Notes from the VC’s Desk: Direct from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brigid Heywood this week

Published On December 13, 2019 | By Amy | Latest News, News, Notes from the VC's Desk
As dawn broke on day 347 of 2019 I was listening to the news updates from both New Zealand and the United Kingdom – both places which are dear to me. In common with my Kiwi family, I am listening for news of the safe return of the personnel involved in the recovery mission hoping to retrieve the bodies of those who perished on Whakaari earlier this week. My interest here is weighted by the sad news that one of the victims of the eruption was a UNE alumnus and our thoughts must rightly be with the family at this time.

I was also listening for news of the 2019 UK election results.  As I gazed through the World Service headlines I was, as always, grateful to being living in a safe democratic community where freedom is valued, people are respected and cared for regardless of their race, religion or gender, and where community are gathered together as one to meet the challenge of the ongoing drought and onslaught of bush fires; I am truly grateful to be part of this community.

I was due to travel to Tasmania last Sunday but the winds drove fire smoke across the New England region and prevented regular services from leaving the airport; instead I spent Monday tethered to my desk by my earphones. I am a member of the Marine National Facility Assessment Panel and contribute to decisions on the competitive allocation of voyage time on Australia’s research vessels. In this capacity, I Chair the Benefits Assessment Group and work with a cross section of representatives from government, industry and RTOs to determine the likely benefit of investment in each voyage proposal. Having completed that piece of work, I dialled into the discussions of the working group I am involved with as part of the Advisory Group for Accelerating Research and Development on behalf of the NSW Government.

Across Tuesday and Wednesday I was occupied with the normal business of UNE’s CEO and Vice-Chancellor; a number of the Strategic Taskforce Groups were reporting on progress this week, drawing me into discussions on workforce design, the Sydney campus and progress with the design of the Armidale Tamworth corridor. Our consultant advisors have progressed with our design work on the Digital Hospital and the business case is shaping up well.

As part of our Town with Gown agenda, I hosted a number of local business leaders for end of year drinks and shared with them updates on the solar farm, the impact of the drought and the emerging opportunities at the airport industrial park. I was also much involved this week in NTEU supported discussions around progress with the Academic Agreement and the task of reaching a workable agreement before year end; UNE will be the last tertiary institution to complete in this round. A fraction of my time was also committed to interviewing candidates for the post of Chief Financial Officer and vetting agencies who might work with us to address aspects of culture and behaviours highlighted in the 2019 Voice Survey and also in contributions through the UNE in Conversation: People and Culture.

The last round of Council Committee meetings (Audit and Risk, Finance and Infrastructure) demanded my attention on matters related to WHS compliance and the development of the 2020 schedule of business. End of year celebrations with Academic Board members and afternoon tea with the amazing team from CASI rounded out the days.

Thursday found me busy with the delights of graduation – first the sashing of Aboriginal scholars at Oorala and then the HASSE students graduating under the proud watchful eyes of family and friends. Paul Barratt AO, who has done so much in his life as a public servant and so much for UNE as an alumnus, was honoured with the award of a Doctor of Letters. I had just finished having my picture taken with UNE’s first Vice-Chancellor, Sir Robert Madgwick, when the relaxed enjoyment of the day was shattered by an outbreak of fire around the barbecue facilities delivering our lunch offerings. Safety alarms drowned out the musicians, our graduates and their guests, and those in surrounding buildings were quickly moved from the Stro to safe harbour whilst the emergency personnel tackled the problem. One of our chefs was unfortunate in suffering some minor burns and I gather may be short an eyebrow! However luckily he is safe and well.

After such an eventful day it was a pleasure to join the staff and students from Guyra Central School for their annual prize giving and be a part of their excitement as academic, sporting and cultural contributions were acknowledged with certificates, medals and prizes.

Today and tomorrow will be consumed by the last of the 2019 UNE graduation ceremonies; today Medicine and Health, tomorrow Science, Agriculture, Business and Law. I am as ever inspired by these events which connect us meaningfully with the work that we do to ensure a valued and purposeful education offering to those who choose to study with us. The voices of our students as they speak with great emotion about what it all means to them makes it all worthwhile.

And I am aware that the part of me that is very English, despite my travels far and wide, remains focused on the national pastime of ‘weather’. I have revelled in the sunshine and blue skies of Australia and will do so again, for now I am grateful for a grey day and the prospect of some rain!


Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO


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