Start of 2014

It’s now the start of the third month of 2014 and the start of a new academic year and here are some thoughts to kick it off.

Arizona

In January I visited Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of Arizona.  Both institutions are ‘Land Grant’ universities which means they were established primarily to benefit their communities.  ASU is widely recognised as a leader in strategy, information management and improving retention outcomes for its students.  ASU has a very similar student demographic to CSU and has a very sophisticated system for identifying students who may be at risk based on their academic performance.  It transpired that one of their key initiatives to improve retention has been to build residences and work on community formation – both themes which have been important to us at CSU.  ASU also has a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality and it was interesting to see solar panels everywhere – including covering the car parks and as shade structures around the campus in Tempe.

University of Arizona has a Native Nations Institute and, through its College of Law, an Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program (IPLP). Professor Miriam Jorgensen from the Native Nations Institute has been involved with CSU and other Australian universities on a collaborative research project to explore nation building for Indigenous Australian communities.  Several of our staff and members of the Wiradjuri nation had visited Arizona in 2013 to attend the IPLP.  The visit was a very interesting experience; there are significant differences between the context for American Indian communities in the US and Indigenous communities here but there are also strong parallels. In particular, they have focussed on establishing good governance structures and practices in communities to assist community and economic development.

What was really refreshing about both institutions was that they were genuine in thinking first about what their communities need and as a distant second about how this might play out in terms of esteem through global rankings.  As far as I could tell, this applied at all levels and was a significant change to the level of perpetual angst over rankings we seem to have in Australia.  I hope we will be able to continue the relationship with both universities.

Australian Federal Government Priorities

In the next few weeks we expect to get some information about the outcomes of the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit and Review of the Demand Driven System.  Needless to say, the whole sector is hanging on this because the impacts could be anything from negligible through to significant.  The Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, addressed Vice-Chancellors at a dinner last week but it has to be said we ended up much better informed about the Minister’s views on the values of higher education (and the contribution of Sir Robert Menzies to it) than on any future policy directions.  Sadly, the Minister did confirm the Government’s commitment to imposing the efficiency dividend on the sector which was announced by the previous Labor government.  When Labor announced it, the Coalition condemned it and bizarrely now that the Coalition is enforcing it in government, Labor is opposing it.  Go figure.

O Week and Start of Academic Year

Last week, we also held O Week events and commencement celebrations on our campuses.  I was able to take part in the ceremony in Bathurst and in a welcome to students living in Residences.  In addition to new and replacement capacity in Wagga Wagga and Orange, there has been very significant refurbishment of residences on the Bathurst campus.  A very strong theme for us has been the value of residences in helping students to grow socially and succeed at their studies (this is similar to the experience at Arizona State University).  We know that it is more difficult to create a good community in a poor environment and we are hoping that the investment in facilities is going to pay off in better outcomes for students.  However, there is also the need for strong support mechanisms and with Paul Dowler and Ken Dillon I took part in the training sessions for the Resident Assistants (RAs) in the second week of February.  I have done this each year since I took on the VC’s role and I have thoroughly enjoyed it on every occasion.  They are a great bunch of very motivated people and it is always great to get a student’s eye view of the organisation.

Universities Australia Conference and MOOCs

As mentioned earlier, last week we had the Universities Australia Conference – at which I once again tried my hand at live tweeting and also ran a panel session on MOOCs.  The MOOCs discussion was an interesting exercise; as participants I had Professor Jane den Hollander, Vice-Chancellor at Deakin University, Professor Gregor Kennedy from the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at Melbourne University, Sally-Ann Williams from Google and Professor George Siemens, now at University of Texas but who started the whole MOOC thing at Athabasca University along with Stephen Downes.  I was very pleased to meet George personally for the first time.  I encouraged pre-discussion via our new Blackboard Course Site and also via Twitter.

In the discussion at the conference itself, it was plain that much of the hype that has been attached to the ‘MOOC’ label was a symptom of the wider change that is happening in higher education.  In particular, the internet and broadband connectivity has made it easier to consume information for all learners and easier to deliver education for all providers – everyone is a publisher now.  It is not a new theme but this does challenge us to focus on what distinctive value we can offer as universities because no-one now needs us merely to access information.  It is also clear that universities have embraced technology and are making dramatic changes in the way they deliver courses.  However, for many they are not yet skillfully using technology to reduce workload for both students and staff and we will need to solve that if we are to thrive into the future.  One point that should not be overlooked is that MOOCs have attracted those who are learning purely for interest and the love of it.  It is pretty hard to be critical of something that attracted most of us to work in higher education in the first place. However, there was a consensus that perhaps it was time to ditch the term and get back to talking about education more generally.

Finally, it’s worth saying something about themes that emerged in the online pre-discussion but less so at the conference. Some of my twitter correspondents mused on the cultural imperialism aspects of MOOCs.  Is there the risk that our intellectual life will become homogenised – and Americanised – as much as our suburbs have?  In one of his movies, Wim Wenders said “the Yanks have colonised our subconscious”.  There is now a global interest in MOOCs from developing countries but we should also be interested in this in smaller countries in the developed world.  That is, we should if we value our cultural identity. Another very interesting point raised in the online conversation was the relationship between the use of technology to facilitate teaching and casualisation in higher education.  Casualisation was almost unmentioned at the conference and yet it is a topic of intense concern to staff, both for that section of the casual workforce looking for a permanent position and for existing staff who are managing the workload associated with managing teams of casuals.

Student Demand and Challenges for 2014

We are still counting the enrolments for the first session of 2014.  Indications at this stage are that we will meet our budget target for load, which is good.  However, it seems plain from State and National data that the demand driven system is topping out and student demand is plateauing.  It is also plain that all universities are getting very much more competitive for students and that students are recognising they have more power and more choice.  On top of this, the ease with which distance education can be delivered via the internet means that there are many more players entering the market.  So, a lot more choice for students but no university can afford to be complacent.  We need to ensure we have courses that are relevant, engaging, that teach students well and deliver graduates who are highly employable as well as being well-grounded, decent human beings.  We also need to provide a great student experience and ensure that all interactions with the university work smoothly.  So, not much to ask for but this is what our Strategy sets out for us to do over the next two years.  2014, then, is a year of delivering on our strategy.  Some of this is going to be exciting and innovative, but much of it will be unglamorous with a fair bit of graft.  To use the words from our Strategy though, we need to have the gumption and the soul to tackle the task.

Christmas Wishes

This post finds us at the end of a very busy, but also very productive, 2013.  We have made progress on all the areas in the Charles Sturt University 2013-15 Strategy and I think we can face the future with confidence.  It has been pleasing to see that so far the new Federal Government has announced no further major changes to the higher education system, although we wait to see what will flow from the review of the demand driven system and from the Commission of Audit of government finances more generally.

2014 will see the continuation of work against the strategy.  In particular, the Smart Learning project will get into more detailed work with Early Adoption courses.  This will allow us to pilot the approach, learn from that experience and hence refine the later and broader work.

We will also continue to work with the Your Voice Survey results.  Human Resources have been assisting areas to understand what the results mean and how we might move forward. Senior Executive Committee have also been considering our communication mechanisms at the whole of university level and will be working next year to see how we can optimise these.  This is critical work if we are to live up to the vision in our Strategy and our values of being an institution that has soul and that values and respects the contributions of staff and students.

Last week we had graduation ceremonies across our campuses.  Including the Police Attestation Parade in Goulburn, I attended these across six campuses.  As our Deputy Chancellor, Kathryn Pitkin, was unfortunately ill I officiated at ceremonies in Dubbo, Orange and Bathurst.  I enjoyed all of these, and it is enormously satisfying to meet our graduates and to learn a little of what they are going on to do after completing their courses.  More than anything I shared the joy on the faces of the graduates as they marked the completion of their courses and the pride on the faces of family and friends attending the ceremonies.

On a particular note, at the Wagga Wagga graduation ceremony we awarded an Honorary Doctorate to Mr Stan Grant AM for his contribution to our communities and the Wiradjuri language in particular.  I got a pronunciation lesson from him on ‘yindyamarra winhanga-nha’ (the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in) and now feel more confident that I am not doing too much damage to the Wiradjuri language in attempting to say it.

Last and not least, it falls to me to wish you all a happy, safe and peaceful Christmas and New Year.  We are grateful for the contributions of staff and students to the university and for the support of all our communities and stakeholders.  I hope that you all enjoy time with your family and friends, that your mental and physical batteries recharge and that you return refreshed, confident and ready to dance into 2014.

September Update

Enterprise Agreement

I thought I should start this blog with some comment on the recent Enterprise Agreement ballot.  I was very pleased with the level of staff participation in this ballot and of course that a majority voted to endorse this agreement.  As noted in communications to staff, I think that the pay increase of 11.9% across four years and the other changes represent a good compromise deal for the University and its staff in difficult financial circumstances following the cuts announced by the previous government.

‘Your Voice’ Survey

I also wanted to comment on the Your Voice Staff Survey.  Again, we had a really good response rate (about 80%) which I am very pleased about because it means we can be sure the results are a good indication of the mood of the institution.  An overview of the results can be found at the Your Voice Survey website.

Overall, the key indices we have chosen to measure our performance, the Passion and Progress indices, have improved by 3% against the 2010 survey.  This is good, but there are mixed aspects within the survey.  I’ll start with the not-so-positive aspects and then move to the better news.

One thing that is troubling is that some particular areas were rated worse than the last survey in 2010.  These included prevention of bullying, encouragement for evaluation of teaching, encouragement for collaborative research and commitment to ongoing training and development. On average, more than 50% of staff rated each of these positively but nonetheless it is cause for concern that the scores have declined.  There are variations in response across the University and we will need to work further to understand what has happened here, and what can be done to address it.

A second set of concerns is the areas that are rated least positively on average. These include good communication, change management, learning from mistakes, career planning, workload and consultation.  However, each of these has improved since the 2010 survey and they are now within a percent or two of the average for all universities.  Workload in particular was rated 9% more positively than 2010.  However, it has to be said that universities do much worse on most of these than the average of all industries so there is no room for complacency.

On the positive side, there were significant improvements in perceptions of the way CSU is run, buildings, grounds and facilities, environmental responsibility, support for teaching, research and community engagement.  We are at, or ahead of, the sector on all these and well ahead on environmental responsibility; 14% better than the average of other universities and 18% better than the average of all other industries.  It is interesting that the rating for satisfaction with income is 9% better than 2010, 7% better than the average of other universities and 10% better than the average of all industries.

The most positively rated aspects were role clarity, belief in the overall purpose of CSU, job satisfaction, mission and values and organisational commitment.  Again, these were improved from 2010 and ahead of the universities average, and significantly ahead of the all industry average.

So, what to make of all this?  People who work in universities love their work and are strongly committed to it from a values perspective.  However, they don’t think we communicate internally or manage change very well and they feel overworked.

I want to assure everyone within the University that I, and the Senior Executive, take the opinion survey very seriously. We will not be able to fix everything all at once and we do need to prioritise.  We have a process in place to work through the results right across the University.  The themes identified above will need to be priorities and there will be particular issues in particular areas.  The Division of HR is working through the results of the survey with all areas in the organisation and I look forward to working with you all to implement the outcomes from this.

The New Government

Obviously, we now have a new Federal Government which was elected with a significant majority. It is very pleasing that three of the representatives who have been particular friends to CSU and to regional higher education – Senator Fiona Nash, Michael McCormack and Sussan Ley have senior roles within the new government.  We congratulate them on this and very much look forward to working with them in their new capacity.

There has been recent media speculation about comments by Christopher Pyne, the Education Minister.  In my view, the Minister’s comments were largely a restatement of his views made clear before the election and I think there was little that was surprising.  Also I think that commentators have read more into the comments than was warranted.  Both Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne were at pains before the election to point out that they would take a considered and consultative approach to higher education changes.  Christopher Pyne is also on record as saying that they do not propose to reintroduce caps.

The suggestion of scrapping the Student Services and Amenities Fee is disappointing but predictable given the Liberal Party’s objection to its introduction.  The Prime Minister has played down suggestion that this will be a short-term priority for the Government.  However, if it were to happen it does have the potential to have a significant impact on our services to students and we will be lobbying to ensure the government understands this.  Once again, it has been pleasing to see many people, including Michael McCormack, coming to the defence of the SSAF in the media.

University Strategy

I have been making presentations across the campuses on the University Strategy – disrupted somewhat by acquiring the unpleasant cold virus that circulated in NSW this winter.  There are still a couple of sessions to go but, for those unable to attend, a recording of the second session at Wagga Wagga is available here.  I am also looking to organise a session via Adobe Connect for anyone who missed the earlier sessions or was unable to attend.

As you will recall, we finalised the top-level Strategy at the start of the year.  We have been working to finalise the sub-plans which specify in more detail what will happen in each of the 12 areas.  These plans are now close to finalisation and are being shared at the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum (VCF) this week.  Some of these have been out for consultation across the University already but they will all be shared more widely after VCF.

Online Learning

I mention this in the Strategy presentations but interest in the online space continues.  Whilst this is territory that universities such as those in the Group of Eight are now trying to claim as their own, it is an area in which we have deep capability and long experience.  Having worked at two universities which have strong capability in online and distance learning, I do not think it is so simple to rethink pedagogy to work in this way.  Therefore I do not believe that existing distance providers, or regional universities generally, will be swept away by Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) offered by universities that have not been in this space before.  I suspect there will be a bubble in this which will burst in due course.  I think we have a sound strategy to continue our growth and dominance in this area, including the appointment of new staff as mentioned below.

Smart Learning

The Smart Learning project, led by Professor Alan Bain, is now well underway.  This is a very significant project for us and will run over the course of five years.  The project provides a thoughtful, systematic, supported, documented approach to curriculum design.  I think that as higher education teaching and learning has become more thoughtful and professional we have missed approaches of this kind.  It will mean a significant change to the way we design curriculum but one that I believe is critical if we are to meet internal and external requirements for demonstrating the quality of what we do.  The project has a long time line and is starting with a set of pilot courses in each faculty.  We will, I am sure, learn a lot along the way.  However,  as far as I can tell, we are leading the sector with this project so I think this is a very important part of achieving our ambition to be seen to be at the forefront of educational innovation.

New Appointments

Finally, I want to welcome two new senior appointments.  Professor Heather Cavanagh has been appointed to the position of Pro-Vice Chancellor International Education and Partnerships after acting in the role earlier in the year.  Heather is a long-standing staff member at CSU having joined us in 1998 and having previously held roles as Acting Executive Dean (Faculty of Science) and Sub-Dean International (Faculty of Science).  This is an important role to achieve the objectives in the internationalisation section of our Strategy.

Professor Sandra Wills has been appointed to the role of Pro-Vice Chancellor Student Learning which she will take up in November. Professor Wills is currently Executive Director, Learning and Teaching, at the University of Wollongong and has a very strong background and international reputation in educational technology.  This is also a critical appointment for us in ensuring we retain our position as the leader in distance and online education.

May Update

Higher Education Funding Cuts

I had intended to write another blog post sooner than this but the government’s announcement of cuts to the higher education budget consumed quite a bit of oxygen over the last few weeks.  To reiterate the message I sent to all CSU staff in an e-mail, while these are serious cuts and will cause pain they are not large enough to threaten our viability nor to divert us from our strategy.  As a reminder the impact on our income will be $6.5m per year from 2015 onwards and we will need to find ways to fill this hole.  Also a reminder that it comes on top of previous cuts in last year’s Mid-Year Funding Adjustments.  At this stage we expect some of this to be met through general budget restraint, some through targetted efficiency measures and some through increased revenue.  Needless to say it is also going to put pressure on our ability to provide wage increases.  I think it is very important that politicians from all sides are reminded that voters understand the importance of universities and I would encourage anyone who does to complete the online petition at the Smartest Investment Website.

‘Your Voice’ Staff Survey

For CSU staff the most important message at the moment is about the Your Voice Survey.  This is the fourth time that we have run the survey, the previous occasions being in 2003, 2006 and 2010.  From previous experience, the detailed results will provide a rich picture of how staff are feeling across the university.  At the summary level two combined indices, the Passion/Engagement Index and the Progress Index are used as Key Performance Indicator for Council to assess the performance of the university and myself as Vice-Chancellor.  The first of these is a composite of job satisfaction, organisational commitment and intention to stay and the second is a composite of change and innovation, customer satisfaction and organisational objectives.  Whilst I don’t doubt there will be things we will need to attend to I am very much looking forward to seeing the results of this survey and encourage all CSU staff to fill it in.

NSW Teacher Reforms ‘Great Teaching, Inspired Learning’

Another potentially painful impact is the NSW Government’s ‘Great Teaching Inspired Learning’ (GTIL) Blueprint.  The plan to reform teacher education in NSW has many very positive points, not least professional development support for teachers once they are in practice.  An area of concern for us is in relation to entry standards into teaching degrees.  The key issue is really the proposal to require three Band 5 results for direct entry into teacher education.  Not too many regional students who currently apply for teacher education achieve this.  We know that regional students tend to perform relatively less well in the HSC and we are concerned that it might disadvantage regional and rural students as well as creating workforce supply problems in the future.

We are still working through the implications of this but it does have the potential to affect CSU students and education courses significantly. One possibility is that students might be diverted through a double degree to give them time to develop equivalent achievement levels.  This might in fact require little additional time so may prove to be a good solution for both students and communities.  The GTIL Blueprint does flag that there may need to be additional access routes for regional and Indigenous students so this may be the solution and we will continue to work with the State Government on this.

CSU Financial Results for 2012

CSU’s Annual Accounts for 2012 have been audited and submitted to State Parliament.  These were completed a week early and credit is due to Executive Director Finance Paul Dowler and the team in Finance for achieving this.  One of the key indicators of financial health is the surplus reported through these accounts. The normal target for not-for-profit organisations is to aim for a surplus of between 3 and 5%. Without this you are in fact starting to run the organisation down because you will be unable to maintain funds to invest in replacement of buildings and infrastructure.  Also you will lack a buffer against unexpected expenses or drops in revenue.  Our target is to aim for a surplus of over 3%.  The surplus figure also needs a bit of unpicking because the accounting standards mean that there are some distortions in the ‘headline’ surplus.  First, we are required to include capital money received from the government, which is spent directly on infrastructure, as revenue.  However, the expenditure is recorded as an increase in asset values on the university’s balance sheet and therefore does not appear as expenditure.  This distorts the bottom line and gives an inflated indication of financial health.  Revaluation of our investments is also included and there has been quite a bit of volatility in this following the Global Financial Crisis.  In 2012, the headline surplus was $22.9m but the adjusted surplus was about half this at $11.6m or 2.65%.  This is below our target range and is a function of the fact that our student load has started to level off from a peak of commencements in 2010.  This explanation is important because we are not starting from a position where we can simply absorb the Federal Government cuts.

Practice-Based Education Summit

I wanted to talk a little about the Practice-Based Education Summit organised by EFPI.  This fortunately aligned with other engagements I had in Sydney which meant that I was able to attend the majority of it.  I really enjoyed this summit and found a lot of parallels between the research discussed and the writing that I have been doing about organisational soul and leadership.  I also gave the first poster presentation of my career having managed to somehow avoid this early in my academic life.  The most important lesson I learned from this was to ignore the conference organisers when they tell you to print at A3.  However, it also led to useful discussions with a number of the participants for which I thank them.

CSU Ontario

University Council endorsed a revised business plan for the Ontario campus earlier this year.  We plan to expand on the ground numbers at the campus as well as using it as a base for increasing our distance load in Canada.  I visited our Ontario Campus in Canada at the end of April and had very good discussions with stakeholders and the Provincial Government about our future.  It was interesting to see that as national and provincial budgets tighten, Canadian governments are also cutting back funding to higher education.  Canadian institutions are now looking very much harder at international students and this will increase competition for Australian university student recruitment.

Welcome to Tim Wess, Executive Dean Science

I would like to close by welcoming Professor Tim Wess, our new Executive Dean of Science to the University.  Tim comes to us from University of Cardiff in the UK and we are very much looking forward to working with him.  Tim will be based at the Wagga Wagga campus but will be getting around to other campuses in the usual CSU way.

Strategy Launch

If you are a staff member of CSU and reading this, about now a copy of the revised University Strategy will be landing on your desk. We have also made a video to promote the strategy which you can view here. I expect (and hope) that there will be another round of interest in the document as it reaches everyone and there were therefore a few things I wanted to emphasise.

First, this document is intended primarily for the internal audience. Many strategic plans appear to be written mainly as marketing tools and therefore spend a lot more time painting the organisation in the best possible light than focussing on what needs to be done. We have tried to strike a different balance with the CSU 2013-15 strategy. Whilst it is certainly intended to be read by external stakeholders it is not, for example, the main way we would promote ourselves to students.

Second, I wanted to remind everyone that we intended to come up with a distinctive and authentic plan. Therefore the narrative section on Page 2 reads in a different style to the conventional corporate speak, or at least I hope it does. As mentioned in the development process, I think a good strategy document should require a bit of chewing and digestion so I hope that it will prompt people to think deeply about the type of university we aspire to be and what we aim to do for our communities, our students and ourselves.

The third page is intended to be the ‘to-do’ list of things that need to be resolved if we are to succeed. This is broken up into eight strategic priorities and four strategic enablers and each of them has objectives and measures. Work is being carried out at present by members of the Senior Executive to develop appropriate detail around these. For some of them, such as sustainability, we have well-developed plans already which need bringing up to date. For others, such as the Courses and Campuses area, there will need to be a new sub-plan written.

Third, we have measures associated with the overall plan and each of the sub-plans. Those on the second page will be used by Council to assess the university’s performance and my performance as Vice-Chancellor. Those associated with the sub-plans on the third page will be used for a more detailed assessment of our performance and that of the Senior Executive team. In turn, we will cascade this down through the Executive Deans and Divisional Executive Directors. In this way we should all have a common view on to what we are trying to achieve and how well we are doing.

Finally, I think this will be an interesting year, particularly given the expected political changes at the national level. I think it is important that an organisation knows what it wants to achieve and is not blown wherever the winds of government policy might take it. I am pleased that we have set out what we are trying to do, for whom and why and, to extend the sailing metaphor, this will be a good compass for us as we track through the next few years.

Look forward to further discussions.

Welcome Back or Welcome to 2013

A belated welcome back everyone to what should be a very interesting 2013.  Also welcome to new staff members including a few new Heads of School and, later in the year, a new Executive Dean of Science.  I hope that you had the opportunity for some downtime over the break, although I know some have been teaching in the summer semester and others (such as Sue Thomas who was Acting V-C) have deferred leave until now.  I have to confess that I’ve been back for over a month now but I had a wonderful couple of weeks off over Christmas and feel that batteries and synapses are refreshed for the coming year.

Having reflected on social media usage through the year, one interesting feature I noted of the Vann Christmas morning was that pretty much the whole family was on Facebook after presents were opened.  Whilst there is a bemoaning of the impact of social media on relationships, actually it was lovely as we connected with friends and family across the globe.  We did, on this instance, avoid messaging each other in the same room.

Graduations

I realise I didn’t say much about graduation in the post at the end of last year.  I tried to get to each campus and each Faculty so I did Wagga, Dubbo, Orange, Bathurst, Albury and Bathurst again.  This was a really enjoyable, but hectic, week.  I wanted to thank all the staff involved in organising these events which seemed to run very smoothly.  I also wanted to thank the academic staff for attending.  We had a really good turn out and I think it’s important for students to see their lecturers on the stage.  Finally I wanted to thank the musicians who performed at the various ceremonies.

There were some delightful moments, not least meeting the students afterwards.  There was one Masters by distance graduate who was thrilled to meet his/her supervisor in person for the first time.  There were also great stories of graduates who were the first in their family to attend university and who had brought a lot of that family with them.  The Deputy Chancellor and I had a great time having photos taken with the families of international students, including many from Nepal.  Finally I met Twitter contacts like @amyzing in person for the first time.

Structure Discussions

The restructure proposal was out for comment over the Christmas period and we received very thoughtful and constructive input to this.  We have amended the proposal in the light of the comments so we really do appreciate that people took the time to digest it and comment.  The response and revised final proposal was advertised through What’s New last week and is available to staff.

As noted in the original proposal, this restructure was not a root and branch transformation but designed to improve span of control for senior managers and align structure to the 2013-15 Strategy document.  I am confident that this now gives us a good structure with which to move forward.

Articulation of Strategy

As noted at the end of last year, the 2013-15 Strategy document was approved by University Council and is being reformatted with some minor changes. This year will be about fleshing out the plans at the next level down and ensuring that we have integration across our activities.  An important activity this year will also be working on campus and course plans to map out the shape of the University into the future.  Port Macquarie is reasonably well covered on this because of the work that was done prior to the establishment of the campus.  However, we do not have similar plans for the other campuses.  I believe this is a very important activity because the health and strength of the University depends upon a network of strong campuses.  Without this I fear we would be very much less than the sum of our parts.

One thing I did want to emphasise about the idea of an institution with ‘soul’ is that this is not a soft option. Large entities that balance the books, pay the staff and the bills and print out testamurs are reasonably easy things to create and sustain.  Engendering a real sense of community and belonging is harder.  It requires all the usual diligence but beyond that it requires putting the idea of community first.  It strikes me that successful communities strike a balance between promotion of self-interest and community interest. I don’t believe there is a formula for this, but that it is something that needs to be navigated day by day.  On reading David Whyte’s ‘The Heart Aroused’ I think he used a phrase that it seems is attributed to Soren Kierkegaard but which I heard years ago from an academic colleague – “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved”

Looking Forward to 2013

2013 will inevitably be an interesting year.  We now know the Federal Election will be in September and in the middle of writing this Senator Chris Evans, the Minister for Higher Education, resigned.  I enjoyed dealing with Chris who had a good understanding of the sector so it is sad to see him go.  I would have to note though that the response to the Base Funding Review was deeply disappointing for the sector if perhaps predictable.  Universities Australia has made a pre-budget submission to press the case for investment in higher education and research.  I welcome Minister Bowen to the portfolio who we know is taking a keen interest in the sector and I look forward to working with him too.

In closing, I hope you all have a great year and look forward to further conversations about the future of the university.

End of Year Blog Post

So, this will be my final blog post of what has been a very busy year.  I wanted to start by thanking all of you for reading this blog and to say I have really enjoyed the interaction and responses.  Some of these have come through comments on the blog itself, some through e-mail and face-to-face interaction. I know a number of people have told me they have enjoyed the blog but have been happy to ‘lurk’.  Many CSU staff have also signed up for Yammer as an internal online communication mechanism and I have enjoyed that space too.

One of the things to relay is that the University strategy document was approved (with some very minor amendments) by University Council on 6 December.  The final version will be produced and issued early in the New Year and this will form our road map for the next three years.  The next steps are to develop the suite of plans that sit at the level below this and also to refine the performance indicators listed in the document and bring them into a more disciplined annual review process.  This also will be work for the New Year.

A brief update on two significant initiatives: Medicine and Engineering.  We continue to lobby for the Medical School.  You may have seen that UNSW have announced a bid for Wagga Wagga.  Whilst we think it is good that the metropolitan schools are taking the issue of regional medical education more seriously, it is still not clear that the bid addresses the issues that we think are of real concern – that is that the program would have a regionally-focussed curriculum, would select based on intention to practise in regional and rural areas and would have strong regional governance and control.  We are planning to promote further discussion on these issues in the New Year and also to have some further announcements about our bid.  Engineering has been the subject of a lot of work through the year.  It is not clear at this stage that the demand is so strong that we can afford to make the necessary capital investments to get this off the ground without government support.  We therefore have more work to do with employers through 2013 to finalise this case and seek support.

As the year draws to a close, I have been reflecting on work practices and the issue of general busy-ness.  Certainly the last few weeks for me with conference presentations, State and National Universities meetings, University Council and then a week of Graduations has meant there has been little time to keep on top of, or catch up on, communications (that’s why I’m writing this whilst technically on the second day of my leave).  In the last week, one of the suggestions raised was that we should perhaps have an e-mail free period during the week.  A number of organisations have tried strategies along these lines (I’ve also heard that some organisations ban sending e-mails to anyone on the same floor of the same building).  I don’t know that it’s worth going over the top on these things but I have certainly found that for the sake of sanity, it’s good to have some self-imposed discipline about dealing with online communications. I have moved to more of a practice of ‘slow’ e-mail where I put time aside to process it in a batch and have told my direct reports I will likely only reply the next day.  I also used to be a ‘news vulture’ and wake up by listening to the news.  I have now stopped this and usually kill the alarm straight away.  It only struck me one morning this year, when I slipped back to the old habit, what a rotten start to the day it was to begin with a summary of everything that’s bad in the world – and I don’t now feel any worse informed for the lack of it.  In short then, whilst I really value the access and information we have through the Internet, I do try to make sure I am in control of my information flows rather than vice-versa.

2013 should be a very interesting year.  We will see whether there have been any shifts in demand as the demand-driven funding model settles down.  We will have a Federal election and we will have to see whether that brings any changes for higher education.  I sincerely hope that the quality of political debate during the campaign is not only light years but several galaxies away from what we have experienced through 2012.

I would like to thank all at CSU for their hard work and dedication in 2012.  As I have previously noted, it has been a real pleasure and a privilege to take on the Vice-Chancellor’s role.  Whilst I do not treat this lightly, I have had an enormously enjoyable and fulfilling year and I am looking forward to an even better 2013.

I enjoy the Christmas period as a chance to refresh, renew, take stock and prepare for the coming year.  After having spent a lot of time away from home this year I’m also looking forward to getting to know that attractive woman with the three stroppy children who shares my house.  I wish you all a happy and safe festive season and hope that you get the chance to enjoy time with your families and friends too.

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