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.

October Update

Once again, it has been a long gap since the last blog post.  In the intervening time I have been making strategy presentations to staff around the university.  I have to say it has been pleasing and encouraging to get feedback from staff that they have enjoyed the blog and that it has been provoking discussion.  A few people have commented that there was quite a lot to digest in the last post so maybe it’s not such a bad thing to have left a gap.  I was also pondering that given the deluge of words on the Internet, perhaps sometimes silence can be a virtue.

Narrative/Mission

I have had some wonderful and illuminating discussions with various people as a result of the blog and the presentations which have really helped us flesh out thoughts on the narrative. We have also had a Vice-Chancellor’s Forum at which we discussed strategy. There we committed to the conceptual content of the narrative and to producing a strategic summary of our direction on two pages.  The aim of this is to spell out what we are trying to achieve and what problems we need to solve to achieve this.  I am hoping that we can produce a document which is distinctive and which is useful for staff in thinking about priorities.  Because of this, it will not be a completely inclusive document.  I think one of the problems with strategic planning is that you can end up writing a document which attempts to honour every part of the organisation and ends up lacking clarity as a result.  We are currently in the process of finalising the draft of this and will circulate it widely for comment after that.

CSUED2012

I will be attending CSUED2012 in November as I think we have a lot of important work to do in considering our approach to teaching and learning.  Merilyn Childs from FLI and her colleagues have created some videos of my thoughts in the lead up to these.  They have been advertised via What’s New but if you haven’t seen them they’re here.

Also  on the theme of learning technologies, there’s some really active discussion on the CSU Yammer Groups https://www.yammer.com/csu.edu.au.

There has been a lot of discussion about MOOCs and a suggestion they might sweep away existing universities.  I doubt that is exactly what will happen and we are starting to see some commentary noting that completion rates are low and questions over the value of any badging from studying via a MOOC.  I think there will be interesting things to be learned from engaging with MOOCs though. Facilitating online scholarly communities and diagnostic testing to help learners locate their current knowledge and skills within the discipline are particularly interesting.  I do think we need to be able to innovate and experiment in the online space.  I don’t know that we want to jump on the MOOC bandwagon but perhaps we too should be finding some lower risk spaces where we can give away content so we can learn.

20/30/40 Year Service Awards

As noted from the Twitter feed, I attended the 20/30/40 Year Service awards.  It was lovely to get an opportunity to thank our long-serving staff.  Geoff Bamberry who received the 40 Year Service medal put me on to some good information about some of the early influences on CSU.  William Merrylees (after whom the Library is named in Wagga) was a long-term advocate of a proper university for the Riverina.  It’s nice to see in a paper written by Donald Boadle that Merrylees said it all before in the ‘60s (if in the then predominant gender-specific form):

“Although no other academic critic was as trenchant as Anderson, most singled out Merrylees’ emphasis on the community’s interests, claiming that he was preoccupied with ‘the training of professional people’ whose skills would be tailored to the narrowly utilitarian requirements of the Riverina’s rural producers.  But Merrylees replied that his aim, like Plato’s, was to educate ‘the whole man ; . . . to fit him to live a full life, and to respond to any situation; . . . in short to become a good citizen’.”

Medical School Bid

As you may have seen the National Party’s Federal Conference formally endorsed support for CSU’s Medical School bid.  This is a very positive step and builds on the outcomes of the Senate Inquiry into rural health workforces which also provided support. 

We continue to lobby for this with the Federal Government.  We need communities that have appropriate health care professionals and the Health Workforce Australia 2025 and Senate Inquiry reports both demonstrate that the existing systems are very unlikely to fix the current maldistribution of doctors within Australia.  This therefore is a community issue that we need to do our part in trying to solve.  I note the recent discussions around finding internships for international students many of which may end up in regional and rural areas.  It is clear therefore that the issue of placements and internships can be addressed if there is sufficient political will.  We look forward to this will being directed to a long-term solution for rural and regional health rather than to meeting the training needs of metropolitan medical schools.

CSU Bike Week

I was delighted to take part in CSU Bike Week a week or two ago and cycle into the Bathurst campus.  I have to confess I have generally driven into work because of the need to drive off to other places (and probably some laziness). I was doing OK at getting out on my bike for exercise early in the morning – but this was a bit disrupted by the spell of -5 mornings through the winter so it was great to get to work with the circulation moving.

Walkabouts

Now I have the initial round of familiarisation out of the way, I am trying to spend some more time visiting the actual workplaces in the university.  I had a lovely time on the Albury campus a couple of weeks ago with Julia Coyle just wandering through the offices and meeting people.  I’m planning to do some more of this over the coming months and years, but it may take a while to get to everybody.

Fun Things

I have mentioned Sir Ken Robinson’s ‘Are Schools Killing Creativity’ TED Talk at my staff presentations and it seems not many people have seen it.  It is wonderful and can be found here.

Sue Moloney, Director International Relations, forwarded a link to a lovely piece on the lessons from the Muppets for academic administration.  Ever since we went to see the Muppet Movie my wife has been asking me if I’m a man or a Muppet.  I’m happy to own up to channelling Kermit too.

En route to China

This post is being written on a plane to China to visit our university partners there and attend the 110th anniversary of Yangzhou university.  I’m very pleased to be travelling on an Airbus 380 for the first time as my father was part of the design team for the wings on the very first Airbus at the beginning of the 1970s.  Yes, I do know they have cracks in these ones; I’m sure he would be mortified if he were still alive (and appreciate the irony of the last part of that sentence).

Highlights since the last blog post include:

  • A visit to Goulburn campus to visit the NSW Police Academy.  Fantastic facilities there and really interesting staff.  Rosemary Woolston asks me which is the best School in the University and I tell her I’m not going to argue with the one that has guns.
  • Hosting NSW Legislative Council Members Steve Whan and Mick Veitch at the Orange Campus – a great opportunity to show off the Dental and Physio labs and talk to them about our plans.
  • The opening of the Port Macquarie Campus by Senator the Hon Chris Evans. This was a fabulous event with tremendous support from the community and my congratulations to all those involved in organising it.  [A particular thank you to the St Columba School Band who introduced the notion of having the Academic Procession arrive to some excellently played tracks from Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’.  This is a tradition I think we should continue (although I wouldn’t want to displace Don Alexander’s bagpipes in Bathurst).  On checking the track listing I think it was ‘All Blues’ although it might have been ‘Freddie Freeloader’ in which case perhaps they were being more ironic than I thought.]
  • Travelling to Nyngan to present our case for a medical school to the Western NSW Local Health District.
  • A Bathurst Regional Council hosted welcome for me with members of the local community at the Somerville Collection.
  • Opening the Environmental Boardwalk at Albury, attending the Albury Regional Consultative Committee meeting and having dinner with community leaders from Albury, Wodonga and Wangaratta.
  • Interviewing for the DVC (Academic) to replace Ross Chambers.
  • Attending the Universities Australia Plenary Meeting of Vice-Chancellors and Chancellors in Adelaide.
  • Attending my first Academic Senate meeting.

This has been further very useful information gathering and in particular it was good to finally meet staff at Goulburn and Albury.

As I mentioned in the last post, I am now past the three months of familiarisation and intend to move into the next phase.  Part of that will be to transmit more of my thoughts on our strategic positioning, and our future, to the university community and stakeholders.  This blog is part of that communication process and we will be promoting this more widely through the university community. I would welcome comments on these blog posts as the conversation develops.

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