Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brigid Heywood at her desk

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

Published On January 17, 2020 | By Amy | Latest News, News, Notes from the VC's Desk
The energy of the campus lifted this week as people started returning from their holidays. I suspect the greening effect of the recent rain, after months of brown earth and dust, also contributed to the buoyancy factor. It was also great to hear people sharing stories about how resilient our communities have proved to be in the face of an on-going drought and the onslaught of the bushfires. The investment of effort into providing some resource small or large for those so tragically affected by the fires is inspiring.

Some 80 UNE staff remain on extended service leave as they continue in their roles as volunteer fire fighters and related roles across the state. To date UNE has provided nearly 2,000 bed nights to volunteers and reservists and served up over 7,000 meals. We are also on standby to provide respite accommodation for those displaced from their homes. Our staff are assisting with animal welfare issues and in discussions about habitat recovery. There can be little doubt that UNE has made a significant contribution in terms of supporting the local community in this time of need.

We have also suffered losses – a significant number of research projects have been terminally affected by the bushfires which have assaulted wilderness habitats. Many of our community outreach events linked in with our sport offerings have been cancelled – we host some 5,000 people per week through these events over the summer recess and they are an important part of UNE’s contribution to our community linkages, as well as the educational development of young Australians.

We are closely monitoring student numbers for T1, paying particular attention to the challenges relating to rural and regional students; metro student numbers are holding steady. We need to sustain and grow the longer term viability of our regional communities where the retention of young talent is a key part of recovery and regeneration. This is a situation which must be closely monitored and managed.

The widespread sharing of the bushfire tragedies in Australia has reached a global audience. The upside of this is the amazing efforts being realised to raise emergency funds and contribute much needed resources. The issue for the longer term is the effect of this publicity on interest in Australia as a tourist and study destination; this is another challenge to be managed.

You will gather from these comments that much of my week has been consumed with discussions about both immediate actions and longer term recovery plans. The Regional Universities Network (RUN) joined other education stakeholders for a meeting with Minister Tehan where the response of the sector in support of affected regions and options for the future was discussed.

I am sure I am not alone in wondering how best we respond to rebuilding and reimagining the ways we develop, utilise and protect our natural resources and address wider sustainability issues.

Local RFS Brigade – Photo provided by Fiona Murray
Much of the rest of my week has been a mixture of planning meetings for 2020 and catching up with colleagues from across the University. Work on the eight Strategic Taskforce projects was a priority, as was the management of our financial planning agenda for the year. Updating our rhythm of business approach to how we operate is important if we are to meet all of our operational objectives and create the space for the new work needed to draft the strategic plan, complete campus master planning and develop our agenda for the next decade.

The People and Culture agenda has been much in play. A Communique released yesterday summarises progress to date and some new initiatives. It has been especially helpful to have UNE staff make individual responses both in writing and in person, to discuss their concerns about both the wider institution and about the welfare of groups they work with, as well as share their ambitions for a future state of well-being at UNE. Many have also indicated that they welcome the progress made with the Enterprise Bargaining and look forward now to the opportunity to conclude the voting process and move forward. Others have commented on their desire to be a part of the strategic discussions to better understand how we operate and as a means of connecting more closely their own work with the strategic intent of UNE.

There is much to be done and it is commendable that so many have expressed their support for the setting of a new agenda.

Respite from meetings was available in a number of forms as it always is. I joined colleagues from the School of Education and their eminent international guests for a forum on leadership; interestingly, we discussed guardianship fellowship and leadership as being the key ingredients for the future success throughout education on both a local and world stage. Given the current situation for so many in Australia – our Alumni on Kangaroo Island for example – this was a very useful conversation. I have been briefed on the amazing planning being put in place to accommodate the proposals for the much needed development of a roundabout at the terrible junction of Elm Avenue and Trevenna Road. This will be no simple project and I am keen to make best use of the opportunity to address some of our wider traffic management and car parking issues.

On the domestic front I have grown fond of the sound of dripping water, if not the crash of thunder. I am simply amazed (even for a New Zealander) at how quickly Armidale has gone a greener shade of brown and somewhat saddened by the amount of chickweed that has invaded my vegetable garden – we have been investigating chickweed salad and steamed chickweed…. Ideas!

I close by offering again my best wishes to all. These are trying times so please do look out for colleagues and friends and make sure all feel supported. We have organised a whole range of support options for staff and students. If you need help, please ask; and if you can think of something else we might do, please let us know.


Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO



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