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.
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.
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.
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.
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.