EUPRIO, the European higher education comms network, highlighted the lack of cooperation between university international offices and their colleagues in public relations-communications departments at its recent conference in Poland. Here’s why having a common strategy matters
When I saw the programme for EUPRIO’s 2019 conference in Poznań, one session immediately jumped out for me and that was the workshop on the findings of a study by five European higher education institutions looking at why international and communication departments don’t work more closely together to promote their universities.
This used to bug me when I led a university press & public relations office and our priority was clearly home recruitment of students.
It wasn’t a deliberate policy to ignore international activities and I did come across Spanish, Greek, Chinese and other foreign students – but this was mainly when I was trying to brush-up on my French and German at evening classes run by the university. I also tried to include one or two international stories in a research magazine I edited, but I tended to find these more by luck than planning.
At one time, PR and marketing was in the same department and in the same building as the international office, which made life a lot easier. But you know what universities are like (at least the British ones) and the marketing-recruitment-PR and other externally-related sections were constantly being re-organised ¬– with new departmental heads being appointed every couple of years.
Lack of common strategy
And, clearly, I was not alone in finding day-to-day business getting in the way of sharing information and developing a common strategy with colleagues in the international office, as the workshop at the Poznań conference and report that is published on EUPRIO’s intranet (for members only) shows.
The project was conducted under the auspices of the EUPRIO Mobility Programme, or EMP, and was led by Claudia Assmann, head of press & communications at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK Berlin) in Germany and Kirsty L Barr, head of marketing and communications at The Glasgow School of Art in the United Kingdom.
It also involved representatives from communications and international departments at Haute Ecole Léonard de Vinci, Brussels, Belgium; the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in the UK and Université St. Joseph de Beirut, Lebanon.
I reported on the main findings in a news feature for University World News under the headline ‘International HE and communication departments need to talk’. The conclusion of the five institutions could be summarised as: Close cooperation between the international offices and the communication departments within HEIs is “an ambition often aspired to, yet rarely achieved”.
Not enough time or resource
Claudia told me: “There’s often not enough time and resource to work as we might like on a streamlined strategy that covers international and communication issues.”
To rectify things, the EUPRIO Mobility programme suggests using strong, web-based mapping tools so members of the university as well as potential students and staff can see at a glance all the international networks partners, global reach and impact on the city where it is based.
This has already been successfully trailed at The Glasgow School of Art, where Kirsty L Barr say: “If many institutions collaborate and produce their own live maps it could help solve their own international office-communication & marketing issues.”
When I posted some words about the EMP project and a link to my University World News story on LinkedIn it was viewed by 1,870 people in the first week and attracted comments from a number of leading figures from UK higher education communications.
Emma Leech, Director of Marketing & Advancement at Loughborough University and current President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and a past-winner of the EUPRIO Award, pointed out she leads a team where communications and international are all together and “so much the better for it”.
British international education consultant Vicky Lewis who has had leading marketing roles at several UK university, also pointed out: “Quite a few UK universities have Comms & PR and International situated either within the same Directorate or at least sharing a common reporting line, which can help”.
Shared activities and planning helps
She said whatever the structure “a lot can be achieved by building strong working relationships via shared activities and planning”.
Hilary Layton, Director of Global Engagement and Interim Director of International Student at the University of York, commented: “This area certainly needs a lot of work.” She runs a workshop each year at the World100 Academy on precisely this topic and said: “Both international and comms people are keen to do this, but don’t always know how.”
And Ruth Arnold, a public affairs & policy consultant for the charity and education sector, who helped to spearhead the #WeAreInternational campaign while director of public affairs at the University of Sheffield to counter the negative impression of UK universities following the Brexit vote said: “One of the most important links for me as a Director of Corporate Comms was the involvement of international students and graduates themselves.”
For more about what the EUPRIO Mobility Programme had to say about communication departments cooperating more closely with university international departments, see my feature in University World News
Main image from Universities UK