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This week I was a brave (if slightly nervous) explorer – I flew to Sydney and spent three days engaging with government, peer colleagues from the sector, a range of business consultants and the team at UNE Sydney.

With a new regional flight schedule being offered by Qantas, it was possible to travel south and set up a number of engagements. I did my bit to support the Australian PPE industry and purchased bulk quantities of N95 face masks and additional hand sanitiser and wipes, thus my luggage weight was higher than usual given these additional safety supplies – sadly, the emergency box of Maltesers had to be ditched.

With fellow Vice-Chancellors, I was involved in the ongoing discussions around options for the return of international students and how their re-engagement with their peers and in-country study experience might be re-engineered. The reported levels of interest in what I have termed the ‘international ark’, by all parties in a managed early return that includes quarantine arrangements, is high and the support from wider industry is also a very positive part of the discussions. 

The progress of our discussions with industry and business partners around the proposed expansion of Tamworth also featured in my Sydney engagements. We have hosted a number of thematic workshops across the last few months which have brought to the surface opportunities for their engagement with the co-creation of curriculum and the development of placebased education across a range of options. The consultants are assisting us with developing an updated business case so that we can be confident of our approach and make informed representation to the appropriate authorities for support. Plans of this type require a range of different investment approaches, from capital investment for new infrastructures to funding support for recruitment and operation developments. UNE must be quite clear that we can add value across the whole platform and utilise the processes we are developing to also add value to our operations in Armidale and Sydney.

My time in Sydney was also linked to the recent development by UNE of a programme for young entrepreneurs in collaboration with the UNE Smart Region Incubator (SRI) and NBN Co. This new initiative is an important part of our contributions to the regional economy and the support UNE is providing through the ‘learning region’ concept to assist in driving the innovation levers for New England and the wider communities of NSW. Discussions with various agencies about how this type of effort might be developed further as part of our contribution to a suite of micro-credentials to energise interest in educational offerings across those who might not be comfortable with the conventional entry to higher education.

The topic of supporting Higher Education as part of the leverage for economic recovery and growth was also the dominant topic of conversation with various representative of NSW government and related agencies. The effort being expended to consider the type of collaborative initiatives which need to be developed is not insignificant and requires us all to be forward looking and creative. After months focusing almost exclusively on COVID-19 response management, the shift in horizons is notable.  UNE is preparing for the next phase of our emergency management plans, with a major move back to our campuses, and regeneration a key focus. UNE’s future is dependent not only on managing the operational challenges created by the pandemic but also funding revenue models with a strong reciprocal dimension to align with our ‘Town with Gown’ mantra.

My Sydney adventure concluded with a long walk with the team from UNE Sydney as we explored possible property options to address the need created by a compulsory purchase notice on part of our existing provision as the city developments progress. One is struck by the scale of the capital infrastructure developments being undertaken across Parramatta and the opportunities which are likely to emerge for UNE as the new transport, cultural and sports aligned facilities come on stream. The visit reinforced my views that we need to be brave and bold in developing our new Sydney strategy, to support our international partnership ambitions and in terms of our commitment to support this through education and engagement. All very exciting!

I landed back in Armidale on Wednesday evening, a little tired and ready for my two minute hot shower. I discovered that, in addition to coping with the challenges of the invisible enemy, the process of navigating escalator and stairs, on and off trains and walking through umpteen different doors is not a trivial thing with a clipped wing.  Here one reflects on the need to remember the big challenge of the physical world and always think about access as we walk around our own campuses.

The other priorities this week were clearly consideration of the latest cyber-security dynamics profiled by the Prime Minister and the launch of the UNE 21+ open conversation. I know from my own email accounts how active and creative the antagonistic phishing is and the attendant vulnerabilities of a large open organisation – we must all be reminded to be vigilant and diligent. The launch of the UNE 21+ conversation is a major milestone for UNE. It has been designed to work as an open process which encourages the widest possible engagement from staff, students and alumni as well as our wider community. My job is to now encourage one and all to participate and share their thoughts and ideas. 

Join the UNE 21+ conversation
My week finished with a series of board meetings, both internal and external, including Council Committees. Audit and Risk provided an opportunity to review our business performance functions and the further development and embedding of quality and improvement actions. Finance and Infrastructure focused, as it must, on COVID-19 mitigation issues. I also joined ANSTO and participated in ARDAC. The midyear business review of all organisations clearly exposes how deep and painful the impact of the coronavirus has been, and also the energy of all as they work through the problems and author reform and recovery initiatives.

I feel I have missed some meals this week just because I have been busy in a particular context. Whist starvation is a long way off – I am aware that I am looking forward to a gastronomic exploration of the eateries in Armidale and New England this weekend. Almond croissant, boutique pizza and possibly a cocktail with nibbles come to mind. There are a myriad of emerging social options as the ‘soft opening’ of the New England continues and I have plans for a walk somewhere beautiful and a visit to the amazing re-opened NERAM. Hopefully your plans are equally focused on health and wellbeing as we emerge somewhat ‘hedgehog like’ from hibernation…


Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO