Just as Australia is now part of the Eurovision song contest, so EUPRIO has extended its reach to the heart of the South Pacific Ocean by welcoming the University of New Caledonia as one of its newest members, as Nic Mitchell reports.
Sylvian Raffard-Artigue must be EUPRIO’s furthest flung member from the European heartlands of Brussels and Paris, but he is now very much part of our membership.
For EUPRIO has extended its reach to 11 time zones away with the University of New Caledonia (UNC) in the South Pacific joining our ranks.
Sylvian has been Director of Communications at the university for the past 18 months.
Learning and sharing
He found out about EUPRIO after joining ARCES, the association of French higher education communication professionals, and is looking forward to learning and sharing experiences with fellow Euprians.
Situated 1,210 km east of Australia, and known for its palm-lined beaches and rich marine-life lagoons, New Caledonia may seem like a world away from the European mainland, but Sylvian says working in the capital, Noumea is like being in a medium-sized provincial French city.
“The UNC is a small multidisciplinary university, with around 3,500 students. It is the only university in New Caledonia. It is also the only French university in the world to operate under the Southern Hemisphere calendar, from February to November.
“Its main strengths are the commitment of its personnel and the strong institutional support from the local assemblies”, he says.
Still connected to France
Sylvian, who was born in Grenoble in the French Alps, grew in the paradise French territory from the age of six. But he still feels connected to France and returns several times a year, including during the summer holidays with his children to help them discover the country of their origins. His parents were nurses and volunteered for overseas service and fell in love with the beauty of the island and decided to stay.
“New Caledonia is a country in development and we need to benefit from the expertise and experience of bigger actors even if the context is pretty different.
“I think that EUPRIO is important for us to share and promote the special values we have in common as European universities”, he says.
Christine Legrand, EUPRIO president, said: “We are very pleased to have the New Caledonian University on board, the most faraway university of Europe, and look forward to seeing Sylvian at one of our future conferences.”
Now 42, Sylvian is back at the university where he was a foreign languages student before doing postgraduate studies in Montpellier, France.
After graduating, he worked in the tropical country’s tourism industry before getting a taste of public relations and community relations with the nickel mining and metallurgy industries, which are so important to the local economy.
He then became a special adviser to the ministers in the government before joining the University of New Caledonia in 2014, where apart from looking after communications he is also responsible for institutional relations. “So my previous positions in the local government are precious to fulfil this part of my role”, he says.
Prime Ministerial visit
He has just been involved with helping handle the visit by the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, who spent almost two hours in the University and had lunch with 39 students.
He said: “This event brought a VIP delegation of more than 110 people to the University, including national and local journalists, Members of the Parliament, security staff – a lot of them, presidents of local assemblies, the Minister of Overseas territories’ Mrs George Pau-Langevin and former soccer world champion from New Caledonia Christian Karembeu.
“It was a great experience for the students having lunch with the Prime Minister and the President of the UNC, Mr Gaël Lagadec, in a friendly and sunny atmosphere.”
He loves the multi-ethnic nature of New Caledonia and says: “My first priority when I arrived 18 months ago was to upgrade the image profile of the university and the awareness from the public, especially among the politicians of the local assemblies.
“We still continue to level up this corporate image while leaning on the scientific events to position the university as a leading actor in research in New Caledonia (the territory also hosts major French research institutes such as IRD, CNRS and Institut Pasteur).”
The number of new entrants has increased by ten percent for the second year in a row and Sylvian is confident that its reputation will continue to grow.
“It is very motivating to work in a university that really contributes to shaping the future of the country by educating and training the future ‘elite’ who will occupy the managing positions in a few years among the administrations and companies of New Caledonia”, he says.
Away from promoting the university and delights of the south sea paradise, Sylvian is keen on sport and is an elected member of the New
Caledonia Olympic Committee. He is also one of the founders and president of the first baseball club of New Caledonia created in 1990: the Noumea Braves.