Registration for EUPRIO’s 2014 conference at the University of Innsbruck in Austria has opened and here NIC MITCHELL looks at some the sessions on offer.

The annual conference of European Public Relations & Information Officers’ association is titled ‘How to communicate in a world dominated by change’ and takes place from 4-7 September 2014.

Among the highlights will be several sessions looking at the ever-closer relationship between business and higher education & research – a development high up the agenda for many university managers and politicians, but sometimes creating unease for academics and challenges for communication professionals!

Lessons from the business world

Natalie Wintermark will draw on examples from the business world to explore ways in which the higher education world can balance innovation, performance and communication to transform successfully.

Her masterclass session will argue that the current rate of change is not only unprecedentedly high, but it is accelerating. With a wide international background working in Canada, France and Norway, Natalie will draw on her coaching experience to show why organisational culture cannot be managed directly. It has to be managed indirectly by focusing on cultural drivers.

“To develop a culture that is adaptable to change and willing to innovate, communicating to employees and encouraging involvement at all levels in the change process is key”, she says

Creating the right partnerships

A parallel session will look at Brainport Eindhoven in the Netherlands, which the Intelligent Community Forum described as the world’s smartest region in 2011 and a top technology breeding ground for innovation.

Piet van Ierland and Sabine van Gent will show that behind this economic success story is a ‘triple helix’ partnership of local government, industry and knowledge institutes, including Eindhoven University of Technology and Fontys University of Applied Science.

It has generated a very conducive climate for business, for both internationally renowned companies and innovative small and medium-sized enterprises in the region. And these companies cooperate with each other and with the two universities by sharing and multiplying knowledge in an open innovation environment before bringing their products to market.

Piet and Sabine will challenge participants to look at their own regional goals and to formulate and discuss the ‘triple helix’ partnership approach and communication plans for their own regions.

Academic freedom and business engagement – Is there a conflict?

Our final keynote conference session on Saturday afternoon will offer a different perspective and is likely to spark a lively debate when we pose the question: ‘Can you have academic freedom and business engagement’?

The round table debate will ask whether there is a conflict between freedom of science and private interests, especially when it comes to contract research, and whether academic freedom is in danger if private money and private interests become important pillars of university funding?

Taking part will be Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. Margit Osterloh, one of the leading authors of the Zürcher Appell, which was triggered when the University of Zurich’s executive board signed a cooperation agreement, in camera, with the top management of UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland). This entailed the bank sponsoring the university to the tune of 100 million Swiss francs and establishing a ‘UBS International Centre of Economics in Society’ within the university.

The Appell signatures opposed the deal and what they claimed was the ‘secrecy’ surrounding it. They describe themselves as ‘independent thinking professors from the whole of Europe, in favour of academic freedom and the independence of the university from business’.

Professor Zulfiqur Ali will give his view as a British academic committed to academic-industry collaboration, having coordinated numerous European Commission (EC) projects with partners across Europe and as an EC Expert project reviewer.

Zulfiqur is Professor of Micro Nano Biosystems and Dean of the Graduate Research School at Teesside University in England, which Vince Cable, the UK Government Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills has described as “Britain’s best university for working with business”. Prof Ali is also a director of a spin-out company, Anasyst Ltd, which develops advanced solutions for chemical and biological measurements with Intellectual Property licensed from his university.

Margit Osterloh is Professor (em.) of business economics at the University of Zürich in Switzerland and Professor of Organisation at the Zeppelin University of Friedrichshafen, Germany. Her main research areas are corporate governance and research governance.

* Registration details and more information about the speakers and programme can be found at

Words: Nic Mitchell (@EuprioNic)

Feature photo: From the University of Innsbruck