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

Published On April 24, 2020 | By Alana | Latest News, News, Notes from the VC's Desk
I spent the week based in my new alternate office in the Dixson Library with all sorts of people dropping in to say hi; clearly the Easter break and contingent respite has worked wonders!

I have also spent the week wrestling with what I now understand to be ‘self-complexity theory’ – or, how to best deal with endless hours of Zoom engagement (my contribution would be that chocolate, chicken soup and the company of the cat helps!).

Business priorities this week have involved intense discussions around Commonwealth funding arrangements for 2020, the management of a short course portfolio appropriate to the ‘national interest’, a series of dialogues with external partners and potential collaborators around the use of our on-campus facilities, and planning work around SLT engagement and the upcoming UNE In Conversation events.  SET had a mini retreat to discuss the development stages of the UNE2021+ planning process.  Together with Communications and Marketing teams, I was involved in various reviews of our promotional materials, the communications that need to be more focused and the development of materials for those who planned to graduate this May but will have to defer.

In concert with my SIG COVID-19 working group colleagues, I have been considering further progress towards a holistic online assessment regime, the wellbeing of staff and the utilisation of our child care facilities. Other considerations have included starting the design process for a return to work model which ensures we manage workforce safety and the optimisation of our campuses to support our students. Our plans will have to address a slow and steady re-engagement process over months, not days or weeks, when the Commonwealth and State authorities indicate that the curve is sufficiently flattened to ensure the health systems can cope with any localised resurgence of infection. 

Winter Journey to Wiggington by Ian Henderson
Needless to say a major part of my effort week has been focused on the consequential financial impact of the pandemic on our business mode, over and above the core design issues we have been working towards resolving. Planned growth in international student numbers has been stifled for obvious reasons and we must focus on retaining our current enrolments. Whilst we are still operating above the nominal 2020 CSP cap, new domestic enrolments have softened; the causal origin of this decline in numbers (drought, bushfires and/or COVID-19) is more difficult to resolve. Our adjustment in load from Commonwealth supported to ‘full fee paying’ places has been moderately successful but the offerings here are limited in breadth and create risk of a different kind in the current climate. Decisions about promoting our academic products and managing T2 recruitment and retention are going to be challenging in a much changed environment, where none of our rich market intelligence has yet been refined to accommodate the current context. What do they say – the unknown unknowns factor!

Although UNE does not have a large international student cohort, the fall in cash flow is now clear and the wider issues associated with our revised revenue predictions are coming into focus. The influence of staff who are voluntarily using their personal leave is making a contribution to our liabilities – the additional usage over the public holidays was noted with thanks. I am also aware that some staff are seeking to adjust their employment relationship with requests for a fixed term shift to a fractionalised contract and periods of leave without pay being foregrounded by some. At this stage every bit helps and I am deeply appreciative of the mature and engaged approach of our staff in this context. It is also relevant to acknowledge the discussions being led through SET to consider and develop a range of response and engagement options. Within the next few weeks we will have all the data needed to inform our revised plans for the rest of 2020 and 2021 operational requirements.  As soon as the information has been processed I will be share it out through an ‘all staff’ briefing.  The conversations needed at UNE mirror, in one form or another, those being had elsewhere in the sector. 

In the middle of all this, life is progressing more or less as normal. For our academic staff it is time to take note of the arrangements being put in place for the 2020 Promotions cycle. As part of its ongoing commitment to recognition and reward for academic staff merit and achievement, UNE is now calling for applications from eligible staff for Academic Promotion this year. While there have been minor delays to the process due to the COVID-19 response, the same support and general timelines for promotion will be provided as in previous years, commencing with information sessions for all prospective applicants.

Please note Academic Promotions Key Dates including information sessions for applicants and supervisors, opening and closing dates and panel interview sessions are now available on the Academic Promotions web page.

Murrurrundi Camp, Beyond Preedy’s Orchard by Ian Henderson
In a more social context I have started a round of very enjoyable ‘virtual morning tea’ visits with colleagues from across the University; these have created the perfect excuse for me to bulk buy Portuguese Tarts from the bakery in town. I sign off from these events with a great sense of pride in the flexible and creative ways that staff have adapted to our new ways of working. The students have shared as well and I am equally impressed and delighted by their forthright feedback, their resilience and their wicked good humour.

The various comments and indeed contributions around my evolving ‘musical buffet’ have for the most part been appreciated (some I will just forgive!). This week, my choices have been informed by reflections on the opportunities lost in our somewhat conventional use of Zoom, creative though colleagues have been with the multiple backdrops that have appeared:

I would recommend Empire of Cotton (Sven Beckert) as a gripping read and urge those so inclined to watch the recent ‘how to’ piece on cocktail making (just for fun!). And, please do contribute something to our various cultural competitions

As ever, check the COVID-19 website for updates and let me know if there are issues which concern you which we have not yet addressed. 

Sincerely,

Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO

UNE

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