AHEAD Conference 2022

Safe Haven or Stormy Port? Exploring how tertiary education design impacts our health

The AHEAD annual international conference will run online from Monday March 21st-Friday March 25th 2022.  

Conference Title: Safe Haven or Stormy Port? Exploring how tertiary education design impacts our health

Conference Dates: Monday March 21st-Friday March 25th 2022, will be held online/virtually.

Conference Sub-themes: 

  1. Safe Boarding for All: The Role of Digital and Physical Accessibility 
  2. The Winds of Change: Agile Student Support
  3. Navigating Beyond the Horizon: International Mobility, Work Based Learning and Social Engagement 
  4. Testing the Waters: Innovative Student-Centred Assessment Design 
  5. Bending with the Breeze: Flexible Approaches to Teaching and Learning

All questions or queries should be directed to events@ahead.ie.

Tickets are free for students and AHEAD members and €100 for non-members. Check if your institution is a member. 

 About the Conference 

Remote learning experiences during Covid-19 have compounded difficulties for some learners and eased them for others, underlining the important role that learning design has on the student learning experience (AHEAD 2020).

Pre-pandemic research in Ireland demonstrates that many higher education students experience extreme levels of anxiety (38.4%), depression (29.9%) and stress (17.3%). Furthermore, students with disabilities are significantly more likely to experience extreme anxiety (58.7%) than their peers (Price, Smith, & Kavalidou, 2019). While student physical and mental wellbeing is of course influenced and impacted by a wide range of personal factors (Price, Smith, & Kavalidou, 2019), it is also influenced by the learning environment that students must navigate (Dooley, O Connor, Fitzgerald & O’ Reilly 2019). This includes all elements of the education experience, from sense of belonging within the learning community, (Rath 2020) to the academic pressures students face both within and beyond the classroom. 

The Safe Haven or Stormy Port conference seeks to explore the link between education design and student wellbeing. To date, welcome health and wellbeing initiatives have mainly focussed on how to support students to better manage the anxiety, stress and poor physical health they may experience while participating in further and higher education.

The AHEAD 2022 conference shifts this focus to explore how the very design of learning environments can impact student wellbeing, raising a number of significant questions:

  • How can education design positively impact student well-being?
  • Can we work together across our colleges and centres to reduce any harmful impact on learners without reducing standards?
  • Can a combination of universal design of the physical/digital environment, universal design for learning (UDL) in the classroom, and high-quality targeted student supports, create educational experiences wherein all students do not simply survive but have the space and opportunity to thrive?
  • How can learners themselves be engaged in these processes of educational design? And how can inclusion and belonging be fostered across the full higher and further education experience?  

In exploring the link between tertiary education design and physical/mental wellbeing, the Safe Haven or Stormy Port conference will showcase good practice in proactively and intentionally designing positive, inclusive tertiary education experiences for all, and efforts that include students as partners when doing so.  


  • AHEAD (2020). Learning from Home During Covid-19: A Survey of Irish FET and HE Students with Disabilities. Blackrock, Dublin.
  • Dooley, B., O Connor, C., Fitzgerald, A. & O’ Reilly, A. (2019). My World Survey 2: The National Study of Youth Mental Health in Ireland. Dublin: UCD.
  • Price, A., Smith,H.A., & Kavalidou, K. (2019). USI National Report on Student Mental Health in Third Level Education, Dublin: Union of Students in Ireland.
  • Rath, V. (2020) Social engagement experiences of disabled students in higher education in Ireland. Unpublished doctoral thesis, Trinity College Dublin.

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View the Programme 


The core funding received by AHEAD for its higher education activities is provided by the Higher Education Authority.

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This article appeared in the AHEAD website. Visit www.ahead.ie for more information