Differentiation and the World Class University

Posted on Nov 14, 2018

The 8th World 100 Reputation Network Annual Conference was held at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus on 27-28 September 2018, bringing together colleagues from more than 40 institutions around the globe.

Leaders in reputation gathered to hear from a range of international speakers, and discuss in depth the topic of differentiation: how can universities stand out in an increasingly competitive global environment? 

After a recognition that the conference was taking place on the ancestral lands of the Musqueam people, UBC Vice President for External Relations Philip Steenkamp and W100 Network Chair Andrea Farquhar welcome delegates from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

The opening plenaries gave some strong examples of how differentiation can be brought to life in a diverse range of environments.

Delegates heard from Adam Brownfield from Destination Canada about how the country brand is evolving to exploit its unique opportunities, and from the University of Washington (UW) on how to define and manage an effective brand in a public university. UW, which also hosted the Study Tour in Seattle prior to the conference, have a strong story to tell around both defining and implementing an inspiring brand in a complex, highly devolved environment.

The range of workshops on Day 1 also had a strong brand focus, with UBC, McMaster and University of Toronto sharing their stories, each identifying the challenge of describing your university in a unique way. Cor Jansen from last year’s hosts, Utrecht, explored the theme of the civic university as a differentiating factor.

An ever-popular part of W100 conferences is the opportunity to engage with academic colleagues at the host institution who help to bring the unique nature of the institution to life. Visits to different parts of the campus really brought to life what makes UBC special.

The BioDiversity Museum highlighted not only an amazing zoological collection , but showcased the interconnections between world-leading research and public engagement which UBC does so well.

W100 visitors to the UBC Botanical Gardens were treated to a high-level rope walk amongst the canopy, as well as gaining an insight into the unique environment in which the UBC campus is contained.

The chance to talk to colleagues from around the world you share similar challenges and experiences remains at the core of the Network and the conference experience. UBC provided a stunning environment in which to have those conversations, with an evening visit to its stunning Museum of Anthropology, followed by a reception overlooking the ocean and mountains, and dinner at The Sage.

The only thing to top the conversation was the playing of a quartet of UBC music students, who maintained the tradition of showcasing student talent at W100 conferences.

The second day of the conference opened with an entertaining session with UBC President Santa Ono, well known within higher education for his social media profile. Professor Ono demonstrated both the pitfalls and benefits of having a strong social media profile as a leader. He also provided a valuable insight how branding and differentiation play into the strategy of a leading university with both a local and global focus.

A very different perspective on differentiation was provided by Professor Niraj Dawar from the Ivey Business School at Western University, who showcased innovative approaches for businesses to assess their competitive position. The lessons for universities in better understanding their environments and highlighting their differentiating factors were clear to the audience, particularly when Prof. Dawar showed how his approach had identified the likely winner of the Republican nomination for President long before the pundits.

The conference workshops always provide an opportunity for more in-depth analysis and conversation around key topics. On the 2nd day of the conference innovative approaches from around the world to campaigns, events and student recruitment were showcased and discussed.

Ander Frolund from Aarhus University demonstrated how a proactive strategy on conferences and events help his university, in conjunction with the host city, to build reputation.  Professor Okamoto illustrated how Kyushu University is rising to the serious demographic challenges in Japan – the number of 18 year olds has virtually halved since 1992 - through a highly differentiated undergraduate education offering.

Attracting a lot of attention, Jane Chafer and Jacqui Marshall explored the University of Exeter's ambitious global development using reputation and people strategies, while Alan Ferns demonstrated the critical need for difference in higher education through the distinctive Research Beacons of The University of Manchester.

Elizabeth Parkinson from University of Michigan gave a fascinating impact into how highly-targeted campaigns can both impact directly on those the activity is seeking to reach, but also drive reputational advantage for institutions. As ever, non-North American colleagues were fascinated with the role that college sports can play in amplifying reputation.

The conference closed with a session from Vancouver-based social media company Hootsuite, providing key insights into how universities are managing their online engagement and what the future trends might be. Hootsuite’s Naqaash Pirani had surveyed W100 members before the conference, and we were delighted to learn that members institutions are on average taking a more strategic approach to social media management than others.

Feedback from attendees was positive, many highlighting the opportunities to engage with old and new friends and experience something of the unique west coast life at UBC. Philip Steenkamp and colleagues at UBC, particularly Leah Dullum, deserve enormous credit for putting on such a high quality conference. Delegates left Vancouver with a clear sense of what UBC stands for and how it differentiates itself amongst leading universities.

2019 hosts the University of Manchester have a tough act to follow – but are already plotting the next best conference yet!

 

Mark Sudbury
Head of Global Network Development