Despite dire weather warnings for the Austrian Alps in early September, EUPRIO members brought a ray of sunshine to Tyrol when they arrived for the Innsbruck conference, writes Nic Mitchell.
EUPRIO conferences are held in either late June or early September and bring together public relations and marketing professionals from over 20 countries to discuss and share best practices in university communications.
The scene was set by Dr Sijbolt Noorda in his opening keynote speech. In this, he stressed the importance of in-house communications to create shared values, but also urged universities to “sober up” their language and stop all claiming to be “world-class” or “excellent”. See our report ‘Stop inflating the language if you want to be trusted’.
We then moved on to what EUPRIO calls its European Plaza for ‘quick fire’ group sessions to let members propose key themes they would like to see discussed at future conferences.
Then it was on to the working sessions, with subjects on offer covering everything from the communication challenges of working with business, using Eindhoven’s Triple Helix as an example, to handling university and faculty mergers which are becoming increasingly commonplace across Europe.
And in keeping with priorities of Denis Ancion, whose two-year presidency came to an end at Innsbruck, EUPRIO continued the drive to looking beyond the continent with the second in its ‘Europe meets the world’ series.
Is India the next big thing?
The series was launched last year with a look at China and Hong Kong. This year it was the turn of Ashwin Assomull, a Partner in The Parthenon Group’s International Education Practice in Mumbai, to discuss whether India really was the next big thing for the internationalisation of HE.
I attended one his lectures and we had a fascinating discussion about how to make Lithuania and Sweden more appealing to Indian students, many of study for their bachelor degrees in the Middle East these days.
Some of the workshops also had an international flavour: Maastricht revealed some of the secrets behind their journey to becoming a truly internationally-oriented university, while ETH Zürich’s Professor Gerhard Schmitt urged European universities to do more joint research with the developing world, especially in areas like climate change, and highlighted ETH’s ‘Future Cities Laboratory’ in Singapore as an example.
The working sessions ended with the annual business meeting, at which it was announced that Christine Legrand, from CPE Lyon, was taking over from Denis as President. See our report: ‘Christine is new EUPRIO President’.
This was followed by the final debate, chaired by Die Presse science editor Alice Senarclens de Grancy, which saw two academic experts give their opposing views on how close should universities get to the business world?
Professor Margit Osterloh from Switzerland explained why she had helped launch the Züricher Appell to defend academic freedom and the independence of the university from business.
Giving an alternative view was Britain’s Professor Zulf Ali, who said working closely with business and industry gave academics the opportunity to turn their research results into practical applications to help society.
Then it was off for the mountains for some while others got ready for the gala dinner.
Uwe Steger, head of public relations at the University of Innsbruck and the main conference organiser, said: “I was really satisfied with EUPRIO’s Innsbruck Conference.
“We had over 250 participants from all over Europe which made Innsbruck the second best attended of recent EUPRIO conferences and the feedback shows that members were pleased with the programme, the facilities and the organisation.
“The only – very small – drop of bitterness was that we trusted the weather forecast and cancelled the outdoor-event on Thursday night, when it turned out dry and balmy against all prophecies.
“But in the end that did not matter. The conference was a lot of work, but after all this positive feedback my colleagues and I are certain that it was worth the effort. Now I am looking forward to being a normal participant again at the next conference in Perugia, Italy.”
Denis Ancion said he was delighted to end his presidency on a high.
Reflecting on his period at the helm and the challenges ahead, he said: “One thing dominated my period as president and that’s the issue of change and I am convinced that we will have to be very creative and flexible and will have to reinvent communications and marketing and its role with universities.
“We are moving from being primarily the messenger to becoming liaison officers who help the academic community to find its way in a more and more complex environment. Quite a challenge!
“EUPRIO should support its members so they have the agility to manoeuvre effectively in this constantly changing and demanding world. I am convinced EUPRIO will.
“The new conference format, a solid financial position and a growing membership are a solid ground for our new president Christine Legrand to take EUPRIO again ‘One step beyond’. I wish her good luck and thank all EUPRIO for their trust and support.”
Christine Legrand spelt out her priorities for EUPRIO in her speech at the gala dinner. In this she stressed the need for “perseverance, open-mindedness, exchange and sharing”.
Christine also praised, not just the professional organisation of the Innsbruck conference, but also its friendly nature – a key strength of EUPRIO events. “I am confident we can retain this friendly spirit in spite of the challenges we face. Our annual conferences are a real strength and a chance to show solidarity.”
Last word to Véronique Eloy, chair of the conference task force. She said: I’m very satisfied by the feedback that delegates gave me at the end of the conference. All remarks are still welcome and will be taken into account when building up the programme of Perugia 2015.”
See you in Italy, from September 6-8 2015!