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.

 

October Round Up

Service Improvement Program and Faculty Restructure

Over recent months we have been focusing on the change processes surrounding the Service Improvement Program and more recently the Faculty restructure. Change is never easy and there have been a range of comments on the process ranging from it not having happened fast enough, to there not having been enough time for consultation. Clearly, there have also been objections to the nature of the change as well as the process.

As I have stressed in presentations to the University community, while the proposals were crafted as carefully as possible before being released, the consultation process was genuine. We expected that the proposals would be improved by feedback received and in my view this is what has been achieved. In particular, the issues raised around support for research students in the Faculty structures have a lot of merit and the DVCs Academic, Professor Toni Downes and Acting DVC RDI Professor Mary Kelly have been working on proposals to address these concerns. I am also confident that we will have a set of good options for a three Faculty structure to be considered by Academic Senate at the end of October.

The higher education sector is now very much more competitive and we need to ensure we can deliver reliable and consistent service to students. This is what we need to get out of the restructure and we will work through this as rapidly as possible so that we can give certainty to staff, bed down the change and be able to concentrate on our teaching, research and engagement.

Updates to CSU staff on the process will be issued over the next few days.

International Comparisons and Global Rankings

Over the last few months I have attended a number of international conferences and events. These were the World Association of Cooperative Education Conference in Japan, an invited presentation to the South African Regional Universities Association Leadership Dialogue in Cape Town and the Talloires Network Steering Committee in New York.

There are several key messages out of these meetings.

  • Universities around the world are facing the same set of issues. In all countries, there is recognition that a well-educated workforce is critical to delivering economic productivity, good health outcomes and reforming the economy to meet environmental sustainability imperatives.
  • Online education is having a profound impact on pedagogy in all universities. Even if some universities have engaged little in this space, they are taking a very active interest now.
  • As access to higher education has expanded there is an international dialogue about the quality of education and research, and what funding models are required to allow universities to effectively meet social needs.
  • There is concern over whether universities are focused on their own selfish interests or are actually devoted to improving their societies and economies.
  • There is also concern about the place of global rankings systems in this and whether they are driving good outcomes. As noted in the previous blog post, the Talloires Network Call to Action in 2014 challenged the rankings providers to consider community engagement as part of their schema and Times Higher Education is considering how this might be done so hopefully we can see some progress on this front.
  • There is a lot of interest in Australia as a country. This is based on our long tradition of excellence in work integrated learning and distance education (and CSU is seen as a leader and exemplar in this). Other countries are also interested in the higher education policy settings in Australia. The HECS HELP income contingent loan scheme is widely regarded as world leading and of course people are interested in how the demand-driven system has played out and the Government’s fee deregulation proposals.

Out of all this, I continue to believe that CSU is extraordinarily well positioned to succeed over the coming decades. We have expertise and a track record in delivering the very things that governments and communities are asking for – expanded access, educational value-add and deep engagement with communities and industries.

The good news

As it’s been a while since the last blog post, I did want to note that CSU is once again the successful tenderer for the NSW Police Force education contract. This is for a further 5+5 years and means that all new NSW Police Officers will continue to graduate with a CSU Associate Degree in Policing Practice. This maintains CSU’s significant strength in policing and security education where we are one of the world’s largest providers.

Recently, the Centre for Customs and Excise Studies also achieved accreditation from the World Customs Organization, these are the only English language programs to be accredited by WCO.

Last week we received the news that we have accreditation for our new Law program which will be commencing in 2016. Along with Engineering, which will also commence next year, these programs are designed to be flexible and allow students to mix work and study. Both are aimed to be innovative, distinctive and to fill workforce needs in regional Australia. However, the programs will also skill graduates to be successful nationally and internationally. I would like to thank the teams involved in both programs for the enormous amount of work involved in their development.

Deregulation and Policy update

Last week the Minister for Education, the Hon Simon Birmingham announced that the Government will, at least for now, withdraw their legislation to cut government support to universities and deregulate fees and that this will not be reintroduced until after the election. Since it is far too late for the legislation to be implemented for 2016 in any case, this is very welcome news.

Federal Labor have also announced their policy structure for higher education which would guarantee per student funding and maintain the demand-driven system. The Minister for Education has announced that he will engage in consultation with the sector about policy futures.

This week, Universities Australia also released a policy blueprint for Higher Education.  This argues for investment in higher education and research for the future welfare of the nation.

I hope this will now be a chance to have a better debate about the future of the sector and how we can arrive at funding policy that will deliver the education, research and engagement that the country needs. We will be arguing strongly for the needs of regional communities and students over the months to come.

Student Numbers

While the higher education sector continues to be intensely competitive, we expect to finish the year around 2% up on 2014 student numbers. This is a testament to the work that has been done by staff across the University to promote CSU and its courses to students. However, projections still show load plateauing in subsequent years and hence the need to continue to focus on converting offers to acceptances in line with the strategic direction of the University to ensure a sustainable future. In any case, the success in the mid-year round is an encouraging sign for the future and 2016 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the University and its students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Wishes

This post finds us at the end of a very busy, but also very productive, 2013.  We have made progress on all the areas in the Charles Sturt University 2013-15 Strategy and I think we can face the future with confidence.  It has been pleasing to see that so far the new Federal Government has announced no further major changes to the higher education system, although we wait to see what will flow from the review of the demand driven system and from the Commission of Audit of government finances more generally.

2014 will see the continuation of work against the strategy.  In particular, the Smart Learning project will get into more detailed work with Early Adoption courses.  This will allow us to pilot the approach, learn from that experience and hence refine the later and broader work.

We will also continue to work with the Your Voice Survey results.  Human Resources have been assisting areas to understand what the results mean and how we might move forward. Senior Executive Committee have also been considering our communication mechanisms at the whole of university level and will be working next year to see how we can optimise these.  This is critical work if we are to live up to the vision in our Strategy and our values of being an institution that has soul and that values and respects the contributions of staff and students.

Last week we had graduation ceremonies across our campuses.  Including the Police Attestation Parade in Goulburn, I attended these across six campuses.  As our Deputy Chancellor, Kathryn Pitkin, was unfortunately ill I officiated at ceremonies in Dubbo, Orange and Bathurst.  I enjoyed all of these, and it is enormously satisfying to meet our graduates and to learn a little of what they are going on to do after completing their courses.  More than anything I shared the joy on the faces of the graduates as they marked the completion of their courses and the pride on the faces of family and friends attending the ceremonies.

On a particular note, at the Wagga Wagga graduation ceremony we awarded an Honorary Doctorate to Mr Stan Grant AM for his contribution to our communities and the Wiradjuri language in particular.  I got a pronunciation lesson from him on ‘yindyamarra winhanga-nha’ (the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in) and now feel more confident that I am not doing too much damage to the Wiradjuri language in attempting to say it.

Last and not least, it falls to me to wish you all a happy, safe and peaceful Christmas and New Year.  We are grateful for the contributions of staff and students to the university and for the support of all our communities and stakeholders.  I hope that you all enjoy time with your family and friends, that your mental and physical batteries recharge and that you return refreshed, confident and ready to dance into 2014.

September Update

Enterprise Agreement

I thought I should start this blog with some comment on the recent Enterprise Agreement ballot.  I was very pleased with the level of staff participation in this ballot and of course that a majority voted to endorse this agreement.  As noted in communications to staff, I think that the pay increase of 11.9% across four years and the other changes represent a good compromise deal for the University and its staff in difficult financial circumstances following the cuts announced by the previous government.

‘Your Voice’ Survey

I also wanted to comment on the Your Voice Staff Survey.  Again, we had a really good response rate (about 80%) which I am very pleased about because it means we can be sure the results are a good indication of the mood of the institution.  An overview of the results can be found at the Your Voice Survey website.

Overall, the key indices we have chosen to measure our performance, the Passion and Progress indices, have improved by 3% against the 2010 survey.  This is good, but there are mixed aspects within the survey.  I’ll start with the not-so-positive aspects and then move to the better news.

One thing that is troubling is that some particular areas were rated worse than the last survey in 2010.  These included prevention of bullying, encouragement for evaluation of teaching, encouragement for collaborative research and commitment to ongoing training and development. On average, more than 50% of staff rated each of these positively but nonetheless it is cause for concern that the scores have declined.  There are variations in response across the University and we will need to work further to understand what has happened here, and what can be done to address it.

A second set of concerns is the areas that are rated least positively on average. These include good communication, change management, learning from mistakes, career planning, workload and consultation.  However, each of these has improved since the 2010 survey and they are now within a percent or two of the average for all universities.  Workload in particular was rated 9% more positively than 2010.  However, it has to be said that universities do much worse on most of these than the average of all industries so there is no room for complacency.

On the positive side, there were significant improvements in perceptions of the way CSU is run, buildings, grounds and facilities, environmental responsibility, support for teaching, research and community engagement.  We are at, or ahead of, the sector on all these and well ahead on environmental responsibility; 14% better than the average of other universities and 18% better than the average of all other industries.  It is interesting that the rating for satisfaction with income is 9% better than 2010, 7% better than the average of other universities and 10% better than the average of all industries.

The most positively rated aspects were role clarity, belief in the overall purpose of CSU, job satisfaction, mission and values and organisational commitment.  Again, these were improved from 2010 and ahead of the universities average, and significantly ahead of the all industry average.

So, what to make of all this?  People who work in universities love their work and are strongly committed to it from a values perspective.  However, they don’t think we communicate internally or manage change very well and they feel overworked.

I want to assure everyone within the University that I, and the Senior Executive, take the opinion survey very seriously. We will not be able to fix everything all at once and we do need to prioritise.  We have a process in place to work through the results right across the University.  The themes identified above will need to be priorities and there will be particular issues in particular areas.  The Division of HR is working through the results of the survey with all areas in the organisation and I look forward to working with you all to implement the outcomes from this.

The New Government

Obviously, we now have a new Federal Government which was elected with a significant majority. It is very pleasing that three of the representatives who have been particular friends to CSU and to regional higher education – Senator Fiona Nash, Michael McCormack and Sussan Ley have senior roles within the new government.  We congratulate them on this and very much look forward to working with them in their new capacity.

There has been recent media speculation about comments by Christopher Pyne, the Education Minister.  In my view, the Minister’s comments were largely a restatement of his views made clear before the election and I think there was little that was surprising.  Also I think that commentators have read more into the comments than was warranted.  Both Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne were at pains before the election to point out that they would take a considered and consultative approach to higher education changes.  Christopher Pyne is also on record as saying that they do not propose to reintroduce caps.

The suggestion of scrapping the Student Services and Amenities Fee is disappointing but predictable given the Liberal Party’s objection to its introduction.  The Prime Minister has played down suggestion that this will be a short-term priority for the Government.  However, if it were to happen it does have the potential to have a significant impact on our services to students and we will be lobbying to ensure the government understands this.  Once again, it has been pleasing to see many people, including Michael McCormack, coming to the defence of the SSAF in the media.

University Strategy

I have been making presentations across the campuses on the University Strategy – disrupted somewhat by acquiring the unpleasant cold virus that circulated in NSW this winter.  There are still a couple of sessions to go but, for those unable to attend, a recording of the second session at Wagga Wagga is available here.  I am also looking to organise a session via Adobe Connect for anyone who missed the earlier sessions or was unable to attend.

As you will recall, we finalised the top-level Strategy at the start of the year.  We have been working to finalise the sub-plans which specify in more detail what will happen in each of the 12 areas.  These plans are now close to finalisation and are being shared at the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum (VCF) this week.  Some of these have been out for consultation across the University already but they will all be shared more widely after VCF.

Online Learning

I mention this in the Strategy presentations but interest in the online space continues.  Whilst this is territory that universities such as those in the Group of Eight are now trying to claim as their own, it is an area in which we have deep capability and long experience.  Having worked at two universities which have strong capability in online and distance learning, I do not think it is so simple to rethink pedagogy to work in this way.  Therefore I do not believe that existing distance providers, or regional universities generally, will be swept away by Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) offered by universities that have not been in this space before.  I suspect there will be a bubble in this which will burst in due course.  I think we have a sound strategy to continue our growth and dominance in this area, including the appointment of new staff as mentioned below.

Smart Learning

The Smart Learning project, led by Professor Alan Bain, is now well underway.  This is a very significant project for us and will run over the course of five years.  The project provides a thoughtful, systematic, supported, documented approach to curriculum design.  I think that as higher education teaching and learning has become more thoughtful and professional we have missed approaches of this kind.  It will mean a significant change to the way we design curriculum but one that I believe is critical if we are to meet internal and external requirements for demonstrating the quality of what we do.  The project has a long time line and is starting with a set of pilot courses in each faculty.  We will, I am sure, learn a lot along the way.  However,  as far as I can tell, we are leading the sector with this project so I think this is a very important part of achieving our ambition to be seen to be at the forefront of educational innovation.

New Appointments

Finally, I want to welcome two new senior appointments.  Professor Heather Cavanagh has been appointed to the position of Pro-Vice Chancellor International Education and Partnerships after acting in the role earlier in the year.  Heather is a long-standing staff member at CSU having joined us in 1998 and having previously held roles as Acting Executive Dean (Faculty of Science) and Sub-Dean International (Faculty of Science).  This is an important role to achieve the objectives in the internationalisation section of our Strategy.

Professor Sandra Wills has been appointed to the role of Pro-Vice Chancellor Student Learning which she will take up in November. Professor Wills is currently Executive Director, Learning and Teaching, at the University of Wollongong and has a very strong background and international reputation in educational technology.  This is also a critical appointment for us in ensuring we retain our position as the leader in distance and online education.

May Update

Higher Education Funding Cuts

I had intended to write another blog post sooner than this but the government’s announcement of cuts to the higher education budget consumed quite a bit of oxygen over the last few weeks.  To reiterate the message I sent to all CSU staff in an e-mail, while these are serious cuts and will cause pain they are not large enough to threaten our viability nor to divert us from our strategy.  As a reminder the impact on our income will be $6.5m per year from 2015 onwards and we will need to find ways to fill this hole.  Also a reminder that it comes on top of previous cuts in last year’s Mid-Year Funding Adjustments.  At this stage we expect some of this to be met through general budget restraint, some through targetted efficiency measures and some through increased revenue.  Needless to say it is also going to put pressure on our ability to provide wage increases.  I think it is very important that politicians from all sides are reminded that voters understand the importance of universities and I would encourage anyone who does to complete the online petition at the Smartest Investment Website.

‘Your Voice’ Staff Survey

For CSU staff the most important message at the moment is about the Your Voice Survey.  This is the fourth time that we have run the survey, the previous occasions being in 2003, 2006 and 2010.  From previous experience, the detailed results will provide a rich picture of how staff are feeling across the university.  At the summary level two combined indices, the Passion/Engagement Index and the Progress Index are used as Key Performance Indicator for Council to assess the performance of the university and myself as Vice-Chancellor.  The first of these is a composite of job satisfaction, organisational commitment and intention to stay and the second is a composite of change and innovation, customer satisfaction and organisational objectives.  Whilst I don’t doubt there will be things we will need to attend to I am very much looking forward to seeing the results of this survey and encourage all CSU staff to fill it in.

NSW Teacher Reforms ‘Great Teaching, Inspired Learning’

Another potentially painful impact is the NSW Government’s ‘Great Teaching Inspired Learning’ (GTIL) Blueprint.  The plan to reform teacher education in NSW has many very positive points, not least professional development support for teachers once they are in practice.  An area of concern for us is in relation to entry standards into teaching degrees.  The key issue is really the proposal to require three Band 5 results for direct entry into teacher education.  Not too many regional students who currently apply for teacher education achieve this.  We know that regional students tend to perform relatively less well in the HSC and we are concerned that it might disadvantage regional and rural students as well as creating workforce supply problems in the future.

We are still working through the implications of this but it does have the potential to affect CSU students and education courses significantly. One possibility is that students might be diverted through a double degree to give them time to develop equivalent achievement levels.  This might in fact require little additional time so may prove to be a good solution for both students and communities.  The GTIL Blueprint does flag that there may need to be additional access routes for regional and Indigenous students so this may be the solution and we will continue to work with the State Government on this.

CSU Financial Results for 2012

CSU’s Annual Accounts for 2012 have been audited and submitted to State Parliament.  These were completed a week early and credit is due to Executive Director Finance Paul Dowler and the team in Finance for achieving this.  One of the key indicators of financial health is the surplus reported through these accounts. The normal target for not-for-profit organisations is to aim for a surplus of between 3 and 5%. Without this you are in fact starting to run the organisation down because you will be unable to maintain funds to invest in replacement of buildings and infrastructure.  Also you will lack a buffer against unexpected expenses or drops in revenue.  Our target is to aim for a surplus of over 3%.  The surplus figure also needs a bit of unpicking because the accounting standards mean that there are some distortions in the ‘headline’ surplus.  First, we are required to include capital money received from the government, which is spent directly on infrastructure, as revenue.  However, the expenditure is recorded as an increase in asset values on the university’s balance sheet and therefore does not appear as expenditure.  This distorts the bottom line and gives an inflated indication of financial health.  Revaluation of our investments is also included and there has been quite a bit of volatility in this following the Global Financial Crisis.  In 2012, the headline surplus was $22.9m but the adjusted surplus was about half this at $11.6m or 2.65%.  This is below our target range and is a function of the fact that our student load has started to level off from a peak of commencements in 2010.  This explanation is important because we are not starting from a position where we can simply absorb the Federal Government cuts.

Practice-Based Education Summit

I wanted to talk a little about the Practice-Based Education Summit organised by EFPI.  This fortunately aligned with other engagements I had in Sydney which meant that I was able to attend the majority of it.  I really enjoyed this summit and found a lot of parallels between the research discussed and the writing that I have been doing about organisational soul and leadership.  I also gave the first poster presentation of my career having managed to somehow avoid this early in my academic life.  The most important lesson I learned from this was to ignore the conference organisers when they tell you to print at A3.  However, it also led to useful discussions with a number of the participants for which I thank them.

CSU Ontario

University Council endorsed a revised business plan for the Ontario campus earlier this year.  We plan to expand on the ground numbers at the campus as well as using it as a base for increasing our distance load in Canada.  I visited our Ontario Campus in Canada at the end of April and had very good discussions with stakeholders and the Provincial Government about our future.  It was interesting to see that as national and provincial budgets tighten, Canadian governments are also cutting back funding to higher education.  Canadian institutions are now looking very much harder at international students and this will increase competition for Australian university student recruitment.

Welcome to Tim Wess, Executive Dean Science

I would like to close by welcoming Professor Tim Wess, our new Executive Dean of Science to the University.  Tim comes to us from University of Cardiff in the UK and we are very much looking forward to working with him.  Tim will be based at the Wagga Wagga campus but will be getting around to other campuses in the usual CSU way.

Strategy Launch

If you are a staff member of CSU and reading this, about now a copy of the revised University Strategy will be landing on your desk. We have also made a video to promote the strategy which you can view here. I expect (and hope) that there will be another round of interest in the document as it reaches everyone and there were therefore a few things I wanted to emphasise.

First, this document is intended primarily for the internal audience. Many strategic plans appear to be written mainly as marketing tools and therefore spend a lot more time painting the organisation in the best possible light than focussing on what needs to be done. We have tried to strike a different balance with the CSU 2013-15 strategy. Whilst it is certainly intended to be read by external stakeholders it is not, for example, the main way we would promote ourselves to students.

Second, I wanted to remind everyone that we intended to come up with a distinctive and authentic plan. Therefore the narrative section on Page 2 reads in a different style to the conventional corporate speak, or at least I hope it does. As mentioned in the development process, I think a good strategy document should require a bit of chewing and digestion so I hope that it will prompt people to think deeply about the type of university we aspire to be and what we aim to do for our communities, our students and ourselves.

The third page is intended to be the ‘to-do’ list of things that need to be resolved if we are to succeed. This is broken up into eight strategic priorities and four strategic enablers and each of them has objectives and measures. Work is being carried out at present by members of the Senior Executive to develop appropriate detail around these. For some of them, such as sustainability, we have well-developed plans already which need bringing up to date. For others, such as the Courses and Campuses area, there will need to be a new sub-plan written.

Third, we have measures associated with the overall plan and each of the sub-plans. Those on the second page will be used by Council to assess the university’s performance and my performance as Vice-Chancellor. Those associated with the sub-plans on the third page will be used for a more detailed assessment of our performance and that of the Senior Executive team. In turn, we will cascade this down through the Executive Deans and Divisional Executive Directors. In this way we should all have a common view on to what we are trying to achieve and how well we are doing.

Finally, I think this will be an interesting year, particularly given the expected political changes at the national level. I think it is important that an organisation knows what it wants to achieve and is not blown wherever the winds of government policy might take it. I am pleased that we have set out what we are trying to do, for whom and why and, to extend the sailing metaphor, this will be a good compass for us as we track through the next few years.

Look forward to further discussions.

Welcome Back or Welcome to 2013

A belated welcome back everyone to what should be a very interesting 2013.  Also welcome to new staff members including a few new Heads of School and, later in the year, a new Executive Dean of Science.  I hope that you had the opportunity for some downtime over the break, although I know some have been teaching in the summer semester and others (such as Sue Thomas who was Acting V-C) have deferred leave until now.  I have to confess that I’ve been back for over a month now but I had a wonderful couple of weeks off over Christmas and feel that batteries and synapses are refreshed for the coming year.

Having reflected on social media usage through the year, one interesting feature I noted of the Vann Christmas morning was that pretty much the whole family was on Facebook after presents were opened.  Whilst there is a bemoaning of the impact of social media on relationships, actually it was lovely as we connected with friends and family across the globe.  We did, on this instance, avoid messaging each other in the same room.

Graduations

I realise I didn’t say much about graduation in the post at the end of last year.  I tried to get to each campus and each Faculty so I did Wagga, Dubbo, Orange, Bathurst, Albury and Bathurst again.  This was a really enjoyable, but hectic, week.  I wanted to thank all the staff involved in organising these events which seemed to run very smoothly.  I also wanted to thank the academic staff for attending.  We had a really good turn out and I think it’s important for students to see their lecturers on the stage.  Finally I wanted to thank the musicians who performed at the various ceremonies.

There were some delightful moments, not least meeting the students afterwards.  There was one Masters by distance graduate who was thrilled to meet his/her supervisor in person for the first time.  There were also great stories of graduates who were the first in their family to attend university and who had brought a lot of that family with them.  The Deputy Chancellor and I had a great time having photos taken with the families of international students, including many from Nepal.  Finally I met Twitter contacts like @amyzing in person for the first time.

Structure Discussions

The restructure proposal was out for comment over the Christmas period and we received very thoughtful and constructive input to this.  We have amended the proposal in the light of the comments so we really do appreciate that people took the time to digest it and comment.  The response and revised final proposal was advertised through What’s New last week and is available to staff.

As noted in the original proposal, this restructure was not a root and branch transformation but designed to improve span of control for senior managers and align structure to the 2013-15 Strategy document.  I am confident that this now gives us a good structure with which to move forward.

Articulation of Strategy

As noted at the end of last year, the 2013-15 Strategy document was approved by University Council and is being reformatted with some minor changes. This year will be about fleshing out the plans at the next level down and ensuring that we have integration across our activities.  An important activity this year will also be working on campus and course plans to map out the shape of the University into the future.  Port Macquarie is reasonably well covered on this because of the work that was done prior to the establishment of the campus.  However, we do not have similar plans for the other campuses.  I believe this is a very important activity because the health and strength of the University depends upon a network of strong campuses.  Without this I fear we would be very much less than the sum of our parts.

One thing I did want to emphasise about the idea of an institution with ‘soul’ is that this is not a soft option. Large entities that balance the books, pay the staff and the bills and print out testamurs are reasonably easy things to create and sustain.  Engendering a real sense of community and belonging is harder.  It requires all the usual diligence but beyond that it requires putting the idea of community first.  It strikes me that successful communities strike a balance between promotion of self-interest and community interest. I don’t believe there is a formula for this, but that it is something that needs to be navigated day by day.  On reading David Whyte’s ‘The Heart Aroused’ I think he used a phrase that it seems is attributed to Soren Kierkegaard but which I heard years ago from an academic colleague – “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved”

Looking Forward to 2013

2013 will inevitably be an interesting year.  We now know the Federal Election will be in September and in the middle of writing this Senator Chris Evans, the Minister for Higher Education, resigned.  I enjoyed dealing with Chris who had a good understanding of the sector so it is sad to see him go.  I would have to note though that the response to the Base Funding Review was deeply disappointing for the sector if perhaps predictable.  Universities Australia has made a pre-budget submission to press the case for investment in higher education and research.  I welcome Minister Bowen to the portfolio who we know is taking a keen interest in the sector and I look forward to working with him too.

In closing, I hope you all have a great year and look forward to further conversations about the future of the university.

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