JAN DRIES has a one word answer when asked to sum up his mission as he takes over as President of EUPRIO for the next two years, writes Nic Mitchell
By that he means making it easier for members of our European network of higher education communication professionals to engage not just with the organisation – but also with each other!
Jan, who has been director of communications and marketing at the University of Antwerp in Belgium for eight years, takes over as EUPRIO President from Christine Legrand who will remain by his side for his first year in office as vice-president.
The association’s leadership is also being strengthened by the appointment of Paola Claudia Scioli in a half-time professional development role to support Jan’s ambition of organising more EUPRIO-branded activity in differentcountries between annual conferences. Paola will continue as EUPRIO’s treasurer.
Professionalise without losing its unique spirit
The move is part of Jan’s plans to further professionalise EUPRIO without losing its unique spirit as a network of friends.
“I’ve seen the value of EUPRIO’s more informal approach since joining in 2009. We’re more about talking together and sharing values and experiences and less about big speeches than many other university organisations I know.
“Everyone attending our conferences realises this is what makes EUPRIO so special and we don’t intend to loose that or necessarily grow significantly bigger than our current membership of 700.
“But we do want to be more relevant and meaningful to members,” said Jan.
Among his plans is to have a centralised membership system instead of the current reliance on national Steering Committee members collecting subscriptions country-by-country and then sending them to EUPRIO’s treasurer.
“We want to coordinate things better and put people together with shared interests around Europe – whether this be through special workshops, as we did with a workshop on Alumni relations in Milan recently, or through making it easier ways for members to communicate with each other outside our annual conferences,” explained Jan.
One idea being explored is a EUPRIO app, such as those used by many conferences, and developing other interactive “community-building” tools such as the special “members-only” Towards EUPRIO conference Facebook group. The Sevilla conference group had 280 active members out of a total membership of 380 during the 2018 conference week, with 128 posts, 222 comments and 3,459 reactions, according to Facebook.
Jan, who has experience working both inside and outside the academic world, has a broad vision for EUPRIO and believes university communications is more about enlightenment than simply science communications.
“Europe is under a lot of strain at the moment, as the refugee crisis and Brexit have shown, and I see bodies like EUPRIO helping to defend shared European values, such as liberty, equality and solidarity in the face of the growth of nationalism and popularism in many countries.
Engage on several levels
“My mission to ‘Engage’ can be seen on several levels. I want EUPRIO to help universities understand the important strategic role that communications has in explaining what we do to society as well as creating more opportunities for us as EUPRIO members to communicate with each other.
“I also want to see solidarity being practiced by universities in different countries and one of my first goals will be to try to re-establish our presence in countries like Greece.
“Our new Mobility Programme may provide opportunities to provide greater support and sharing of best practice as well as helping to understand different cultural approaches to problem-solving. This can be very marked in North-South European dialogue and when Western and Eastern universities try to cooperate,” said Jan.
As for improved communications with EUPRIO members, Jan intends to evaluate and develop some of the ideas introduced by Christine Legrand and produce mobile-friendly newsletters and other means of communicating among members.
“I know we are an association of volunteers, but I’d like to see us being active 365-days-a-year. It is all down to the services we can offer whether people will see the value in engaging with us outside the annual conferences.”
Jan began his professional life teaching psychology and anthropology before following his father into the publishing business and setting up a graphic design business offering advice on corporate identity. He then found his true mission in life by becoming a university communicator.