2018 is a very uncertain time for the UK’s future relationship with Europe, including the Higher Education Sector, and it was against this backdrop that I felt I wanted to personally do something to actively engage in a direct way with corporate communications professionals working in HE in another European country.
In doing this I wanted to create an opportunity to visit a university with comparisons to BU, with a strong communications function, doing creative comms externally and internally targeting staff, student and external audiences. I had read about an award winning entry in The European Excellence Awards from a university in Stockholm called Soderton for their Employer Branding and Recruiting https://eu-pr.excellence-awards.com/winnerlist/best-of-2017/.
I made contact with the Director of Marketing and Communications and the Erasmus+ programme enabled a bespoke programme to be created to provide a wide ranging understanding of the structures and priorities of their communications approach during a 3 day working visit to Soderton, which is located in the outlying southern fringe of Stockholm.
Nobody had done this type of engagement before at Soderton in professional services as far as I am aware and there was a very positive reception across the university in the 3 days I was there. I did feel a bit of an ambassador for HE in the UK and the fact that we should have a vision for positive future engagement with HE in Europe.
The visit had a range of positive outcomes and I was able to see at first hand their approach to key issues like sustainability – both in how this was communicated and in the way the office environment and wider university campus and country in general are ahead of the UK in taking action around the UN sustainable goals – Sweden is ahead of the UK in this area for example in taking action to tackle plastic waste with plastic bottle recycling in supermarkets.
Corporate Comms at BU has a lead role to play in informing internal and external audiences about how environmental sustainability is a key part of BU2025 – action 44 in the plan is to ‘support our staff from all parts of BU and students to take a responsible approach to the environment and sustainable development’ and during my visit I saw a number of creative ideas to do this and discussed the issue and their approach with comms staff.
I was also able to visit the agency in Stockholm who made the videos for Soderton’s European award-winning campaign and talk over the objectives and the way they tackled the brief.
The campaign linked the modern world, events and politics, to young people thinking about their career choices – and how they wanted to improve the world and environment – to specific courses at Soderton and directly which of the UN goals these courses could help people to achieve the skills needed to change the world. The videos are an excellent combination of aspirational and practical in recruitment comms.
There was time for detailed discussion and presentations about the market and climate in which corp comms operate in Swedish HE and how they work. This included for example how their social media account has been targeted in wider political debate and the intensity and challenges this presents.
The opportunities for learning were two- way and I was invited to talk about comms at BU and show some of our comms content – like the My Time @BU video capturing students reflecting on their experiences.
The wider benefit from visiting the university campus and spending time discussing issues with different people had benefit beyond areas of comms; for example in seeing the design of offices, including standing desk options planned into office layouts and how a widespread cashless approach was in place in many coffee shops and catering on campus.
Automated desks allowed working both standing and seating – while catering on campus was a cashless operation
The current BU 2018 Strategic Plan committed the University to developing an increasingly international profile and global outlook based upon three key dimensions of international work, increasing internationalisation, international recruitment and international engagement and partnerships. I think this visit was a positive contribution to international engagement from a professional services perspective.
I think if you have an opportunity like this there are a range of things that stay with you and can develop into future ideas. As we look to BU2025 and a post-Brexit future this was an important Erasmus programme visit for me personally. I found it an uplifting experience and I believe will have lasting value and relevance.