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There can be little doubt that we are living through difficult times and I am sure, like most people, that the challenge of living out our lives in the face of yet another emerging crisis is not an easy thing to adjust to. Stepping back from that most normal of social gestures, the handshake is hard enough; working through the myriad of options for effective responsiveness to coronavirus is consuming an ever increasing amount of time. As countries around the world take major decisions about the management of normal community engagements and work through the complex practicalities of large scale social distancing to limit the spread and contain COVID-19, UNE is also working through a range of scenarios appropriate for the level of response required. I am determined that we will adopt and maintain a purposeful structured ‘prevention and containment’ approach building on grounded medical guidance and public health advice.

The normal autumn weather has caused some disruption this week with flights to Sydney cancelled and delayed for two days in succession as banks of thick fog rolled in each morning. Consequently, I have spent a lot of time attached to the telephone and contributing to state and federal level meetings across the virtual network. It has been an interesting reminder of the skills needed to chair large gatherings when a number of participants join by teleconference, as well as reinforcing the work to be done by some in fully embracing new technologies. Despite these practical wrinkles, these group sessions provide rich opportunities to gather and share information. This week the focus was on building strong collaborative and cooperative models for engagement around bushfire recovery and drought resilience programmes. Economic stimulation is the new watch word, given the strong indicators of an emerging global recession on the back of the viral pandemic.

In the face of daily messages of doom and gloom, I can only be grateful that for much of the rest of the week I was gifted with meetings and events with UNE students young and old, new and returning, and young scholars anticipating University options. The amazing group of students who have worked tirelessly to reinvigorate the UNE Student Consultative Framework joined me for morning tea and shared news of the upcoming elections – they are to be warmly congratulated. Commencement dinners across the Colleges were another major part of the week; I was hosted at Mary White, Austin and Robb Colleges. Each event was a joyous affair as new student candidates were welcomed into their chosen college community. I was also able to join with members of the Armidale Rotary Club and colleagues from University of Newcastle in welcoming a throng of young school children drawn from across the region to participate in the Highlands Science and Engineering Challenge. Their enthusiasm was more infectious than COVID 19!

The social functions of the week were slotted in across a diary full of other obligations on the Armidale campus. The 2020 UNE in Conversation events kicked off with a very lively event centred around UNE’s International portfolio. Professor Mingan Choct and his team did a great job of framing the options and opportunities to be considered going forward, drawing on work done at last weeks Senior Leadership Forum on the same topic. To our collective amusement, Mingan also revealed his interesting thrifty habit of walking across golf courses and collecting golf balls – if you are missing any then check his coat pockets!

On Thursday, UNE hosted Tamworth Regional Council and members of the city’s business community on a tour around the Armidale campus, which included visits to the Smart Farm and Solar Farm. For many it was their first visit and we can only be pleased at their willingness to invest time into building a stronger partnership to support and develop the UNE Tamworth expansion project.

Today was dominated by a sequence of routine meetings – discussions around budgets, the retention strategy and preparations for next week’s Council meeting featured large in the list of tasks to be completed. After a successful ballot outcome supporting the adoption of the new Professional Staff Enterprise Agreement, we are now focused on the ballot for the new Academic Agreement. Over the next few days, I will join colleagues from the People and Culture team and Provost’s office in presenting details of the proposed Agreement at various open meetings ahead of next week’s formal voting process. I think it is important that all staff are provided with the information that they need to allow them to make an informed decision, and that I am prepared to stand up and defend the principles around which the new Agreement has been constructed.

As I’m sure many of you are already aware that the SportUNE pool is officially openingnext weekend! Join us at 11am on Saturday 21 March for the official launch party. We have created a fundraising page for an Armidale Community Scholarship – if we reach $1000, I will bravely take the plunge in the newly refurbished pool! For every $200 raised thereafter, a member of our Senior Executive Team will follow suit! All money raised will go towards this new initiative to support the residential fees of a college student making a difference in our community through volunteer work, sport, mentorship and more. 

My week started with joyous celebrations at the 2020 International Women’s Day event held in the Wright Centre which drew a multigenerational, multicultural crowd from across both town and country. It will close with a quiet dinner to celebrate my wedding anniversary and the many, many rewarding years of marriage with which I have been blessed…

Stay safe and well, and remember – social distancing, clean hands and ‘Namaste’ are the new watch words!


Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO