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

Published On May 15, 2020 | By Alana | Latest News, News, Notes from the VC's Desk
Long week and then some. As the rhythm of academic business takes us through to the assessment and examination period for Trimester 1, the other aspects of corporate life overlaid by COVID-19 response discussions have dominated much of the week.

Working through all the issues that needed to be addressed and resolved to ensure that we could take a pilot project safely into full delivery mode has not been a trivial exercise; the progression of UNE to full online examinations was neither an easy nor lightly considered action. The engagement of our student advocates, the dialogue across many different professional and academic groups, and the guidance of the policy and legal team have all contributed to a robust process of review and implementation. This UNE ‘team’ approach to problem solving and creating solutions for all is something which will define our response to a global pandemic, which shifted almost everything we do. The embedded commitment to excellence and quality has centred each discussion. Wow!

Resolving how to hold the bigger ship steady when core revenue streams are being compromised by the flow on effects of the viral menace has not been an easy task. UNE already had core structural problems given that our cost base has been growing faster than our revenue. Analysis shows that we have retained old ways of working for longer than we should have done and that regardless of COVID, now is the time for change. It is also clear that we know what to do, that staff are actively engaged in the dialogues that will see us evolve and that there is general support for a change agenda, as made visible by the positive ballot outcomes for the new Enterprise Agreements earlier this year. My office wall is covered in multi-coloured diagrams which map out the various options we might consider as we develop the UNE21+ strategic map. I am excited by the feedback which is starting to flow through from our stakeholders, Council and others into the early framing discussions. The plan is to be ready to take a blueprint to Council in June so that we might usefully open the wider conversations across UNE after that time.

Another part of the week has been invested in assessing and discussing the proposed job protection devices which have been crafted by a team from Universities Australia and NTEU with input from other employee representatives supporting the sector. An adjunct agreement is proposed which will sit alongside the approved Enterprise Agreement for each institution. It is designed to offer short term solutions to protect jobs against the gathering forces of the COVID-19 budget impost and downstream financial issues which the majority of universities are now experiencing in some form. UNE will review and consider the value of using this or other instruments to help us navigate through these challenges. Hopefully you get some sense of my time being spent on complex multidimensional issues through engagement with a range of different agencies and problems.

Lot of catch ups this week, with a growing number now held human-to-human as many senior staff are now working for part of the time from the second floor in the Dixson Library; where once there were students scattered through the stacks, there is now a mottley crew of executives all hot desking and standing around, in socially responsible clusters, with cups of coffee. After the weeks in isolation it is really nice to see a different model of working emerge.

The Zoom monster is still with us though and most of my meetings still require technology to link our distributed communities. I joined the inaugural HASSE executive meeting on Monday and had afternoon tea with the staff in the Academic Innovation Division on Tuesday. My cat and I joined the Armidale WiNG colleagues for a virtual breakfast early Tuesday morning and shared notes around both personal and business survival challenges. On Wednesday, I shared an early morning tea with the Principals of the boarding schools here in Armidale to discuss our various plans to manage the safe return of staff and students. 

Some of you will be saying what no committee meetings! Be assured there were plenty of those (including SET, Finance and Infrastructure, NSWVCCs and a couple of late night trans-hemisphere calls to discuss knowledge partnerships and international recruitment prospects).

The UNE Armidale ducks have discovered the fallen acorns and are foraging madly amongst the leaves, the trees are a glorious tapestry of golden yellows and reds and fungi and moulds of various forms have appeared. The mornings are crisp and slightly foggy with the heat of the day bringing cerulean blue skies. Life is good.

I have a new ebike, a glorious piece of technology which alleviates the burden of pedaling up hill and allows me to amble meaningfully around the New England which is great fun. Musical offerings for this week had to be something vibrant and upbeat to assist with my two wheeled mode of exploration. I have been advised that I need ‘bone induction’ ear-pods if I am to pedal and listen, and the beat of the music (BPM) is a critical factor – who knew! Don’t Stop by Fleetwood Mac seemed a bit of a no brainer!

And, as per routine, make sure you check out the COVID-19 webpage.


Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO


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