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This week, I am hopeful that UNE colleagues will be relieved to hear that whilst many Australians were out prowling the lanes of supermarkets for toilet rolls, the VC was otherwise engaged.

Two days this week were invested in leadership development programmes, first with SET colleagues and then the SLT community. Both events provided opportunities to connect and discuss how we might construct a ‘UNE leadership model’ which will best serve our needs. As ever, humour and the generosity of colleagues sharing experiences and ideas in an open, collaborative space was rewarding and inspiring.

I flew to Sydney and back on Tuesday to attend a UNE Foundation Board meeting and then join fellow NSW Vice-Chancellors for one of our regular catch ups. The UNE Foundation provides a significant number of scholarships for students and it is always stimulating to be in the company of the financial advisors who are trying to navigate the complex waters of investment management, especially in the current volatile markets. In addition to a number of standing reporting items, this month’s Vice-Chancellors forum was largely devoted to our collective COVID-19 response. The development of various response action plans and the best ways to support the students and staff affected by this emerging global pandemic was the priority conversation. We shared information and exchanged protocols on good practice models which might better assist the community in coping with the emerging public health issues.

With students returning to campus to start the new academic year and the threat of an epidemic looming, much of my focus is on the decision making around travel (exchanges, study abroad programmes and conferences), the management of large scale events (Open Day, Graduations) to enable effective social distancing and the provision of suitable support in high density accommodation.

UNE, in common with many organisations, is already supporting a few staff and students who have elected to self-quarantine as a precautionary measure whilst tests for possible COVID-19 infection are completed. We have instigated a range of public health protection measures (e.g. changes to cleaning rotas in public spaces, provision of hand sanitizers and tissues, and updated notes in personal hygiene, advance preparation of quarantine suites) to ensure that the UNE community is engaged in both prevention and containment. As Autumn wraps chilly arms around us all here in New England, the cold and flu season will also bear down on upon us adding the risk of an additional health care burden.

I have discovered how hard it is to stop holding out one’s hand out in greeting at social functions and when meeting friends and colleagues! Changing old habits is very hard. During the course of a lovely dinner at Mary White College to celebrate 2020 Commencement, the students were keen to share some novel practices for a ‘hands-free’ greeting – there is work to be done here! Walking from meeting to meeting across campus, I was also stopped by many of our students as they too amble around seeking lecture rooms and heading to the library – their enthusiasm, unending good humour and the generous warmth of their engagement is so uplifting.

The remaining time across the week was invested in catch ups around a range of projects from Madgwick College to the Tamworth expansion, progress with the UNE Collections and the work being done to recruit our new PVC Indigenous. I spent time with the Concierge Team in LaTT (who nourished me with fresh raspberries!) discussing our novel postgraduate offerings for those seeking to design their own study programme. In my regular meeting with the Chair of Academic Board we focused on Retention and Modern Slavery, as well as the emerging discussion around a concept for a New England Graduate School – a very positive development being fostered by colleagues from across the research community. With the ballot upon us, I have been involved, along with a team drawn from HR and the COO, in presentations to Professional staff around the new Enterprise Agreement. It was great to see such positive engagement and have staff actively seeking information before casting their vote. Another large segment of my week was devoted to another new development; UNE has developed a concept for a new virtual hospital network in collaboration with a number of regional healthcare organisations, and this week our campaign for funding kicked off. Going forward this will involve a fair amount of lobbying to promote this exciting new initiative and secure support.
Save the date – UNE in Conversation to be held on Wed 11 March 2020
The week will close with our second SET Open meeting for which there is a lengthy agenda. After that I will focus on clearing some of the paperwork off my desk before I head out to the Armidale Show, which I have been invited to officially open. The weekend will be busy with events to celebrate International Women’s Day and hopefully a quick visit to the Farmer’s Market.

I was tempted to close with links to a couple of the many toilet paper memes which have appeared over the last couple of days, but it seems more relevant to finish with some prompts and reminders on matters of greater import:

Respect Now Always – the training modules for staff and students are available online, please complete both courses so that all of UNE can assist in promoting safe and respectful behaviours.


Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO