End of Year 2017

So here we are at the end of the year. With the completion of 22 graduation ceremonies across CSU this week, we will see out the academic year.

A couple of graduation photos from the recent ceremonies, first one of graduates from the Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage including Uncle Stan and Aunty Flo Grant

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and second one from the Port Macquarie graduation today featuring Policing graduates:

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2017 has proved to be a big year for the University with many great achievements as detailed in our 2017 EOYW_FINAL.  Not least it is great to see that on the recently released 2016 figures we are still leading in terms of undergraduate and postgraduate online load, as well as leading on Indigenous enrolments and completions.  We are also leading in terms of graduate employment outcomes.

Based on the strategic foresighting work we did in 2016, we have worked long and hard throughout the year to develop the detail of the strategic direction of the University. That has challenged us to be more market-oriented – to think about how well we are serving our students, our communities and our industries – in order to live up to our ethos. As a result of this work, we finish 2017 with a clear picture of our students so we can confidently progress the strategic plan.

We have also taken the opportunity in the second half of the year to strengthen change management at CSU.  This was picked up in feedback in the Your Voice survey and we are using the key strategy projects to develop our in-house change management framework. Through this we will support all managers to manage and communicate change better.

From discussions with staff across the University, it is clear that we have significant talent, intelligence and resources at CSU. I have every confidence that what we can work with and by our communities to deliver positive change and future-proof our regions.  We saw just a taste of what is to come in this space with the launch of the Royal Far West partnership earlier this month.

If you are a member of CSU staff, you can read more about where we are up to with the strategy in the documents from the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum here.

Our students have achieved great things this year, and helped to fill the trophy cabinet yet again. They have also raised funds for many great community organisations. This is testament not only to the focus and determination of our students, but also the support and culture we have built here at CSU.

I am immensely proud of our entire CSU community and the successes we have had this year in our teaching, research and administration. We have won awards for individuals who have excelled in teaching, celebrated the architectural brilliance of our facilities and stayed in the headlines with our research efforts.

I would like to note with great sadness that the CSU community also suffered the loss of many good friends and too many students this year with the passing of Wal Fife, Joe Schipp OAM, Richard Wise, Maddie Clarke, Alexandra Henderson, Emma Philip, Uncle Bill Allan Senior, Emeritus Professor Bruce Mansfield, and Professor David Biles OAM. I will be thinking of the friends and families of all of these great people over the Christmas period.

This week we have seen announcements regarding higher education in 2018 as part of the MYEFO headlines. While we don’t understand the full impact of these measures, we are seeing funding capped at 2017 levels. We will need to work to understand the impacts of this fully, but given this is in many ways worse than the reforms rejected by the Federal Senate, I would expect significant community backlash to this. Certainly, while it was unfortunately not unexpected, this has not been a great start to my Christmas! In the New Year we will ensure we continue lobbying for the higher education sector and are able retain essential funding for our regional students and our communities.

Next year we will also continue to focus on the priority areas highlighted in the Your Voice staff survey. Respect and recognition was one of these areas and I have released a What’s New message on that this week for staff. A renewed approach to ensure we have impact on cross-unit collaboration will be a joint effort from all members of staff in 2018 – so I invite you all to come up with innovative ways to work together and communicate the great work you are doing.

From a leadership perspective, and with the retirement of Professor Ken Dillon, we welcomed Jenny Roberts to the CSU family as DVC Students. Next year we will farewell Professor Julia Coyle and Professor Toni Downes.

2018 will, I am sure, be a big and exciting year. I am going to enjoy some down time over the Christmas and New Year period. After that, I am very much looking forward to the challenges and projects we will see developed as part of our strategic direction. I know that staff will continue to deliver for our students and our regions on a daily basis. I also hope that we can settle on an Enterprise Agreement soon, to support our employees through the next phase of the Charles Sturt University journey.

On a (hopefully) fun note, this year I have tried to merge my love of the humble banjo with a Christmas carol (and save my staff the embarrassment of live carolling on campus!). You can see the outcome of this in a video message here.

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I wish you all a peaceful, restful, safe and happy break and look forward to seeing you in 2018.

Andy

CSU Institutional Support for Marriage Equality

As is plain from the debate in the media, the issue of Marriage Equality has been a difficult one for us as a nation. Clearly there are many people in favour of Marriage Equality. I recognise that there are also many of those within our community who are opposed. There are a further category of people who feel uncomfortable about this issue because even if they are personally supportive or undecided, they are concerned about others being forced to deal with the question.

Speaking personally, the decision to support Marriage Equality is straightforward for me. I know many same-sex couples in long-term relationships, some of whom are parents. Personally, I cannot see how it can be right to deny them the opportunity to have their commitment to each other legally recognised by society. I have already ticked ‘yes’ on the ABS survey form.

But that is my personal decision. Unlike most people, as the Vice-Chancellor of this institution, I have additional responsibilities on behalf of the whole University community. In an organisation of nearly 5000 staff and 40,000 students, this is a more complicated decision to make while being respectful of the different positions I outlined above.

I have had representations from staff members individually, from the ALLY program members and from the Online Student Representative Council all of whom have asked me to pledge institutional support.

I have sought the advice of a number of people including my Leadership Team and the Chancellor. From this advice it is evident that ultimately, as with the broader society, there is not a unanimous and perhaps not even a consensus view on this. There are a good number of people who think the University should not take a position except to encourage people to participate in the national vote.

However, from my discussions and the representations that have been made to me, I do not believe we can sit on the fence. This would be celebrated by some and seen as an abdication of responsibility by others so it is not a neutral choice. Given the lack of clear consensus, it is also clear to me that this is a decision that ultimately I have to, and must, make myself in my role as Vice-Chancellor of the organisation.

I do not want to stifle debate. As a University, we should be a space in which difficult issues can be discussed. That is the academic mission of the University and I fully support that and the right of people to exercise free speech within it. As Vice-Chancellor I cannot tell anyone in the University what to think.

However, the University also exists as a corporate body, as an employer of staff and a community of students, and it is in that light that I consider the question of the institutional position. When I consider our key Value of ‘Inclusive’, I believe the right decision is that we should support Marriage Equality before the law and that is the decision I have taken.

As patron of CSU’s ALLY program, a program dedicated to supporting and empowering the LGBTQI+ community, I stand by the LBGTQI+ community and I cannot see how to do that without supporting Marriage Equality before the law.

To the numerous staff who have emailed me personally asking for organisational support, to the Online Student Representative Committee who called for me to make a stand on this issue, and to RivColl, the Riverina Student Representative Committee and your leadership who have taken a stand, the University stands with you in supporting the right of all to have equality before the law.

I have no doubt this decision will be met with criticism by some individuals, and I accept this. I can only do what I think is right and I know that I would regret it later if I do not do that. I also accept and celebrate everyone’s democratic right to take a position in the Marriage Equality debate and I encourage all of you who are entitled to vote to do so in line with your own views and conscience.

Given our Value of Inclusive, CSU is stronger together and we will accept and support all members of the CSU community and recognise their equality before the law. I trust that whatever the outcome of the vote and whatever process follows, we will retain respect for and continue to support each other.

Thank you for taking the time to engage in this important debate in Australia’s history.

Regards,

Andy

Support is available: If you need support or feel distressed during the same-sex marriage debate, please contact a Student Counsellor, the Employee Assistance Program or an ALLY trained representative on your Campus.

Professor Andrew Vann

Vice-Chancellor
Charles Sturt University

 

Higher Education Policy Reforms

As you may well have read or heard in the media, the Federal Government has released its long-awaited proposed higher education policy. While we are still analysing the package to determine what it means for CSU, I wanted to share some initial thoughts with you.

As Minister Birmingham indicated, this package has been designed to “spread the pain,” with students set to pay more, universities to receive less funding and the Government achieving smaller savings than it originally intended.  I think it has been quite cleverly constructed to do this, to address some long-standing issues as well as provide some sweeteners to go with the cuts.

One significant part of the package is the impact on students and graduates.  The ratio of student to Commonwealth payments for degrees will shift, with students to pay on average 46% (up from 42%) of the cost of their degree. This is probably not as bad as we had feared.  In addition, HECS-HELP repayment will now begin at $42,000 at 1% repayments which on the other hand is lower than we had expected.  Acknowledging these, I believe investment in higher education represents good value, particularly for a university like CSU which has very strong graduate employment outcomes.

Another significant part is the imposition of two 2.5% efficiency dividends on Commonwealth Supported Place (CSP) funding to the sector in 2018 and 2019 which the Department of Education estimates will overall have a 2.8% impact on CSU teaching and learning funding.

On the Minister’s figures, combining both measures, the Federal Government will achieve a cumulative saving of approximately 10% in expenditure which is less than their original intention of saving 20% of Commonwealth expenditure.

You will see the Government justifying these cuts by stating that universities have more money than they need to deliver teaching and learning.  This is based on a report commissioned from Deloitte which shows that Universities only spend about 85% of their funding on teaching and learning.  Previously, there has been an acceptance that teaching money supports somewhere between 15-30% research and community engagement.  If we accept this metric, universities are at best close to breakeven or actually underfunded by about 15% which is consistent with previous studies.

The Government also claims that the Deloitte study shows that university funding has risen faster than costs based when compared to previous findings of the Lomax-Smith Review (2011).  In my view, these two studies can’t be directly compared.  They were conducted using different samples and methodology so you can’t draw clear conclusions by comparing the two.

Overall, while the package is less severe than we feared, I of course do not welcome yet another round of cuts to university funding.  I am very concerned that these cuts will again challenge our mission of extending a university education to Australians who have previously been excluded from higher education.

Over recent years, we rightly sought to improve our efficiency, and best use the public money provided to us.  University staff have worked hard for this and should be proud of their achievements.

We will therefore be strongly communicating that further squeezing budgets can only have a negative impact on our ability to serve our regions.  As we all acknowledge, universities are a critical part of driving innovation and we need to help rural and regional Australia expand and grow our economy.

A portion of our funding, 7.5%, will now be contingent on reaching performance measures. In 2018 these relate to providing teaching and research data, as well as compliance with the new admissions transparency requirements. In 2019 however, we understand these measures may reference retention and employment outcomes amongst others. This will require extensive discussion with the Government to ensure it really does support universities to do better work.  I also note that one of the cuts that has already been applied to the sector is the removal of additional performance funding.

In positive news for the University, the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) will now be moved into the Higher Education Support Act (HESA) legislation, guaranteeing the fund moving forward. As we all know, HEPPP has played an important role assisting us to extend a university education across our communities, and I am pleased this wonderful work by many dedicated CSU staff may continue and have certainty.

Sub-bachelor degrees will now be part of the demand-driven system, as long as they meet industry needs, which is a great outcome. Likewise, the current clinical loading for medicine will be extended to dentistry and veterinary science programs. This will provide an additional $1394 per student. CSU has advocated strongly for this outcome, and we are pleased to see it included in the policy package.

Finally, we are still working to understand how a number of other measures will impact universities and CSU in particular. Postgraduate Commonwealth Supported Places will initially be cut and then be moved to be student-centred on merit, with the scholarship tied to the individual student and applicable at any institution. We will need to understand how ‘merit’ is defined to appreciate what this will mean for students – for example teachers in regional NSW studying Masters degrees.

The Federal Government is also to provide seed funding for eight new regional study hubs, based on the Geraldton and Cooma models where they support many students.  We have had experience with both of these so look forward to getting more details on this.

Lastly, a new Work Integrated Learning program is to be developed, with work experience able to be counted towards degree programs and with better support from Commonwealth funds.  CSU has a strong track record in work integrated learning, and if this helps to better support students on placement that would be a really good thing.

Obviously this is a significant package of policy measures and changes. We are committed to considering each fully, and advocating strongly to ensure the best results for our institution, staff and students.

You can see our initial media release and response here:

20170502 Higher Education Policy Media Release

As always, if you have any thoughts I am happy to hear from you.  I look forward to providing more detail and analysis as it becomes available.

2016 Close

The main graduation week is now done with only Port Macquarie to go, and that means it’s very close to the end of the year.  This has been a very big year for us and now we’re at the end of it, I think it’s important to reflect on the achievements of staff and students and their contributions to our communities.
I know that the transition to three faculties and the common support model has been challenging and that we are still bedding down some of the processes and practices.  I met with the Heads of School a few weeks back and they commented that having helped others through the change process they were now feeling it themselves.  As we have mentioned before, this has been one of the biggest change processes the university has done and I am very proud of the effort and commitment that staff have put into making it successful.  I do appreciate we still have a way to go on this.
Hopefully, staff have seen the videos and information to promote the revised values framework.  Built from our ethos of yindyamarra winhanganha, “the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in”, the four values of insightful, inclusive, impactful and inspiring seem to have resonated very well.  Given that they were created from consultative workshops with staff this is not surprising, but I have been pleased to see how people are using them to guide the thinking within the various areas of the university.  Many staff have been taking part in the Values Ambassador programs to help continue to spread them and I look forward to the continuation of that work in 2017.

As I mentioned, it has been a year of great achievement and perhaps sometimes it can be hard to see the big picture across the University from our individual areas. This year, we have put together just a small selection of statistics and facts about exactly what we have acheived this year. I would urge you all to take a look – it is a snapshot so it doesn’t have everything in there, but it is a very impressive reminder of the scale and achievements of staff and students in a very busy year:  2016 Achievements

At the last meeting of Council, the new Strategic Direction document for 2017-2022 was approved.  This has been built on the back of the strategic foresight exercise that was carried out, and the four possible scenarios for 2030 created as part of this were posted on Yammer.  The new strategy will be worked through, planned and explained in more detail next year, but the three big areas are engaging with our communities to help them build their future, transforming our learning and teaching and finally to underpin all of this, building our internal capability.

There is no doubt that the higher education sector is increasingly competitive and we can’t stand still.  Some of the new strategy will be a continuation of work done on the existing plan and some will be new.  I am ever mindful of the complaint that there are too many things happening and we have tried to make the new strategy structure as simple as possible while still hitting the major initiatives we need to pursue.  There will be devil in the detail as we work through it and we will have to make sure that we can resource and deliver the changes we are looking for.  There is significant budget protected for strategy and we have learned a lot through the Program Logic model being used for the current plans so I am confident that we can do this.  We expect that the strategy will be split into three two-year phases so that we have some shorter chunks of work to concentrate on.  I have just signed a renewed contract with the University Council for another five years and, given I don’t think you ought to keep a Vice-Chancellor for very much longer than 10 years, that should allow some transition time for the next incumbent.  But there’s a long way to go until we get to that.
Aside from beginning on the new strategy next year, we will also negotiate a new Enterprise Agreement, undertake an independent review of the three faculty common support model implementation, and will once again ask our staff how they are tracking in the Your Voice Survey.  Given the comments in the last Voice Survey around communication, we have tried some different approaches to communication this year.  I have done smaller more conversational roadshows focussed on particular work areas across the campuses (although the Faculty of Science ones  ended up being pretty big).  Toni Downes has done her regular communication around the Faculty changes.  We had the multi-media rollout of the new Values framework.  There have also been changes to the Staff web page in line with the overall revamp of the website.  The Staff Hub has been delayed a little because priority was put on the Online Course Brochures to assist with student recruitment.  The planning and pilot work has informed the Staff web page refresh and the new version is currently planned to go live in May.  Communication is something you can never do enough of, so we are always interested to hear ideas or feedback on what does and does not work.
As I mentioned at the start, we now have only Port Macquarie graduations to go to.  This year I wasn’t able to get to all campuses, sadly missing Dubbo and Orange, but in the last week I did officiate at ten ceremonies from Parramatta to Melbourne, Albury, Wagga Wagga and Bathurst.  It’s a huge week, but it is just wonderful to meet the graduating students and their families and be able to celebrate their success.  We had some amazing graduation (and graduate) speakers, and in a very emotional moment, Cheryl Honey accepted a posthumous Honorary Doctorate for her husband Geoff Honey who we tragically lost this year.  Geoff’s parents were also in attendance and it was fitting to be able to pay tribute to his work and life – he will continue to be greatly missed.
I want to thank you all for the work you have completed throughout 2016 and I wish you all a safe, happy and restful Christmas and New Year break.
See you in 2017!

Final Post for 2015

I’m writing this as graduations for 2015 draw to a close. It has been a big year in which a lot has happened, including a lot of change. I am very proud of the achievements of staff and students throughout this year and in particular of our staff for maintaining their focus on students while we have been going through the change process.

Graduations have been, once again, a wonderful occasion. I aim to get to at least one graduation from each Faculty and at least one at each campus and by the end will have been to every campus except Canberra. It is a very special day for the students and their families and, when there is the opportunity, it is great to hear a little of their story as they walk across the stage. I wanted to thank all the staff from across the University who have been involved in the graduations process and a particular thank you to academic staff for processing and being there for the students. For the first time we held a graduation ceremony in Port Macquarie where we congratulated about 130 graduates, some from Port but some who had also studied via distance and online education.

In research, on the last set of audited figures, which are for 2014, we increased both income and publications significantly against 2013. The Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) results, which were released earlier this month, also show that we have grown the number of areas of research rated at world class or above significantly from the previous round in 2012. We now have 16 compared to 9 in 2010. This is a testament to the great work produced by our researchers, the vast majority of it addressing issues in our communities. We also have our first ‘5’ rating, or well above world standard, for Horticulture which includes wine production.

I am looking forward to 2016. We are now almost at the end of appointing people to the new Common Support Model structures in the Faculties. Once again, I acknowledge that this has been a disruptive process for staff and I know that some staff members are still waiting on the outcomes of appointment processes. However, my sense from the staff roadshows conducted over the last couple of weeks is that people are turning their minds to the new structures and want to be sure that we get the best out of them. I would like to thank all staff involved in this as it has been a significant effort both for applicants and those making the selections.  As advised last week, we will cut over to the new structures in the middle of next year in between the two major sessions. Planning is underway at present for the training development to support staff moving into their new roles and details of this will be advised in the first few months of next year.

The Engineering and Law programs will commence at the start of next year, and student numbers for these programs are looking healthy. The new Port Macquarie Campus build will also be complete in February and is a great building which will be an excellent home for the students and staff there.

We have increased our marketing activity this year and while it is early days, this is showing promising signs for 2016 with numbers forecast to increase from 2015. It is clear that the whole sector has become a lot more competitive. Applications and offers are strongly up but we still need to be attentive to conversion to encourage students to choose us – this will, I think, be the new reality. However, at least on the current figures we appear to be adapting well.

I have mentioned in the staff roadshows that CSU has achieved some amazing things:

  • During 2013 we had the largest number of Indigenous students and completions in Australia. The 2014 figures have now been released and University of Newcastle have overtaken us again – we have 908 and they have 914 so it’s still pretty close.
  • We are the largest provider of postgraduate IT education in Australia.
  • We are the world’s largest provider of university education in law enforcement, counter-terrorism, emergency management, customs and border security studies.
  • Our 15 year partnerships with four Chinese universities are among some of the longest of any Australian university.
  • Our graduates continue to enjoy some of the highest employment rates in Australia.
  • The Veterinary Science School had commented that with a 97.1% teaching satisfaction rating in the UES survey (and an approximate 3% error bound), no-one in the country could be shown to have a better teaching rating in the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) indicators. This is indeed good and prompted us to go looking where the raw number placed overall. Vet Science is in the top 6% on this basis, but it turns out that CSU Occupational Therapy had the fourth highest ranking in the country out of 1000 university/subject area combinations. Unfortunately, the Occupational Therapy subject area has been removed from QILT so this isn’t easily visible, but it does show that we have some terrific ratings for our teaching.

Being Vice-Chancellor of CSU is an amazing and privileged role to have. To close off, I wanted to let people know that I am in the process of finalising a new contract with the University Council to extend for a further five years beyond the end of my current contract period, which runs to the end of 2016. I do hope and intend to be here until the end of 2021. CSU is making a real and positive difference in people’s lives and for its communities. To my mind, there is no better contribution to make than that.

I wish everyone a peaceful and safe Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

 

PS: At the end of February, we have entered a CSU team in the Royal Far West Ride fundraising ride for Country Kids.  Royal Far West have provided health services to rural and remote children for nearly 100 years.  We have been finding ways to collaborate with them as our missions are strongly aligned and we have had dental students placed at their Manly site.  The ride is 380km over three days from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour. I will be taking part along with Dr Tracey Green, Greg Linsdell and Johnathan Hewis from the Port Macquarie Campus (pictures taken at the graduation this week).  They are all very much fitter than me and what seemed like a good idea a few months back is now coming round at a rapid pace.  If anyone would be generous enough to support the team, the fundraising page is at http://rideforcountrykids2016.gofundraise.com.au/page/CSU-Ride4CountryKids

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May Update

Now at the end of May and way past time for another blog post. There has been a lot happening over the last couple of months.

What Are Universities For?

There were two events in Canberra in the same week at the beginning of March. The first was a British Council Global Education Dialogue on ‘Catapults to Commercialisation – How Can Universities Use Their Research More Effectively’. At this, UK universities shared their experience of research commercialisation and engagement. It was interesting to me to see how far university thinking in the UK has come. From memory, universities had to be steered and bribed by the government into taking industry engagement seriously but have now embraced it as well as the benefits. One comment, in relation to managing the academic enterprise as being like herding cats, was that you need to move the food bowl. This is on the basis that academia is a prestige, rather than a financial, economy and academics respond strongly to prestige indicators.

The second event was the Universities Australia conference. The conference was interesting in that there were much stronger themes around industry engagement and social outcomes and less discussion on how we push Australian universities up the global research rankings. To my mind, all of this was good.

The opening address of the conference was from Michael Crow who is the President of Arizona State University (ASU). A charismatic and compelling speaker, he spoke about the approach they have taken at ASU to the ‘New American University’. He had a nice metaphor of conventional notions of university esteem being based on a “metal railroad of status” which require universities in front of you to pull over into a siding before you can improve your own position. From his standpoint this means defining universities in terms of who they keep out rather than who they include. He argues that for ASU it was much better to take a different route and they have sought to increase access and define themselves by who they include and by how well they work with industry. They have carved a distinctive niche for themselves and have made significant improvements in retention.

ASU’s approach to strategic planning and student focus were influential when we reviewed the CSU strategy in 2012. I visited ASU last January and know that using residences and socialising students well was a key part of their strategy. They also have an excellent at-risk monitoring system for their students which allows them to target support quite carefully. I know that Michael’s talk resonated with a lot of people, and many regional universities in particular felt that he spoke to the sense of mission that they share. I think it struck a chord generally with the concerns that universities may have begun to lose sight of their purpose and I suspect that we will see a lot more debate about if not a ‘New Australian University’, at least a renewed idea of the Australian university. Not before time in my view and I have already heard a number of Vice-Chancellors referring to Michael Crow’s vision in describing their own institutions.

Also at the conference, the Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, spoke and amongst his observations pointed out that there is a significant mismatch between the profile of the research done in Australian universities and that of the economy. Going back to the issue of higher education being a prestige economy, we do need to find ways to celebrate success in more than just international journal publications. Last year, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) proposed an Impact and Engagement for Australia index to complement the Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) exercise and the Australian Technology Network of universities also commissioned research on the impact trial in the ERA in 2011 as well as a report on how to improve the relationship between universities and industry which encourages current government initiatives like the Industry Growth Centres.

Talloires Network, Engagement and Global Rankings

Thanks to a suggestion from Jan Reid AC, formerly Vice-Chancellor at University of Western Sydney, I have been elected to the Steering Committee of the Talloires Network of universities dedicated to Civic Engagement. CSU has not previously been a member of this but we are in the process of joining. The Leaders Conference held in December 2014 in South Africa noted the tension between community engagement and the agenda that is being driven by research-focussed global rankings schemes.

I have noted in some of my commentary on the fee deregulation issue that I do not know what tangible outcomes arise from having a certain number of universities in the Top 100 or Top 50 of any of the rankings schemes. I also think that we seem to be placing far too much reliance on rankings, both in terms of their accuracy and in terms of what they represent. For example, in the Time Higher Education (THE) Rankings, University of Melbourne has been the top ranked University appearing between 2011 to 2015 at 45, 43, 39, 43 and 41. Now, universities are reasonably slow to change and the THE rankings are based significantly on reputation surveys so it’s not as if we are dealing with a precise scientific measurement. However, in some of the press commentary there was a bemoaning of the drop of Australian universities from 2013-14 and a celebration of the increase from 2014-15. It would seem much more likely to me that the rankings are only accurate to +/- 10% and we probably should be thinking about much longer-term trends. On top of that, in the particular case of the THE Rankings, the assessment of teaching quality is based on staff-student ratios. This is a meaningless and unhelpful measure of teaching quality in my view. For all of these reasons, we have decided not take part in the THE Rankings for now at least.

Federal Reforms and Federal Budget

In March we also saw Minister Pyne’s deregulation reforms defeated for a second time in the Senate. It is really not clear where the government will go from here although the Minister has said he will re-introduce the reform package again. The Government is sticking to the line that the reforms will pass, although I can find few people who believe this. Of course, keeping the reforms as proposed legislation allows the Government to count the savings they have proposed which includes the 20% cut to Commonwealth Support for Universities and this is part of their explanation as to how they will reduce the size of the deficit.

We have just had the 2015 Budget announcements and one of them is that the money to pay for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme will come from the Sustainable Research Excellence Fund (SRE). This is in fact a cut of future increased funds so the SRE money will not reduce, but it will not increase as fast as was planned. The SRE funds were to help support the indirect costs of research based on the Bradley and Lomax-Smith reviews which identified that universities were underfunded. Once again, when budgets get tight, government have little compunction about raiding university funding.

The Government also announced that the Office for Learning and Teaching would be abolished and its functions put out for tender to universities. I think this is a shame. The Australian Learning and Teaching Council was an independent national body through which academics could demonstrate that their work in teaching and learning was achieving national and international prominence. Moving this under the wing of the Department of Education as the Office for Learning and Teaching diminished this and spreading it across universities will diminish it further. Going back to the idea of higher education being a prestige economy, it is important that academics are able to claim appropriate kudos for their work.  I think the sector will need to ensure that we create structures which achieve the equivalent effect.

Vice-Chancellors and Chancellors Visit to Wagga Wagga

On 18th and 19th May we welcomed the Universities Australia Plenary meeting of Vice-Chancellors and the University Chancellors’ Committee meetings to the Wagga Wagga campus.  The Mayor, Rod Kendall, hosted a civic welcome at the Wagga Art Gallery.  Since Rod didn’t use it, I pinched one of his lines to say that Wagga is the centre of the universe because it’s halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, halfway between Auckland and Perth, and halfway between New York and London – if you fly the right way. I also reminded visitors that Wagga can also claim a critical cultural contribution as the (admittedly fictional) birthplace of Dame Edna Everage and the little known fact that the Eurythmics started in a Wagga hotel.

The visit was a great opportunity to showcase the facilities at Wagga including the National Life Sciences Hub, the Veterinary Clinic and Equine Facilities and the Animation Laboratories.  From the feedback we got people really enjoyed it.  For the visitors, the end was marred slightly by an enormous thunderstorm but the locals were just glad of the rain.

February Update

So, getting towards the end of February and time for another blog update.

Welcome to New Students

This week we have ‘O’ week and get to welcome a new crop of students to the University.  I met the new students in residences at a welcome ceremony on Saturday.  One particularly nice aspect was to meet a pair of our alumni who are Mitchell College graduates and married after meeting here.  Their daughter is now starting to study with us so we hope it continues on through the generations.

Federal Reform Process

I thought I’d start with where the Government’s higher education reform proposals are up to.  It is a little hard to tell but, despite Minister Pyne’s dedication, it looks pretty unlikely that the reform package will get through in anything like its current form.  I’m basing this on what I can tell coming out of Canberra and the public statements of cross-benchers.  Many people will heave a sigh of relief about this, but I seriously doubt that it means we will simply continue with the status quo.  The Minister has indicated that funding for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme and Future Fellows is in doubt and it is not clear whether the government has a Plan B.  It is also not clear what policies the Labor party is intending to advance.  I hope that we will get some clarity about this in the not too distant future so that we can plan with some certainty and provide advice to students.

Service Improvement Project

We have been looking at ways of finding efficiency within our operations and this has been split into two streams.  One of these is looking at how we organise administrative support across the Faculties and the Divisions.  In this, we really need structures which allow us to concentrate on improving our service to students and academics.  This work will continue through the year.  The second stream looked at a number of services which other universities have outsourced and has tested whether external providers could deliver them more cost-effectively.  Staff were advised on Friday about the outcomes of this.  I am pleased that, for the most part, we are delivering services at a cost that matches or betters external providers.  I also want to thank staff who identified additional efficiencies through the process that will provide significant savings, all of which help to balance the budget and reinvest in academic outcomes.

Strategy Reload

As mentioned in the last post, we are finalising the sub-plans in the 2015-16 Strategy document.  Members of the Senior Executive are working to ensure that we understand all the cross-linkages between the plans.  These documents will be the structure in which our activities are conducted, and budget is allocated over the next two years.  These are the critical priorities we need to attend to if we are to be successful.  Once the plans are completed, we will move on to look at critical measures associated with the plans so we can monitor our success.

Wellness and Wellbeing Expo

Coming up over the next month or so is the Charles Sturt University Wellness and Wellbeing Expo.  The health of staff and students is really important to us and there is lots of information and stalls to help people think about how to pursue a healthy lifestyle.  I attended the Bathurst expo last year and met a range of really interesting people – I would encourage everyone to go along.