Elite not elitist: changing perceptions of an ancient institution

Kathryn Darcus, Euprio Conference Poznan 2019 speaker

Kathryn Darcus - United Kingdom

Kathryn Darcus is an award-winning PR and Media Manager at the University of Edinburgh. She joined in 2012 to manage the PR for one of the University’s three Colleges – the College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences. Part of the central Communications and Marketing team, her role includes working with students and staff to promote key research and community engagement activity, as well as leading longer-term strategic communications campaigns

Summary
The University of Edinburgh has a strong reputation as an elite institution, regularly voted as one of the world’s top 30 universities. Consequently, it has struggled with misconceptions in some quarters that “elite” means “elitist”.

This workshop will examine how a collaborative communications project to launch a new strategy provided a springboard to alter those perceptions, particularly with important stakeholders such as the Scottish Government.

Full description
The University of Edinburgh is one of the four ancient universities of Scotland, dating back to 1583. It is regularly ranked as one of the top 30 universities in the world and has a strong reputation as an elite university. Consequently it has struggled with misconceptions in some quarters that “elite” means “elitist”.

This session will identify and examine a project aimed at altering those perceptions, particularly with important stakeholders such as the Scottish Government, for which widening access to a university education for people from all backgrounds is a major priority. Widening access is also a key strategic objective of the University of Edinburgh, tying it with its vision statement of making a “socially responsible contribution to the world”.

The Communications & Marketing department launched the institution’s new Widening Participation Strategy in October 2018. The plan took a holistic, cross-disciplinary approach, involving media, Parliamentary engagement, marketing and internal communications, as well as close liaison with other teams from across the University. It was the first time that a campaign had been structured in this way, corralling expertise to deliver a coherent and significant message to a variety of audiences.

This workshop will provide a case study exploring how deeply entrenched misconceptions can be shifted through collaborative and strategic communications. It will also highlight how the University’s communications team measured this shift in perceptions before, during and after the launch.

During the talk, a number of key learning points will be highlighted, which would be applicable to any institution. These will provide discussion points, and participants will be asked to share examples of successes or challenges from their own institution.