June Update

It’s hard to believe we are nearly half way through the year and perhaps even harder to believe that in our perpetual higher education Groundhog Day, we still do not know what the future of higher education funding and policy will be. I will come back to this point.

Load

The significant good news at the start of this year is that based on the good results from first semester we are predicting an increase in commencing load this year of about 5%. This is the result of increased marketing activity, increased focus on conversions and I am sure the excellent performance of the University in terms of graduate outcomes. It has not been the case for all universities and I want to thank all the University’s staff for the work they have done to achieve this result.

Workforce of the Future

One of my side jobs is to chair the Executive Committee of AHEIA, the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association. At the end of last year AHEIA commissioned PriceWaterhouse Coopers to look at the future of the workforce in higher education. Although it sometimes said that universities are slow to change, we have seen enormous growth and change in the sector over the last 20 years. On my reckoning, one of the most significant changes is the degree of specialisation and casualisation in the academic workforce. Both of these, I think, have been in pursuit of increased productivity and the second has been a risk management approach. University funding has become much less certain as a more market-oriented approach has been taken by government. Acknowledging the growth in higher education funding as the system has grown, governments of both sides have raided the higher education budget to pay for other things. Labor was going to use it to fund Gonski and the Coalition have attempted to meet overall budget strictures.

What has been less talked about is the fact that over this period, full-time research and teaching academic positions have grown very little – about 8% between 1996 and 2014. I suspect that these staff members – particularly those at levels B, C and D – are still doing the bulk of the academic administration and management work for the now much bigger system. I therefore think that the complaints we hear about the pressures on academic staff have some justification. I believe it is time we rethought what we expect from academic staff and acknowledge that the academic management aspects are as important as teaching, research and engagement.   In the case of CSU, we revised our promotions policy in 2014 and we will be keeping an eye on this to ensure it is delivering the things we  want for staff and the University.

Federal Budget

In parallel with the Federal Budget, the Government released an options paper which, it seems, was meant to leave options on the table while also neutralising higher education policy as an election issue. Right up front I need to say that the Government’s budget shows that they still intend to cut 20% of government funding from higher education places. It is surprising to me that there is so far not very much commentary about this – which amounts to a $2bn cut across the forward estimates – but perhaps we have all got used to the idea. From the point of view of universities perhaps this is not so bad because – at first glance – it seems the revenue would be made up by increasing costs for students. Estimates vary on the impacts of this but currently students pay about 40% of the cost so we would be looking at an average increase of about 25% in costs to students.

The arguments that are usually advanced for doing this are:

  • the HELP system provides interest-free, indexed loans which means no-one has to pay upfront costs;
  • students bear an equal proportion of the cost because of the private benefits;
  • there is concern we are creating too many, or too many of the wrong sort of graduates and that increasing costs will help to make students think more carefully about choices; and
  • international and local evidence suggests it is quite difficult to deter people from studying because they understand how important higher education is to career advancement.

Arguments in the other direction are:

  • an awful lot of students are not school leavers and may in fact be making repayments because they are already working;
  • OECD studies show that the public returns to higher education in Australia already outweigh the private benefits;
  • one of the biggest costs of study is students’ time and they already have powerful incentives to take their choices seriously;
  • it’s difficult to deter students from studying, but loading the costs onto graduates alone is tantamount to increasing tax rates for them; and
  • there is legitimate concern about the impacts on equity as a result of increasing costs – acquiring a university degree does not reset your lifetime economic circumstances and there is a risk that this will have a disproportionate impact on lower-income earners.

I lean towards the second set of arguments, but I think we need a good debate about these issues. It was notable in the discussion about fee deregulation that the most enthusiastic advocates were those universities with students from the wealthiest backgrounds, I would be very worried if the higher education policy of either side of politics slipped through without scrutiny.

Murray Darling Medical School Bid

We have continued to push our medical school bid with the Federal Government and with other parties and candidates now that the election has been called. The proposal has been widely supported and government has acknowledged the value of it in addressing maldistribution of doctors in regional and rural areas. It is very frustrating that the Government has supported a new school in Perth at Curtin University and funding for a new node at Gosford for Newcastle University, both of which are in metropolitan locations and very close to existing schools. There is a strong suspicion now that the only thing that leads to a medical school being approved is electoral advantage as both of these announcements seemed to be linked to marginal seats. I trust that this is not the case, and that we will soon get an announcement on the Murray Darling Medical School. It is certainly not credible to argue that new medical schools cannot be approved and this reinforces the importance of continuing to fight for a solution for rural and regional people.

Strategy Development Process

We are currently going through a strategy foresight exercise to plan for our 2017 and beyond strategy. This has had involvement from a range people across the University, including Vice-Chancellor’s Forum. The process has developed a systems map of the external forces acting on the University and four particular scenarios are being developed which will be used to test our current strategic thinking and set the scene for the revised strategy. The aim of all this to deepen our understanding of our operations and environment so that we can face the future more confidently.

Three Faculty Structure

We are now approaching the cutover to the new three Faculty structure. Last week I met with the Heads of School and heard that, understandably, staff are feeling some apprehension as we approach it. This is a big change, and there is a lot of effort going into training staff and communicating the changes. As per the messages sent out to all staff by the DVC Academic, Toni Downes, the details will be communicated in the next couple of weeks as we run up to the change over. I want to thank all staff for their efforts to support this important restructure.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Draft Narrative and Strategy Document

I’m finalising this post at Sydney airport, waiting for a plane to Bathurst after delays due to storms.  It has been nice to have some time to sit down and attend to things after a hectic couple of weeks.

If you’ve been following this blog, you will know that we have been working on revising the narrative and strategy for the university.  As I noted back in May while we have a strategic plan that covers the bases, I feel we are still lacking clarity about our overall mission, institutional story, or narrative as I have called it.  I believe we need this to ensure we are all on the same page and focussed. That post kicked off discussions to find a more powerful expression of what we are truly about.

I have enjoyed the robust conversations, feedback and comments from many forums since. I have found everyone’s contributions to be very valuable in testing new and refined ideas.  I’ve also been put on to some great readings (have been really enjoying David Whyte’s ‘The Heart Aroused’).

As the new narrative started to emerge, in discussions I think it also confirmed that the existing 2011-15 University Strategy document needed to be distilled into a new condensed and more focussed format.  This is not to throw out the old, but builds on and clarifies the best parts of our work over the last few years.

With your help, we have made significant progress in our narrative and documentation to a stage where I think it is in a suitable format to seek broader comments and feedback.  Although still draft, the latest version of the University Strategy and Actions 2013-2015 is provided here – CSU Strategy Draft.

If it is to be effective, strategic planning needs to be tested against the reality of an organisation and its communities.  I would welcome your honest opinion on how this document is shaping up.  I also plan to test this with our students and alumni and our community through our Heads of Campus and this blog.

I think it is good and getting close; it will never be perfect.  I have found that exposing and testing drafts through the process has really helped to clarify thinking and wording on the document and this will really be the last chance for this year.  We are intending that the second page (as printed – page 3 in this PDF draft) stays fairly constant but that the detailed priorities on the third page (as printed – page 4 in this PDF draft) will probably be updated each year with the planning cycle.  I think the final paragraph in the narrative – talking about using technology to achieve mobility and reach people wherever they are – needs a tweak of some sort still.  One challenge from a staff member was that many university mission statements read as ‘middle-aged whitefella dreaming’.  I hope that’s not all it is: I can’t avoid two of those tags, if I’m dreaming I’d like them to be good dreams.

There has been strong approval for the inclusion of the Wiradjuri phrase and I have to say that personally I love it.  I have pointed out that we need to honour this by being serious about living up to the challenge it sets.

The back page of the document articulates how it is intended it to be used.  However, a key point to keep in mind is that this document is not intended to be completely inclusive by naming everything that is happening in the university. I think one of the problems with strategic planning is that you can end up with a document that attempts to honour every part of the organisation, and lacks clarity as a result.  This does not mean that functions or areas that are not directly referenced are not important nor that they will not still have actions or responsibilities in the overall plan.  However, it probably does mean that change in those areas is not our most important priority in the short term.

Your feedback would be appreciated in the form of a comment to the blog, or if you prefer, a quick email or blog of your thoughts, hand written mark-ups, and/or ‘tracked changes’ to vc@csu.edu.au by COB Friday 16 November 2012.  A refined and final version will ultimately be presented to University Council in December 2012.

I really  look forward to hearing from you.

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.

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