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.


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.


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.


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.

Further thoughts on strategy, mission and narrative

There has been a long gap since my last post in this blog as I had a couple of weeks of international travel for the university followed by Vice-Chancellor’s Forum and then two weeks’ leave.  Since then (as well as catching up on tasks) I have started my round of presentations to staff and we have also had a University Council Planning session.  In these I have been presenting my thoughts on the mission, or what I have called the narrative, of the university.

Soul Power

With apologies to James Brown, I wanted to start by talking about the notion of ‘soul’ for an organisation.  This was one of the concepts that was in my mind at the start of the year as it struck me that CSU really seemed to have it.  My working definition of this would be an organisation that sees you, recognises you and responds to you.  I think we will all have had the experience of engaging with organisations who seem the very opposite.

My sense is that by and large we do a pretty good job of this at CSU, although I would also be sure that at least some people will have different stories to tell.  However, for a university I think we should be aiming to sustain a strong sense of community and to be seen to have a soul.  If you don’t mind some gentle implied profanity, I quite liked Jonathan Fields ‘Commandments of Epic Biz’ and I’m also taken with Seth Godin’s notion of developing tribes.

So to roll on from this, in my presentations and through this blog I am looking to prompt some further discussion about what we should be trying to achieve as a university and about how brave we might be in thinking about that.

Have Universities Lost the Plot?

Let’s start with the question of whether the higher education system still has a soul.  Richard Hil has recently had a book published called ‘Whackademia: An insider’s account of the troubled university’.  I have to confess that I have not yet read this book but, from the publicity and from listening to Richard Hil on LateNight Live, the theme is broadly that things have gone downhill and it’s all the fault of corporatist university leaders and government bureaucrats.  My thoughts are that (a) things are not entirely as bad as this would suggest and (b) only some of it is the fault of university leaders and bureaucrats (although some of it undoubtedly is).  I believe there are systemic features of higher education which have led us to the current situation.

To focus in a little on the teaching and learning mission, one of the issues identified is whether we are being too instrumental and vocational in our approach to education.  In the promotional material for Richard Hil’s book on the web page he quotes an academic as suggesting we should think more about ‘peace, love, beauty, living sustainably, being an active citizen, getting along with your neighbours, building respectful relationships, becoming ethically and spiritually reflective, mindful, truly globally attuned with an altruistic rather than individualistic bent’.

Personally, I would fully endorse this set of aims and I don’t see a conflict between them and developing effective professionals.  On the contrary, in discussion with industry leaders they frequently complain that graduates are too vocationally focused and don’t have breadth of view.  (One energy company leader told me he really likes engineering graduates who can quote Shakespeare because it demonstrates they have a broader grasp of humanity, for example).  I am also of the view that events such as the Global Financial Crisis demonstrate the need for professions to take a wider moral view of their actions.

I don’t think I am alone in this. If you read anything about the history of universities, you will usually find the senior leadership embracing a broad view of education and encouraging inter-disciplinary studies.  And yet, most institutions get drawn towards discipline specialism and narrow technical focus.  Why is this?

One of the things that happens in the university system is that disciplines develop their own logic and power.  This is expressed in a structural sense by the desire of Schools or departments to protect their EFTSL streams and squeeze out other electives and in an individual sense by a desire for academics to teach their own speciality.  Both of these tend to lead to curriculum that is biased towards technical discipline content and therefore works against exposing students to breadth. This is a feature that has been actively managed in the history of CSU’s forerunners.  In Theo Barker’s history of Mitchell College he notes that a controversial restructure was partly to overcome Departments “… devising units that seemed likely to be popular and pushing them through the system onto the approved list … a Department presented a united front on such matters.  However, all Departments stood alone because each was indifferent to the woes of its rivals.”  As we have seen with the ERA process, there is also generally a higher value placed on abstract theoretical research and again this tends to drive academics towards pursuing speciality and theory.

Another issue is the systemic drivers of corporate finance.  Bill Massy, who was the Chief Financial Officer of Stanford University, gave a seminar a few years ago for the LH Martin Institute.  Part of what Bill presented was a mathematical proof that you can’t starve a not for profit organisation into following its mission.  This is because as money gets tighter, the organisation becomes more and more desperate to get its hands on discretionary income and hence behaves more like a for-profit corporation.

Of course, as long as people want to be paid to come to work, money is required.  I think that universities have probably always been somewhat guilty of chasing money (the reputation of vice-chancellors on this score has neither greatly improved nor worsened over the decades).  However, in response to the tightening of finances through the late 90s and early 2000s, I think Australian Higher Education did become a bit too focussed on finding ways to add to the bottom line without considering the fit to intellectual mission.  I don’t personally think there is necessarily a conflict between the profit motive and social good, but I do think we need to be clear about what our intellectual aims are.

For The Public Good

I will mention that we do talk about the mission and vision of CSU in a number of places, but nowhere do we any longer specify what they actually are.  ‘For The Public Good’ is of course the University’s motto, taken from Charles Sturt’s writings on his experience as an explorer.  Consistent with this, to borrow from The Castle, there is ‘the vibe’ about CSU of an institution committed to social good and its communities.  I therefore hope that what I’m going to lay out below chimes pretty well with what people are feeling.

From discussions at Vice-Chancellor’s Forum, I gather we have not managed to settle on an explicit mission for several reasons.  First, we are a very complex institution and therefore we have hit the usual problem on trying to formulate a mission, which is that everyone can object to something.  Second, I think we are conflicted about the notion of ‘regional’ as we are not sure whether this is a good thing to line up behind or not.  Third, there is the healthy scepticism about managerial nonsense and that we might end up with, to quote Scott Adams of Dilbert fame, “a long and complicated sentence which demonstrates management’s inability to think clearly”.

I will split it up with some thoughts on who we should think of as ‘the public’ and then subsequently on what we might mean by ‘the good’.

Who Are ‘The Public’?

So, first ‘the public’ and I believe this has to be the communities in our footprint in regional NSW.  I will start by saying I love the notion of regional.  I have lived in regional Australia ever since arriving in the country and I love these communities.  I have experienced regional Australia as friendly, vibrant, authentic and a place where people and their lives are important.  There is a wonderful sense of connection and community in regional Australia.

In Canada earlier this year I came across a wonderful quote from Greg Curnoe, a painter from Ontario in Canada who founded a school of painting called London Regionalism.  He said:

Provincialism is what people do when they live, as they think, ‘out there in the sticks’ and they try to imitate what they think is hip in the big centres.  Regionalism is simply what people do when they are at ease with themselves in their own environment.

Universities are a critical part of regional communities.  Some universities in the United States have begun to use the term ‘anchor institution’ to describe themselves.  An anchor institution is one that is a significant economic, social and cultural player in its region.  One of the tests is whether you would move your headquarters somewhere else.  In pressing people on our regional mission, this has been one of my litmus test questions and the answer is always ‘no, we would not’.  It is also worth noting that the CSU Act specifies that we should pay

…  particular regard to the needs and aspirations of the residents of western and south-western New South Wales

There has been a concern that embracing regionality might mean we put off students from metropolitan areas.  However, survey work conducted last year for the CSU branding exercise shows that students see us as “hard-working & practical; friendly & down-to-earth; environmentally minded; promotes individuality – no discrimination, equal chances”.  I would suggest that this perception matches perfectly the values of regional Australia and hence is true to our nature and appealing to those outside our region.  For a university that takes a serious interest in wine, I have suggested that there is an analogy there.  Wine is a product that is enjoyed globally but whose origins are an essential part of the reason for drinking it.  Likewise, we can attract students because of who we are, not just because of where we are.

The final point about regionality is the importance of engaging with Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous communities.   Indigenous people are a significant section of our home population and if we are to serve our community we must take educational achievement for Indigenous students seriously. Engaging with Indigenous knowledge provides cross-cultural competency (a critical skill in a globalised world) and also contributes to what Jack Manning-Bancroft, CEO of AIME, has described as a ‘richer sense of Australian identity’.

To build off that last point, to me regional and rural Australia is at the heart of the sense of Australian identity.  Many of the things that Australians are admired for abroad including friendliness, egalitarianism, honesty, directness, practicality and doggedness are in part founded on the history of engaging with the land.

Our intellectual agenda, including our approach to research, should therefore be based on the issues of our region.  A true university is one that is networked beyond its home region and therefore we should work with anyone in the world who shares our concerns.

What is ‘The Good’?

In relation to a university, which primarily affects what’s in people’s heads, my descriptors for this were:

  • ‘To lead a satisfying, fulfilling life and to strive for this for others’

or perhaps:

  • ‘Whole, wise, strong professionals in whole, wise, strong communities’

However, in reading the nominations we had made for Indigenous Elders’ awards, I was taken with a concept from Wiradjuri which is yindyamarra winhanga-nha, translated as ‘the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to “live well in a world worth living in”’.  I thought this was a lovely formulation and have asked the Elders if they wouldn’t mind if we borrowed it.

To map this into the kinds of people we are trying to foster in our communities, I would argue we need people who have the following qualities:

  • People who are excited by learning.   My belief is that the emotional kick from the ‘aha’ moments you experience through learning, scholarship and research is what keeps people interested in and committed to learning.  The desire to pass on this passion to students and the community is reflected in teaching, research supervision, publication and engagement.
  • People who have gumption.  I took this term from Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a long time ago.  Pirsig says “A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.” The Dictionary provided on Apple Macs defines gumption as “shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness”.  Both seem to me to fit well with what is required to make an employable graduate, an excellent professional, as well as the best of the spirit of bush practicality. I do recognise that, unfortunately, people now tend to associate gumption with a particular brand of bathroom cleaner.
  • People who appreciate the physical, spiritual and the intellectual. To have a healthy community, I believe you need to have a sense of a full human life.  This cannot be founded on intellectual pursuits alone.  Again, as a university with strong interests in areas such as agriculture, wine, theology and Indigenous knowledge we are well placed to engage in a broader sense of human understanding.
  • People comfortable with themselves.  To be comfortable in your own skin, it helps to understand your own cultural background and what has shaped you.  Getting an insight into others’ cultures and worldviews is a powerful way to look back upon yourself and develop this understanding.  As the poet Robbie Burns said, “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us!”
  • People committed to community.  In addition to the above, there also needs to be an explicit commitment to developing and maintaining community.  I think this fits well with interests like Policing and inter-faith dialogue, as well as covering disciplines like social work and journalism.

I think these attributes fit well with, but I think slightly expand on, the eight commitments in the CSU Degree Initiative.  Through the CSU Degree Principles we do have a commitment to including breadth in the curriculum and ensuring all graduates have exposure to Indigenous knowledge, sustainability, ethics and global citizenship and internationalisation.  I realise this is a significant task and is providing a lot of work for the Course Directors and Course Teams, but I believe it is important work.  However, we may need to have a look at better theming the initiatives we currently have around teaching and learning.


I was excited to come to CSU, and am excited to be here, because I think we are a very distinctive institution.  As noted above, we are an anchor institution for our communities, we have a very diverse and interesting academic profile with a holistic view of human life, we are focussed on education for the professions and knowledge with a practical outcome.  We are still a young and dynamic institution; part of the feedback I have been given by stakeholders is that we are an institution that is able to get things done.  Also, we are not too seduced by our own importance.

Early this year, James Haire, Director of our Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, talked to me about their work in inter-faith dialogue being about encouraging people to ‘bring their whole selves to the table’.  I really like the idea of a university that welcomes the whole person and to go back to the start of this, that seems to me to fit with the notion of an organisation with a soul.  I am very mindful of encouraging and nurturing that in my time as Vice-Chancellor.

So, I will look forward to continuing to discuss these ideas with the aim of pulling together a more explicit mission statement or narrative over the next month or two.

Follow-Up on Strategic Positioning

I wanted to thank everyone for commenting on the previous blog entry.  To pick out some of themes from this:


  • I think we do need to think about how we wish to define reputation and this underlies my initial post and a number of the comments.  I think the key point for us is that our definition of reputation may not be the same as that for other universities.  Sandra Harding at JCU often quoted Coleridge in saying that universities need to “create the taste by which they are to be relished”.
  • Our campus network, and our ability to use this well, is a real strength.  We do rely on the critical mass generated by distance and online students to maintain healthy disciplines though.  It’s not clear to me that we are in fact losing market share to other distance providers yet (in fact the lateset data from Planning and Audit would suggest we aren’t), but there is no room for complacency on this score.  I think there is significant challenge from marketing-led providers such as OUA and we need to think how we will respond.

Teaching and Learning:

  • An interesting observation regarding whether we value quality teaching and learning.  Coming in from outside, it certainly seems that we do and that we have well-developed mechanisms to support it.  In particular, the work that has been done around the Discipline Review and the Annual Course Performance Reports is really good and all those involved should give themselves a pat on the back.  I recognise that the shift to the 60/30/10 workload model has sent stronger signals around the value of research but that needn’t to my mind necessarily diminish the value of teaching.
  • As a sector, we need to be much more thoughtful about what delivers a good quality educational experience.  This is not to suggest that we haven’t done a lot of work on this already but one of the frustrations for the Government is that whilst we are prepared to say what we don’t like about suggested ‘quality’ measures, we do not necessarily have better suggestions.


  • I think we need to think both about what research we should be doing and how we want to approach that research.  As noted, in terms of the ‘what’ I would prefer to couch this in terms of service to our communities and this raises the question of what are the most important needs of our communities?  There is never complete clarity about boundaries to research areas because universities are supposed to be about encouraging freedom of inquiry and therefore you always want to leave some room for creativity.  In terms of the ‘how’ there were some useful discussions over the last week at the Research Centre Directors’ retreat.  It seems to me that the current policy settings are driving improvements but we did discuss the need for the strategic investments via Research Centres and the Faculty Compacts to be amplifying the peaks as well as lifting the general level.

Economic Rationalism:

  • Finally, good to have the challenge to business speak and economic rationalism.  I guess in my view these are a lens through which to view university operations, but not the only one. Personally, I find such language a convenient means to discuss the business aspects of a university and as long as we all want to be paid to attend, those need to be honoured.  Having said that, no commercial entity has yet (as far as I’m aware) evolved into a true university so economic rationalism will only get you so far.  In my view, that’s why it’s important to understand the intellectual contribution we want to make to our communities, Australia and the world, and the economics and business decisions need to be in support of that.  Markets do have seductive power, and one of my concerns is that we not follow where they might lead unthinkingly.
  • On that score, a useful challenge about the primacy of ‘marketisation’ and it prompted me to wonder what a better way to phrase the question around student experience might be.  Perhaps the question ought to be: “How should we be so that we delight, excite and ignite our staff and students?”

Strategic Positioning

As noted in the last post, I want to use this blog to facilitate a collegial and hopefully innovative process to establish a clearer sense of where and what we want CSU to be in the future, and later what we need to do to get there. This will also be important in enhancing our current University Strategy 2011-2015.  I’d like to kick the discussion off with some context and a few points from my own perspective.

First the external climate and our strategic positioning, in which I would highlight relevant external influences:

  1. Competition. Much has been made of the demand-driven system for students in encouraging competition in the sector, and it has.  However, I think it’s worth noting that in the previous system we still had competition, but it was damped down by the Federal Government controlling numbers so there was quite a bit of lag between changes in demand and response.  The ability to change load quickly has freed up the thinking of all universities and it seems many universities are getting more aggressive and also thinking more broadly about institutional strategy.
  2. Funding/resourcing. Both Labour and Coalition are firm that there will be no significant new money for higher education from the public purse.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  One is the general pressure on national budgets and the other is that most politicians believe there are few votes in higher education in the general sense.  It is a significant political issues within electorates, and particularly rural and regional electorates.  My view would be that whilst we have not had everything we wanted following the Bradley Review (such as a 10% lift in base funding), and we have had some things we didn’t want, we have done pretty well out of the current government.  Not least it should be pointed out that they have funded significant expansion of the sector.  I would not realistically expect $/EFTSL to increase from here or at least not without having to work harder for it.
  3. Online Learning Bubble. Online learning has suddenly exploded as an issue and apparently College Presidents in the US are talking about little else.  This is on the back of initiatives such as the Khan Academy, MITx and of course everyone in the developed world’s access to bandwidth and technology.  I think it highly possible that there will be a global investment bubble in this area.

To turn to how we ought to position ourselves in relation to this, I think it is fairly simple.

  • First we need to be, to borrow a phrase from Michael Hammer, Easy To Do Business With (ETDBW).  In other words, we need to have systems and processes that encourage students in, rather than drive them away.  This is the aim of our Student Experience Plan in the 2011-15 Strategy although I think we might wish to review whether we have everything covered there.
  • Second, we need to have attractive, distinctive courses that transform people’s lives.  Attractiveness is something we have always thought about in higher education – will anyone want to study courses if we offer them?  Distinctiveness we have paid a bit less attention to but in a crowded and competitive market I think we need to make sure we have a clear answer to why someone should want to come and study with us.  Transformation we have aspired to, but I’m not sure whether we have focussed on this enough either.  There has been a tendency to focus on technical content rather than the life change that happens through studying a program.  Initiatives such as capstone programs and practice-based education are good initiatives in this space.  Again, the Course Profile Plan in the 2011-15 Strategy is focussed on this space.
  • Third, we need to lift our perception of quality and also demonstrate intellectual leadership for our communities and the nation.  I do not believe a university’s reputation rests solely on its research performance but it is a critical factor and we do need to improve it.  The Research Plan in the 2011-15 Strategy covers this space and the Faculty Compacts are a significant investment to this end. I like the term intellectual leadership which I think gives a better sense not only of developing knowledge through research but also disseminating that knowledge to students and engaging in shared learning with industry and community.

So, we have a strategic plan that covers the bases, what else is there to do?  I see everything in our current strategy as relevant and necessary, but we will be faced with a large number of choices in a potentially turbulent and deregulated market.  In this context, from my perspective we are still lacking clarity about our overall mission, institutional story, or narrative as I have called it.  This is because we are a complicated and diverse institution.  We have great on-campus facilities and experience but we are the largest provider of DE in the country.  We pride ourselves on our regional engagement but we also teach a lot of metropolitan students.  We have science and theology and we have policing and arts.  We have communities that range from the truly inland such as Dubbo through to the Coastal such as Port Macquarie or Sydney.  We have variously described ourselves as a university for inland Australia, a university for the professions, a university devoted to its regions, the largest distance education provider in the country, a university devoted to partnership and so on.  We are all those things and more, but I think we can find a more powerful expression of what we are truly about.

Some of the foundation work has been carried out through the strategy development process over the years and some through the brand development work completed last year.  I do not think we need to overturn what has already been done or to start from scratch but I would like to facilitate a conversation around this so that with a new Vice-Chancellor and two new Deputy Vice-Chancellors coming we can be sure we are all on the same page and focussed.

At the end, I don’t think we will have something as simple as a tagline but nor will we have something as complicated as we currently provide when asked for our Mission.  I don’t think this is something that can be simply dictated by the Vice-Chancellor so I would like to facilitate some broad discussion in its development over the coming months.

I am keen to hear your comments in response to this and future posts (use the ‘Follow this Blog’ tool to the top right of this page and you will get email updates).  I would also like to explore using online tools to gather information.  We are using a site called All Our Ideas to gather thoughts in this space.  If you would like to take part, please add your votes and own ideas about the things that shape CSU’s distinctive place in Australian higher education on our ideas page at …

***  http://www.allourideas.org/csu ***

Looking forward to your ideas and contributions.

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:


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.


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.


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.