What we learned in Europe Change is in the air.

During our short visit in Göttingen, we stayed in the midst of its Old Town. We saw quaint pleasant streets and lovely historic buildings in a charming university town. What we did not see was the dynamic University which lies just beyond.

Market square and the Old Town Hall in Göttingen

In some senses, higher education in continental Europe is like their old walled towns. There is a tradition of marvelous universities. And there are many fine ones, old and new, big and small. But higher education is becoming increasingly globalized, with dynamic competition for the best students from universities outside continental Europe and from around the world. Increasingly, there will be global competition for funding as well.

An increasing number of people seem to be asking, “Are best regional practices in alumni relations good enough?”

  • In Göttingen, approximately half of those attending the conference came a day early to participate in the YaleGALE forum and to exchange best practices with those from abroad.
  • A number of presenters at also came from outside the German-speaking countries.
  • In Amsterdam, 50 alumni relations professionals and volunteers from over 20 universities and other institutions of higher education attended the YaleGALE forum, even though Lowlands CASE was holding their conference later in the week at The Hague.
  • In addition, Presidents or Provosts of over 20 Dutch universities and educational institutions attended a working dinner with YaleGALE, to ask those sorts of questions.

Clearly, not everyone to whom we talked was interested in new approaches. Perhaps, however, a sea change in alumni relations is in the air.

ETH Zurich with University of Zurich behind it

In addition to producing two major conferences, one in Germany and the other the Netherlands, YaleGALE also had smaller exchanges with two universities in Zurich, Switzerland: ETH Zurich and University of Zurich (UZH). Our time in Zurich was short, and as mentioned in the Overview, the afternoon meeting with UZH and ETH was near-impromptu, growing out of the conference in Göttingen. Though short, the meeting was well timed as the alumni relations team at UZH was in the middle of developing a new strategic plan. While it is too soon to know how that plan will develop, the alumni relations staff was clearly becoming interested in new approaches.

View of the Rhine Valley from above Vaduz, Liechtenstein, with the Austrian Alps to the left and the Swiss alps to the right and in the background

Finally, we had a particularly interesting experience with the University of Liechtenstein. This is primarily a commuter university, but has a contingent of international residential students. In the past decade it has upgraded its status and faculty, and may be considering additional expansion. The University has found it difficult to integrate alumni of the “old” institution, with current alumni of the “new”. This is likely to be an issue at many more (and much larger) universities as the dynamics of higher education continues to change.

It has always been difficult to form loyalty among commuting students, because they have little opportunity for bonding at university. However, the University of Liechtenstein international students have self-organized small mini-reunions on their own, and around the world. Small efforts by the University to help them self-organize are likely to pay large dividends in terms of loyalties. And these mini-reunions can be used as models for further self-organization.

As the economy of Liechtenstein diversifies, the country should consider how residential universities can be economic engines of small communities. Not only in terms of immediate revenue, but also in terms of the loyalty to place, that makes many alumni ambassadors to the world.

Ben Slotznick ’70, Dra ’73
Producer, YaleGALE in Europe 2014