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.

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.

A Quick Catch Up

It has been far too long since my last blog post, although I have been putting out intermittent tweets as well.  It is in the nature of being in a new role that while it is ‘only’ about a month and a half since the last post, it feels like a lifetime.  The intervening period has been filled with a lot of travel and some more solid thinking about strategy for CSU.  To give some of the highlights through that time:

Canada

Towards the end of March I was invited to the Wellington Group meeting in Vancouver which is a semi-regular meeting of senior government officials and higher education leaders from English-speaking countries.  This was really interesting and it would be fair to say that all of those countries are facing the same issues of an ageing population and ensuring that education can promote innovation, social equity and economic productivity.  They are also struggling with resourcing higher education from the public purse to achieve those aims.  Another strong theme was the need for innovation in higher education and the question of whether this would come from public institutions or hungrier for-profit providers.  I think the key takeaway for me was that whilst there is a diversity of approach to higher education, no-one thinks they have a perfect system.  Australia is not doing too badly and people were particularly interested to hear about TEQSA and our national approach to quality.

As a side-trip before Vancouver I visited CSU Ontario in Burlington and really enjoyed meeting both staff and students there.  The students are a highly-motivated group and it was great to talk to some of them who will be undertaking placements in Dubbo later in the year.

Another positive was that Vancouver gave me an opportunity to practise acclimatising to the Bathurst winter by laying on sleet. Also interesting to note that Blockbuster in Canada has gone out of business because, with better broadband, everyone is renting movies online.

Technology in Tertiary Education

I was invited to speak to the Tech in Tertiary Ed Conference at the end of March at which I talked about technology and innovation generally, and how educational technology might serve, following Clayton Christensen’s work, as a disruptive innovation in higher education.  As noted above, it will be interesting to see where the private sector and international players go with this and what impact this has on traditional universities.  It does strike me that too often we have used technology to add work to the teaching and learning process, although I think we are getting more mature in our approach to this.

EIF Bid

Our Education Investment Fund bid for improved health facilities at Orange and Bathurst went through to the next round of application.  We were very appreciative of State Government support for this bid and of the work of our local members, and particularly Paul Toole from Bathurst, in achieving this outcome.

Port Macquarie

Operations at Port Macquarie are gaining momentum under the stewardship of Head of Campus Dr Muyesser Durer.  We are investigating site options for the permanent campus, as well as finalising the full course profile that we will offer there in the next few years.

PBE Summit

I spoke at the Practice Based Education Summit organised by our Education for Practice Institute in Sydney on the theme of standards and regulations and the challenges they provide.  Here I mused on the parallels between standards as used in engineering practice and as applied to higher education.  Overall I believe standards are neither inherently good nor bad, but that we need to ensure we use them appropriately to support quality but not drive out innovation.

Menindee

Two weekends ago I was fortunate to be invited along with other CSU staff to Menindee for a camp with Aunty Beryl Carmichael, an elder of the Ngiyeempaa people.  The country out to Menindee was spectacular after the rains, and listening to Aunty Beryl talk about her life and her culture was a very special experience.  Sunsets over Lake Pamamaroo and the view of the Milky Way from the campsite were magical.  We are very fortunate to have our focus on Indigenous culture as a university, and it seems to me there is much we could learn from the depth and resilience of Indigenous society.  If nothing else it gave me a chance to reflect on the importance of stories and traditions in cultural transmission and what that might mean for leadership at CSU.

Looking to the future

I think that brings things more or less up to date.  I have had a couple of weeks mostly in Bathurst which has given me the opportunity to catch up.  In particular, I have completed the three months I said I would take to familiarise myself with CSU and its processes.  As I have signalled at various gatherings, I do not think we need to make a left or right turn as an institution and for the most part we know our issues and are working on them.  I have shared some thoughts about tweaks we might make with the Senior Executive Committee and will be sharing those more broadly over the coming weeks.

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