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

Published On April 9, 2020 | By Amy | Latest News, News, Notes from the VC's Desk
After weeks in the COVID-19 bubble, I am sure like the majority I have adapted to a new life where I know how many circuits of my study I have to complete to achieve a marathon distance, how to wash my hands so that no living creature survives the experience, and know that a search of ‘COVID-19’ will now yield 18 billion hits on Google in 0.41 seconds, when three months ago the answer was close to zero. The rhythm of our lives is changing, business models are being reimagined and the amount of attention you can usefully invest in ‘the small things’ has shifted… I am grateful for the generosity of family, friends and colleagues who have connected on a regular basis to offer support and sense check my well-being.

In common with all my UNE colleagues, I now live a life which is bound by various constraints not hitherto particularly burdensome to me. I have spent much of the week on Zoom in meetings with UNE colleagues discussing essential and critical services and mapping how our staff and students are coping with a WFH/SFH model of engagement with work and study. I have also been involved in walking through various scenarios for providing additional educational resources into the wider system to support workforce resilience. The planning and launch of our virtual hospital as part of the support matrix UNE intends to offer into the New England North West communities has required an investment of effort and resource from many quarters. The Dean of Medicine and Health, Professor Rod McClure, deserves a very special mention here. 

Moonlit Shore by Utagawa Hiroshige
The UNE Special Incident Group COVID-19 has persisted with regular meetings to ensure that we focus on operational responses in a focused and dynamic way. The benefits of this new federated model of working have been significant and we must capture the gains in the design of our future work models. SET has spent useful time on the early drafting of UNE 2021+ and associated planning work for the launch of the development dialogue for this across UNE, as well as reviewing the Audit plans for the year to reinforce the focus on a developmental approach. Quality assurance remains a priority and I am very pleased with the work that the Chair of Academic Board and Director of Academic Quality have done to ensure we remain responsive and active in the pursuit of excellence. Our discussions have reassured me that we have created adaptive frameworks and aligned critical oversight with a strong engagement approach. 

I also met this week in the virtual room with UNE student representatives to cross check the feedback from our wider student body and to identify any additional support we might knit into our overall provision. They were very positive – also frank and determined in providing both constructive comments and reminders that we are not yet perfect! The University Council met on Monday, their second virtual encounter, to approve the 2019 Financial Statements and Annual Report (big ticks!), as well as receive an updated business continuity report. 

Piccadilly by John Hall Thorpe
Much of the rest of my week has been devoted to Q1 board meetings (ANSTO, AARNet) and further engagement with NSW and National Vice-Chancellor group discussions on the pandemic, student numbers research support and wider community issues. I am inspired by the sectors collaborative engagement and can report that UNE stands well in this space for the speed and quality of our operational response and innovations inserted into management of this crisis situation. We are all focused on the well-being of our students, effective support for staff in the many new situations they are being asked to engage with, and the wider demands of functional acclimation and adaptation, practical cost saving measures and scenarios for recovery and a sustainable future. These dialogues provide some reassurance that UNE is adjusting in ways that are consistent with good practice but aligned to our unique identity. It is also clear that each institution must develop a collective sense of purpose to engineer and embed resilience into organisational responses.  

To escape the ties of Zoom, I have walked up to the Café as part of my daily routine – often one of the now lonely figures navigating the UNE landscape. Our grounds have greened up beautifully and the main concourse is decorated with autumn colours and the swishing of native grasses in the borders; it all promotes a very contemplative mood.

I will move next week to the Dixon Library (you might think I am addicted to packing and unpacking boxes – not true!) so that Booloominbah can be deep cleaned and locked down. There are only two of us here in Bool on a daily basis now and it will serve the UNE resilience agenda better if we relocate to hot desks in a core central location. 

The April public holidays are upon us and it is my hope that UNE staff, students and alumni will enjoy the break and their leave, celebrate as appropriate and remain safe and well within their individual bubbles, respecting full isolation and physical distancing directions. All the data confirms that containment is working and we must stay the course. 

My family have sent me scented soap and a bottle of Dettol in lieu of an Easter egg – how kind! So I have treated myself to a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, some cheese from Bruny Island and lined up the now essential list of ‘home entertainment’ tasks for the long weekend: books (The Mirror and the Light), music and exercise (the Orielles Space Samba, disco volador theme), jigsaw puzzles (The Kiss – Gustav Klimt) and movies to watch (Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, and Guy Richie’s The Gentlemen). I also plan to micro-binge to finish season three of Ozark.  

•  Please, be ever mindful of cybersecurity issues – the attackers and hackers are working hard 
•  Remember to check in through the COVID-19 website for updates 
•  Listen to this (an all-time favourite) and if you need to strengthen your emotional sinews, read Invictus (it always gives me a lift….)

Stay safe and stay well.


Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO


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