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

Published On April 17, 2020 | By Alana | Latest News, News, Notes from the VC's Desk
With the stimulus of amazing autumn weather across the long weekend it was great to open the windows, shake out the gremlins and attack a host of chores – basically anything that did not require Zoom! Whilst we might all bemoan the requirement to shelter in a place of safety, the emerging data confirms that the containment and prevention strategies are working and we must stay the course. Any doubts are easily dispelled when reading the narratives of those who have been stricken with the virus, never mind the rising toll of fatalities. The positive ‘can do’ attitude of UNE staff and students is, as ever, the foundation of our resilience and ongoing good humour at a time of challenge.

We now have one reported case of an individual who has been tested positive for COVID-19. All necessary safety and public health measures have been addressed and I can report that the matter is low risk for our community; the contact tracing reports indicate the infection was most likely acquired as a result of recent international travel. We are in regular contact with the patient and their family to ensure we provide the relevant support to all.

Most of the week has seen me locked up in my new home in the library with my Zoom buddies. Whilst the week has been quiet in some senses, in others it remained full-on. Minister Tehan announced the University funding package for 2020 on Sunday (helpful!) and then provided the detail later (not helpful!). The aim of his announcement was to confirm the 2020 Commonwealth funding (same as 2019). He also indicated resources are to be available for provision of some new short courses to help offset the unemployment envelope, which will likely persist and grow post COVID-19 as the national economy and global systems reset and recalibrate. The news was not what any University hoped it would be given the current circumstances.  We are now all heads down working through the detail and how to navigate the challenges of 2020 and what follows; for UNE this conversation sits on top of work already being done to resolve the budget challenges of our current operational structures. It is important that we recognise the different scenarios and manage them accordingly. I also signed off on this year’s rescoped capital budget which is now much diminished and will prioritise WHS and backlog maintenance work as well as the required systems upgrade to our core business, academic and cybersecurity needs. 

Other tasks this week included work on the UNE 2021+ strategic conversation and how we might do this within the context of our current working model – OSM are developing some online resources which will be used to start both the internal and external conversations across May and June. I am quite excited by the opportunity to work in a different mode to kick this off and hope we can make it interesting for all of our community.

The work being done to support regional economic growth through our SMART Region Incubator and the opportunity to develop student and graduate enterprise options also featured in my week, as well as the wider conversation about new partnerships with industry which might lead to collaborations around curriculum development options, internships and research collaborations. 

This was also the week when I was allowed to spend time at the UNE Tablelands Clinical School with the Dean of Medicine and Health, his amazing team and a wonderful group of clinical staff from the Armidale Hospital as we trialled the new ‘hospital in a box’ kits which will be used to pilot our ‘digital hospital’ project. Various media outlets were enthusiastic witnesses to our endeavors, even featuring on national television as well as local publications. Given there was only fake blood and no needles in play, I enjoyed the whole process and was deeply appreciative of the professionalism and commitment of the whole team pulling this together.

Equally inspiring was the volume of PPE supplies that UNE community members donated to the clinic – as noted above, when the chips are down UNE stands tall.

Another key piece of work has been a review of the progress of the RAP Working Group. This group comprises both internal and external representatives of the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, who have assisted the University to draft its inaugural Reconciliation Action Plan. This ‘Reflect’ Plan is the foundation for the University to prepare for reconciliation initiatives and determine its vision for reconciliation. The Plan is in its final stages of drafting, before submission to UNE Council for approval and Reconciliation Australia for endorsement. All staff are now invited to provide feedback and comments on the Draft Plan by COB 8 May 2020. 

Whilst walking around the campus to stretch my legs and clear my mind, I have had the pleasure of greeting happy students who are on campus using the IT hot-desks and receiving cheerful shout outs across the pathways from researchers and academics who are still working on vital projects here on campus. The Chancellor and I managed to share a socially distanced lunch, from opposites end of a bench, this week as we caught up on key issues – an interesting experience for us both. The social digital connects from colleagues are much appreciated and I now know how to have a digital cocktail at the end of the day! 

As always, stay safe and well. Please make best use of your places of safety and keep up to date by checking out the UNE COVID-19 site

Because I have had so much feedback about my recent cultural offerings – this week’s musical buffet, which just makes me happy!  And don’t forget to enter the Creative New England Photo Competition.

Sincerely,

Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO

UNE

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