Welcome to Reading

Alex Brannen, Director of Communications at the University of Reading, has written us a guest blog post introducing Reading, the University and the Digital Development team.


We’re looking forward to welcoming you all to Reading later this month. For those of you who don’t know us or the town – yes we are still officially a town but we hope to have city status by next spring – I hope the following whets your appetite!

The Maiwand Lion, Forbury Gardens, Reading by Jim Linwood

Built on biscuits, beer and bricks in the nineteenth century, Reading is better known these days as a university town and the main population hub for the one of the wealthiest areas in the European Union; one that is home to a thriving business community, with particularly strong emphasis on ICT. Whether we are Europe’s ‘Silicon Valley’ or not, employment in ICT is certainly a main stay of the region and is some 300% above the national average. Not surprising perhaps when businesses based locally include 13 of the world’s top 30 global brands, such as Vodafone, Microsoft and Cisco. As a consequence, Reading has the third highest percentage of employees in knowledge-intensive businesses after Oxford and Cambridge. I am also assured by those in the know that Reading is a great shopping destination and still sells beer!

The University and town mirror each other’s fortunes to some extent. Reading has weathered the worst of the economic downturn – it was awarded the accolade of ‘best European city for infrastructure’ in the Financial Times’ Foreign Direct Investment awards for 2010. The employability of our 2010 graduates is the best it has been for a decade. Reading is a multicultural town with the third most ethnically diverse local authority area in the south east. At the University, our first international student came to study here in 1904 from Kenya and these days we have well over 100 nationalities represented on campus.

The University’s main Whiteknights campus is situated in 130 hectares of lovely parkland a mile from the town centre (buses every ten minutes for those of you coming by public transport). The campus, which will host IWMW 2011, is a real selling point of the university, especially to under graduates. As I write we have just had our busiest summer Open Day for a decade with over 4000 prospective students enjoying the good weather with hardly a mention of tuition fees.

Foxhill house, Whiteknights Campus by pandrcutts

Where does the University fit into the increasingly complicated structure of higher education? We’re a member of the 1994 Group of research-intensive universities, combining world-class research with excellent teaching. We have a top 200 world ranking, strong applications per place, a sense of history but looking forward to an international future. Maintaining the high satisfaction levels for the Reading student experience is at the heart of much of the current thinking at the University and we hope you’ll see and enjoy much of the recent £380 million investment in the campus while you are here.

Our digital communications sits within the University’s communications department and has responsibility for developing plans, policy and codes of practice for our digital presence, co-ordination and management of digital communications across all platforms and improving the University’s digital presence in terms of technical, editorial and visual quality. The team aim to provide the support and platform to allow staff across the University to generate and own the information and to be innovative with our digital presence. We are currently undertaking a review of our digital activity and structures within the university to respond to a growing demand for digital services in the university and to set a clear strategy for future delivery of digital comms.

We want to reach a point where the digital presence forms part of everyday operations of the University. Key to the success of this aim is a requirement not to stifle innovation and experimentation. We see digital communication co-ordination as a soft delivery with an informal style. One initiative we are considering is further developing a system of part chargeable, part free work. We cannot provide the University’s digital presence ourselves but we can provide direction, facilitation, training, project management and up-skilling for colleagues throughout the university.

The Digital Development Team at the Univeristy of Reading

Do take the chance to talk to my colleagues in the digital team about our digital plans while you are here and I trust you enjoy the accompanying Reading experience.

Alex Brannen
Director of Communications

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