We are pleased to welcome Dr Jane Ali-Knight to Edinburgh’s Education Sector showcase as part of VisitScotland’s Legends campaign.
Dr Jane Ali-Knight is a Professor in Festival and Event Management at Edinburgh Napier University. A recognised academic, she has presented at major international and national conferences and has published widely in the areas of wine tourism, tourism, festival and event marketing and management. Jane currently leads the award winning Destination Leaders Programme, ran in conjunction with Scottish Enterprise, and is also an experienced practitioner working on and delivering festivals and events, both in the UK and overseas.
Tell us about your own education journey and explain how you got to where you are today.
I was fortunate to win a scholarship to grammar school and this led me to the University of Liverpool to study English and History. After graduating, I thought I wanted to become a teacher but after spending a year teaching English abroad in Greece realised teaching wasn’t for me which is ironic now. After spending many years travelling and working in hospitality and the arts in Manchester, I decided to go back to study an MSc in Tourism Management when I was 30. This was a big decision and I really valued the opportunity to study again and enjoyed the academic element of it. Moving to Australia after my Masters I ended up in academia and the rest is history. 5 years of working in Australian universities led me to Edinburgh and Napier University to set up their Festival and Events programmes. The most challenging thing I have done academically must be my PhD. It took me almost 10 years and I moved continents twice, acquired 2 children and did it on top of a very busy job. I suppose my education journey ended this year when I became a Professor, although I am continually learning and developing and enjoy immensely this aspect of my role.
How does the modern education system compare to that of previous generations?
The big difference undoubtedly is technology and the easy accessibility of information. Our students can access everything on line now: lecture notes, course guides and the virtual library. This means no more trips to the library spending hours going through index cards and trying to track down books and information. On the down side maybe this makes them less resourceful. I also think University education is more open and readily accessible now despite fees etc., as in my day it wasn’t the norm and I was the first one in my wider family to go to university.
What do you think makes Edinburgh such a popular place to study?
It has to be the location and the wonderful heritage and landscape of the city. It is a capital city that feels cosmopolitan and energetic but is small enough to easily be able to find your way around and is not too crowded (except for the summer months). It also has a very international student body so people from all cultures can feel settled here. Of courses the festivals and tourism are a big pull in terms of the chance to experience wonderful things here and also the employment opportunities they bring for students. Also with 4 well respected Universities, we are definitely punching above our weight in terms of the student experience.
You teach both in Edinburgh but also overseas with partner institutions. Can you tell us a little more about this? What are the main differences you see in education here in Scotland vs overseas?
Yes, one of our key growth areas has been in International programmes. We now deliver tourism, hospitality and events education at Undergraduate and Postgraduate level in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, France and Switzerland and have as many students studying overseas as on campus in Edinburgh. I think the main difference is that particularly in Asia there is less questioning of the lecturer and the content and also greater expectations in terms of the resources available. Also the student body tends to be less diverse. Europe is very similar to teaching here.
Edinburgh has been ranked 18th in the QS Best Student Cities 2017 which is up 15 places from 2016, how do you think Edinburgh has been able to compete with other cities?
Because of all the points raised above. Our destination is a key positive and also we have great University facilities and now greater access with new routes coming into Edinburgh all of the time.
How does Edinburgh attract the best talent?
Our world class facilities, teaching and research…plus everyone loves Edinburgh and wants to come here, it isn’t a hard sell!
Who do you think is the most influential person to have studied in Edinburgh?
In terms of Napier, did you know that Alex Salmond did a HNC in Business Studies here?...for Edinburgh University alumni it must have to be Charles Darwin, you can’t get more influential that that!
Where is Edinburgh ranked for study in your field?
In terms of tourism we are currently ranked in the top 10 in the UK which is great, internationally it is more difficult as it is hard to compete with some of the Hotel and Tourism schools in Asia and America because of the size and the facilities they have.
What has been the best moment in your education career so far?
Every year at graduation I get a real buzz when I see our students graduate (and meet their families) especially for those who have had issues and problems to deal with along the way. Last year was great as we won a Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Award for the most Outstanding Employer Engagement Initiative for our industry focused Destination Leaders Programme. We had to go on stage and receive the award from Bill Bailey that was a great moment!