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#SocialMedia for Higher Education: universities that innovate

Yesterday, I wrote an article about the advantages that researchers might have if they use social media and if my proposal for a Master programme in Digital Agricultural Communications at Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech, University of Liege would be taken into consideration.

Français : Vue des bâtiments de Gembloux Agro ...
Français : Vue des bâtiments de Gembloux Agro Bio Tech, faculté des sciences agronomiques de l’université de Liège, à Gembloux. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn`t expect the feedback that I got. As a true geek that I am, I`ll start with the analytics. In just 16 hours, the article got 75 unique visitors and 103 views on this blog (the blog gets an average daily read of 100 unique visitors/200 views), surpassing even my best read article (Short essay on Humanity). I also got 17 retweets, 14 mentions (with the blog post included), 11 favorites on Twitter, 21 likes and 9 shares on Facebook, 13 likes and 131 views(on a page) on LinkedIn, while the Bit.Ly link was clicked 37 times. But, although this impressed me, something else was more impressive.

When I came to work this morning, I had several messages both in my Gmail and my LinkedIn Inbox from researchers, universities and companies interested in my Master programme proposal. People from Europe, Asia, Latin America have written stating that such a proposal is “interesting, innovative and would bring a welcomed change to agricultural higher education” (quote from a researcher from Spain). Several universities and companies said that they would like to implemented such a programme. Overall, I received about 30 messages of support in the past 24 hours (thank you for all the support).

For all these people, I feel obliged to write about the benefits that the university that implements such a programme would get.

As I mentioned in my previous articles, I am currently working as a Postdoctoral fellow at Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech. Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech (GxABt) is a small agricultural sciences faculty based in the Walloon Region of Belgium. With a little bit of 1100 students and about 550 staff members (100 academia and 450 administrative staff), in 2009, it was “integrated” in the bigger University of Liege (with 20,000 students, 2,800 academic staff and 4,300 administrative staff). My idea was to have the Digital Agricultural Communications programme as a collaboration between Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech and various other Faculties and Schools of ULg like the HEC Management School run by Professor Thomas Froehlicher, a true innovator. I mention all this because I am going to write about the benefits that both GxABt and ULg can have from this programme.

As a small and very specialized faculty, part of a big European university, ULg being ranked constantly in the top 300 universities in the world, GxABt seems to be at a very high advantage. But it isn`t. Its uniqueness (GxABt is one of the only two agricultural universities in Belgium and the only one in the Walloon Region) and its location (in the small municipality of Gembloux) give it low visibility, low possibilities of cooperation with the corporate sector and low development perspectives.

The benefits that GxABt could get if they would have this Master on Digital Agricultural Communications are:

1. Visibility: when you are teaching students about how to increase the visibility of different types of stakeholders and organizations, guess what is the effect on your own organization? You guessed it: higher visibility. And this doesn`t mean just students tweeting about Gembloux AgroBioTech and what they learned in class today. It also means that someone else will pick up this content and check out what GxABt is and what it does. You will have news agencies or online influencers retweeting you, international organizations (like the FAO or WFP) mentioning you as a reliable scientific source. As mentioned yesterday in my post about benefits for researchers, higher visibility can lead to higher funding and collaboration opportunities.

2. Increased enrollment: in higher education today, you are either government-funded or “student funded“, meaning that the government pays the university a fixed amount per student or you charge an enormous student fee (see United Kingdom or the US). In Belgium, the tuition fees (subsidized or not) are still quite low compared to other places, but this doesn`t mean that enrollment is at an all time high in all universities. An innovative programme, that students will enjoy and that will provide them with additional job opportunities and with skills that employers are asking for (yes, companies are looking for highly specialized social media geeks), will draw in more students to a certain faculty and university (like GxABt and ULg). Drawing students in with one programme can increase the attractivity of other programmes as well, increasing enrollment in the institution overall.

For the University of Liege the benefits are also clear. With a more visible highly specialized programme (Digital Agricultural Communications is pretty specialized), the university could attract more corporate partners to create and fund more innovative research & teaching programmes. When enough funding exists, a university can draw in more highly skilled personnel (that by themselves can draw in more funding and make the university more visible). And with highly skilled personnel on board and innovative research and academic programmes, a university can evolve rapidly (including in world rankings).

More to come in my “#SocialMedia in Higher Education” series later this week.

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