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.


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.

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.

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.

Floods, Conferences and Communication

Two major themes for last week- disruption caused by flooding and  the Universities Australia Conference

Flooding from the unusually heavy rainfall caused various kinds of disruption last week, with the closure of the Wagga Wagga campus for one day.  My thoughts go out to communities now coping with the clean-up in Wagga and elsewhere. If the post-Cyclone Yasi experience is anything to go by, this is a tough time when the adrenaline of the disaster threat has passed, but there’s a lot of tedious mucky work to do in putting things back to where they were.

The worst that happened to me was not being able to visit CSU’s Albury Campus and a diversion through Grenfell and Forbes on the way back to Bathurst which was actually a nice thing to do.  Back in Bathurst, to borrow a joke of my late father-in-law’s, the road to Sydney was cut leaving the State Capital temporarily isolated but we understand they survived this OK.

The Universities Australia Conference was held in Canberra last week and featured addresses from Senators Evans http://tinyurl.com/6tz2wxr and Mason on Labor and Coalition higher education policy.  Under Labor, things will continue more or less as they are and the Government is pleased with the increase in student enrolments, particularly in regional areas.

Brett Mason http://tinyurl.com/7zn3xr4 was characteristically frank and, whilst it is clear that there would be changes under the Coalition, it is not yet clear what.  Senator Mason identified the three factors as  (1) quality and standards, (2) increased participation and (3) funding.  He is of the view that all three can’t continue as they are and that the Coalition would prioritise quality and standards.  It is not yet clear what else this might mean.

I chaired a session on Public Perceptions of Regional Universities which was well attended and seemed to go well. The final session of the conference was a Gruen Transfer style ‘The Pitch’ on selling higher education.  This had a hilarious introduction by Dan Gregory and two excellent pitches from the agencies.  In amongst the jokes though was the serious message that universities need to be creative and courageous in presenting themselves to the community.

Final comments are about this blog, my twitter feed and CSU’s new TV advert.  @KateMfD asked why VC’s tweet or blog?  Not sure if there is a generic answer, but a quick sketch of my job is to facilitate CSU to be the best it can be, to promote the university externally and to encourage innovation.  I think we need to embrace social media as a university if we are to stay relevant so I think I need to model that behaviour.  On the assumption that they can be useful means of communication, that ticks the first two boxes.  I’m going to be interested to see how this works out; these are my posts and my tweets so there will be a limit to the rate of transmission and ability to engage.

So, will finish by mentioning the TV advert that’s running across our regions at present http://fb.me/1snlJwZgU.  This is about raising the profile of CSU generally; one of the bits of feedback from the brand survey work last year was that we didn’t get out there and celebrate our achievements enough.  A TV advert is only one mechanism, but on previous experience it can be a very effective means of doing this.  Hope you enjoy it, look forward to hearing from you.

Introductory Post

This is my introductory post for the VC’s blog.  I have now been at CSU for two months and it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  CSU being the large and interesting place that it is, I still have a lot to see.  However, it has been very exciting to me to meet a large number of staff and hear people talk about their work.

In this period I have visited the campuses at Bathurst, Canberra, Dubbo, Olympic Park Sydney, Orange and Wagga.  Albury was to be Monday but the current weather means that will now unfortunately have to be deferred.  Goulburn, Manly and Ontario as well as other sites will also come later.

I have met staff from a wide range of areas and there are terrific things happening ranging from the staff at the Centre for Indigenous Studies, Dentists, Paramedics and Theologians through to the School of Policing. CSU has an extraordinarily rich academic profile.

I have been really struck by how passionate both students and staff are about our university.  I recognise how important CSU is to its communities and I appreciate the privilege of taking this role on.

I recognise we still have a lot of work to do.  On the course profile side we will continue our push for a medical school and if you support the cause and you haven’t yet ‘liked’ http://www.facebook.com/doctors4thebush please get on and do so.  We are also looking at the viability of engineering and I got strong support for that idea from local industry leaders recently so we will have to see if the numbers stack up.

We are working on improving halls of residence including refurbishment works at Bathurst prior to the start of this term. We also need to make our student support services and systems as good as they can possibly be and there is a lot of effort going into this.

My aim is to use this blog as a regular place to provide updates so I hope you will continue reading and posting.  I am also on twitter @drpievann although have been a fairly infrequent tweeter to this point; will see if I can do better in the future.