Reaching the summit

Hannah Langworth hears from the organisers of one of the UK's biggest and most high-profile student gatherings

Warwick Economics Summit is one of the largest student-run academic conferences in Europe. Now in its eleventh year, the summit has evolved into a large-scale event held over a weekend on campus at the University of Warwick. However, the event is about more than a single university as Winston Yap, a Warwick student and one of the two co-coordinators of the 2012 event, held on 17-19 February, explains: "Four hundred students from around the world come for a weekend of talks, seminars and debate. This year we had students from over 50 universities from 17 different countries, so it's a very international event - people come from as far away as the United States, Brazil, India, Canada and Sweden."

"The diversity of the students is reflected in the speakers", adds Winston - and this year's crop was as multinational as the delegate body and included the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Swiss Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organisation and from the US, George Akerlof, professor of economics at UC Berkeley and the co-winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for economics. UK-based speakers included Dr Adam Posen, economist and member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, and Baroness Shriti Vadera, investment banker and former minister for business, innovation and skills.

What did the organisers want the student attendees to get out of hearing these prestigious figures speak? "We were hoping", says Stela Bonifacic, the other co-coordinator of the event, "they'd get inspired." She continues: "It's brilliant - you sit there for the weekend and listen to these amazing minds. As an economist, I find it astonishing to listen to all these people telling you [about] what they do and their lives and work and research."

But the summit offers attendees more than just the opportunity to hear from some distinguished guests. Says Stela of the Q&A sessions held after many of the events: "It was very obvious that people did question, and get engaged [with what they'd heard]." During the weekend, there were also opportunities for attendees to take part in student-led seminars on topics ranging from the future of the euro to prospects for the BRIC economies, and chances to network with the graduate recruiters sponsoring the conference, including Barclays Capital, Bloomberg, Deloitte, PwC and RBS.

Stela and Winston also introduced two completely new elements to the conference programme for 2012. The first was an initiative which invited undergraduates to submit their own independent research. The best entries were peer reviewed by an international panel of professors and will be published in Reinvention, Warwick University's undergraduate research journal. In addition, the winning students were given a cash prize and the opportunity to present their ideas to other students during the summit. The second new project involved providing funding for two students of academic merit to attend the conference who would not otherwise be able to do so. One of the inaugural recipients, Pulkit Agrawal, an undergraduate majoring in economics at Harvard University, says of his time in Warwick: "All of the speakers had unique perspectives to offer on the current economic state of the world" and adds that the summit also offered "an amazing opportunity [to] network with students from other universities."

The social side of proceedings is certainly an important part of the summit. Stela tells us that she and the other organisers hoped that the students attending would go away with "new friendships" as well as new perspectives on economic issues. On the Saturday evening of the weekend, all the summit's attendees were invited to a summit ball, and Stela explains how this event fitted into the rest of the weekend: "We wanted people to relax and engage in discussion in an informal setting. It was an environment for people to meet fellow delegates and also approach speakers and introduce themselves."

And how did Stela and Winston find managing a team of over 50 other students to create such a multi-faceted event? Says Stela: "We loved it! Engaging with other students, negotiating with companies and organising such a large event - when it all comes together you really gain from it and it's the best experience you could have at university." There were some challenges, Stela admits, but says "with good communication you can solve any problem that arises." And what did they learn from the experience? Winston picks out "management skills - time management and also motivating people." People skills are also something Stela felt she gained: "It's very challenging to gain respect, to be a friend and an authority. I've learnt how to deal with people and get my ideas across in the way that I want to."

Good management skills may well be the secret to the summit's success - when asked what has allowed it to become one of the premier events of its kind, Winston highlights "absolute professionalism". He continues: "We have very close attention to detail. From checking in the luggage of [150 external students] and [following] their dietary requirements, to how the stage looks and entrance music, our team has always put a lot of time and attention into detail and into making us the most professional we possibly can be." And it looks like the hard work has paid off, as the summit continues to go from strength to strength.