, sailing, good food and a nice pint of real ale.

John Cope

John Cope

Head of Education & Skills Policy, CBI

John is the CBI’s Head of Education & Skills Policy, leading the CBI’s work across education, from the early years through to lifelong learning and retraining. Alongside this, John chairs the CBI’s LGBT+ Network. Originally from the Midlands, most of John’s career prior to the CBI was spent in policy and communications, including advising three past education ministers and being a founding director of an education and mental health research institute. Outside of work, John is a governor of a SEND school and sits on the Education Policy Institute’s Advisory Board.
Liz Barnes

Professor Liz Barnes

Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Staffordshire University

Liz has been Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive since April 2016, having previously been Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Sheffield Hallam University and Derby University after a long career at Teesside University.  

As a leading provider of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships, Staffordshire University has a strong connection with businesses across the region. Throughout her career, Liz has built connections with employers and industry working in partnership to provide vocationally relevant courses and upskill the workforce. With an academic background in physiology she worked closely with the NHS, developing new ways of working and qualification frameworks. Subsequently she has led on significant developments with law enforcement agencies. 

Liz’s career has been built around leading learning and teaching and the student experience, with a passion for creative and innovative approaches to enhance the student journey and their achievements. With a passion for digital technologies and how they can be used to transform the workplace and the learner’s experience, she recently joined the JISC Board.  

Committed to education and young people, Liz is a member of four Multi-Academy Trusts in the Region. Having recently been appointed Co-Chair of the Opportunity Area Partnership Board, she also believes it is important that education and employers are seen to be working jointly in endeavours to improve the life chances of young people in Stoke-on-Trent.


Professor Martin Doel CBE

University College London (Institute of Education)

Martin was appointed as the first Further Education Trust for Leadership Professor of Leadership in Further Education and Skills at University College London (Institute of Education) in April 2016 after having previously been the Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) from 2008.  Prior to this Martin served for 28 years in the Royal Air Force where his final appointment was as Director of Training and Education for all three Armed Services, working in the Ministry of Defence, the largest employer of apprentices in the UK. 

He was appointed OBE in 1998 for his work in support of operations in the Balkans and for his contribution to Anglo-German relations and CBE in the 2016 New Year Honours for his contribution to education. He holds a Masters Degree with Distinction from King's College, London and a First Class Honours Degree in Education from King Alfred's College Winchester.   

Martin is a Trustee of the Royal London Society for the Blind and of The Challenge, a social integration charity delivering the National Citizen Service and a member of the Institute for Apprenticeships’ Audit and Risk Committee. He is also a Life-Vice President of the RAF Football Association and a qualified FA Coach.      

Martin’s particular research interests at UCL (IOE) are concerned with the distinctive contribution that further education can make to national prosperity and individual well-being, and the leadership challenges facing further education providers of all kinds.  

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Martin Owen

Commercial Finance Director, National College of High Speed Rail

Martin is the College’s Commercial Finance Director joining in 2017 from Deloitte where he focussed on the government and public sector, specialising in education and healthcare. Prior to Deloitte he was a Business Unit Director at Tribal, heading up the Benchmarking and Consultancy businesses. Martin is a qualified accountant with over 20 years’ experience of working with education providers at schools, colleges, universities at national and regional government levels. He believes in the opportunities provided by education and considers the College is in the right place to match the demand from employers with the demand from learners to train in an exciting and emerging sector.

Mike Beech

Mike Beech

Marketing Director at Tribal

Mike joined Tribal in March 2016 and heads up Tribal’s global marketing team. He is responsible for the strategic development of Tribal’s marketing initiatives and driving awareness 
of the Group’s portfolio 
of capabilities. With over 25 years of experience of the enterprise IT market, Mike has the expertise, drive and enthusiasm needed to ‘tell the Tribal story’ world-wide.

Naomi Clayton

Naomi Clayton

Deputy Director for Research and Development at Learning and Work.

Naomi Clayton is Deputy Director for Research and Development. Naomi has more than 13 years’ experience in policy and research with specialisms in employment, skills and labour market disadvantage issues.

Prior to joining L&W, Naomi was Deputy Director at the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth, and Policy and Research Manager at Centre for Cities where she was responsible for developing and overseeing programmes to support effective policy and practice.

She has worked with partners across the UK to support them to use of evidence and demonstrate impact through the implementation of skills strategies, youth employment support and in-work progression pilots, and the development of local industrial strategies.

Prior to this, Naomi was at the Work Foundation where she led a major programme on labour market disadvantage. She has also completed a Fellowship with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust exploring US cities’ approaches to improving young people’s employment prospects.


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