As higher education expanded in the 1970’s, schools liaison began to move from a reactive role, responding to course requests, to a more proactive activity with school visits by university staff increasing. It was at this time that Bob Alexander from the University of Bradford decided to create a northern universities schools liaison group, the M62 group. By the 1980’s more institutions were interested in sharing information and good practice, and the group grew into the national Schools Liaison Officers Group (SLOG). Meetings usually attracted up to 24 institutions and it was decided to formalise the group and elect a chair and executive committee to carry out the groups’ work.
By 1987 the group had expanded to over 70 members and SLOG decided to organize the first ever free HE fair. Prior to this students had been asked to pay a fee. The fair in June 1988 started the fair programme that we all attend today. The growth in numbers required the Association to reorganize to represent the institutional members interests and those of the potential students.
In Manchester in 1990, using the constitution of the British Beekeeping Society as a guide and as New Kids on the Block topped the charts, HELOA was born. The Association was unique in its time as being one of the few representative groups in higher education to bridge the divide between universities and polytechnics.
Regional representation was set up with the regional chairs making up a National Committee. Priorities for this initial period centred on formalising the HE fair programme and building relationships with the many fair organisers around at that time. Before 1994 and the introduction of the logistic companies that are used by institutions today, staff had to be fit and carry their own prospectuses. It was HELOA who initiated the discussions in order to implement these services. By 1995 UCAS had taken over the organisation of many of the HE fairs and HELOA contributed to the planning and organisation of many of the fairs.
HELOA continued to work towards its founding principle of providing training and discussion between staff in institutions and the AGM and Annual Conference played an important role in doing this.
By 2000 HELOA was building its profile externally, which involved working with careers advisers and groups such as the International Standard Classification of Occupations, ISCO and the Careers Research and Advisory Centre, CRAC (now the Career Development Organisation), and resulted in the National Chair, Josie Hurd, being invited to meet the then HE minister Bill Rammell, and with an opportunity for the Association to input into part of the 14 – 19 curriculum changes.
HELOA opened an administrative office at the University of Essex in 2001 to support the work of the Association, which was staffed for approximately 27 hours per week. In 2013, HELOA entered into an agreement of shared administration with NASMA (National Association of Student Money Advisers) and the office moved to Leeds. In 2008, HELOA started focussing on training with the appointment of a Training Officer, and this has continued to be a key part of the support offered to members throughout the year.
During the last decade the membership of HELOA has widened to include many members working across widening participation, student recruitment, marketing and admissions. HELOA continues to grow and currently has over 900 members from around 140 institutions.