As noted in the last post, I want to use this blog to facilitate a collegial and hopefully innovative process to establish a clearer sense of where and what we want CSU to be in the future, and later what we need to do to get there. This will also be important in enhancing our current University Strategy 2011-2015. I’d like to kick the discussion off with some context and a few points from my own perspective.
First the external climate and our strategic positioning, in which I would highlight relevant external influences:
- Competition. Much has been made of the demand-driven system for students in encouraging competition in the sector, and it has. However, I think it’s worth noting that in the previous system we still had competition, but it was damped down by the Federal Government controlling numbers so there was quite a bit of lag between changes in demand and response. The ability to change load quickly has freed up the thinking of all universities and it seems many universities are getting more aggressive and also thinking more broadly about institutional strategy.
- Funding/resourcing. Both Labour and Coalition are firm that there will be no significant new money for higher education from the public purse. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is the general pressure on national budgets and the other is that most politicians believe there are few votes in higher education in the general sense. It is a significant political issues within electorates, and particularly rural and regional electorates. My view would be that whilst we have not had everything we wanted following the Bradley Review (such as a 10% lift in base funding), and we have had some things we didn’t want, we have done pretty well out of the current government. Not least it should be pointed out that they have funded significant expansion of the sector. I would not realistically expect $/EFTSL to increase from here or at least not without having to work harder for it.
- Online Learning Bubble. Online learning has suddenly exploded as an issue and apparently College Presidents in the US are talking about little else. This is on the back of initiatives such as the Khan Academy, MITx and of course everyone in the developed world’s access to bandwidth and technology. I think it highly possible that there will be a global investment bubble in this area.
To turn to how we ought to position ourselves in relation to this, I think it is fairly simple.
- First we need to be, to borrow a phrase from Michael Hammer, Easy To Do Business With (ETDBW). In other words, we need to have systems and processes that encourage students in, rather than drive them away. This is the aim of our Student Experience Plan in the 2011-15 Strategy although I think we might wish to review whether we have everything covered there.
- Second, we need to have attractive, distinctive courses that transform people’s lives. Attractiveness is something we have always thought about in higher education – will anyone want to study courses if we offer them? Distinctiveness we have paid a bit less attention to but in a crowded and competitive market I think we need to make sure we have a clear answer to why someone should want to come and study with us. Transformation we have aspired to, but I’m not sure whether we have focussed on this enough either. There has been a tendency to focus on technical content rather than the life change that happens through studying a program. Initiatives such as capstone programs and practice-based education are good initiatives in this space. Again, the Course Profile Plan in the 2011-15 Strategy is focussed on this space.
- Third, we need to lift our perception of quality and also demonstrate intellectual leadership for our communities and the nation. I do not believe a university’s reputation rests solely on its research performance but it is a critical factor and we do need to improve it. The Research Plan in the 2011-15 Strategy covers this space and the Faculty Compacts are a significant investment to this end. I like the term intellectual leadership which I think gives a better sense not only of developing knowledge through research but also disseminating that knowledge to students and engaging in shared learning with industry and community.
So, we have a strategic plan that covers the bases, what else is there to do? I see everything in our current strategy as relevant and necessary, but we will be faced with a large number of choices in a potentially turbulent and deregulated market. In this context, from my perspective we are still lacking clarity about our overall mission, institutional story, or narrative as I have called it. This is because we are a complicated and diverse institution. We have great on-campus facilities and experience but we are the largest provider of DE in the country. We pride ourselves on our regional engagement but we also teach a lot of metropolitan students. We have science and theology and we have policing and arts. We have communities that range from the truly inland such as Dubbo through to the Coastal such as Port Macquarie or Sydney. We have variously described ourselves as a university for inland Australia, a university for the professions, a university devoted to its regions, the largest distance education provider in the country, a university devoted to partnership and so on. We are all those things and more, but I think we can find a more powerful expression of what we are truly about.
Some of the foundation work has been carried out through the strategy development process over the years and some through the brand development work completed last year. I do not think we need to overturn what has already been done or to start from scratch but I would like to facilitate a conversation around this so that with a new Vice-Chancellor and two new Deputy Vice-Chancellors coming we can be sure we are all on the same page and focussed.
At the end, I don’t think we will have something as simple as a tagline but nor will we have something as complicated as we currently provide when asked for our Mission. I don’t think this is something that can be simply dictated by the Vice-Chancellor so I would like to facilitate some broad discussion in its development over the coming months.
I am keen to hear your comments in response to this and future posts (use the ‘Follow this Blog’ tool to the top right of this page and you will get email updates). I would also like to explore using online tools to gather information. We are using a site called All Our Ideas to gather thoughts in this space. If you would like to take part, please add your votes and own ideas about the things that shape CSU’s distinctive place in Australian higher education on our ideas page at …
*** http://www.allourideas.org/csu ***
Looking forward to your ideas and contributions.