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

Published On July 3, 2020 | By Connor | General News, Latest News, News, Notes from the VC's Desk
This has been one of those pivot weeks. The return to campus plan has come into operation and here at Armidale students have popped up all over the place and staff are once again visible (in the Café having coffee) as we migrate to the next level in a phased return process. 

The international students, who have worked patiently through this difficult time, have made good use of the re-opened Dixson Library and the additional facilities in ITD. I have met with domestic students at both Armidale and Tamworth (during my visit to the Study Centre on Tuesday) who have returned to use our facilities to engage and take forward their studies. The openness of all in sharing their experiences of lock down and reflecting on how their studies have progressed is truly inspiring! 

The Tamworth University Strategic Group met in the city this week to review progress with our business case development and to reflect on the outcomes of the various sector-based industry workshops we have been hosting. The feedback is more than positive and opportunities for UNE to co-develop new curriculum with different industry partners is one of the emerging highlights for me. Our proposed model for developing industry facing education hubs is also resonating strongly with Tamworth leaders as the concept matures and we foster the idea of a new kind of university model where our education and research are embedded with industry; creating a place-based innovation ecosystem.

Innovation models have been a highlight of this week. UNE has just hosted over 12,000 online exams and the ongoing commitment of all UNE staff to develop and deliver the best possible education, despite a whole range of challenging circumstances, is just incredible. This scaled pilot has also raised questions about the place and purpose of exams and assessment in a modern context and I am very excited by the conversations which have started around shifting our model to create a new assessment paradigm. Feedback from students has been very positive but their comments must also provoke a dialogue around a more progressive approach.

Another exciting innovation is the work being done by key staff in HASSE to develop methods for refugee and new migrant integration into regional communities. The use of the sports and exercise as a medium through which to build social connectivity, support well-being and create strong community focused alliances is exciting work being successfully piloted through UNE with Commonwealth funding. This ‘Town with Gown’ approach is an exemplification of UNE breaking conventional boundaries to resolve problems and develop practical evidence based solutions which benefit our region. The feedback from our Yazidi colleagues here in Armidale leaves no doubt about the positives to be drawn from this programme.

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Another form of critical feedback is the process of assessing the status of our COVID-19 response. The recent Pulse survey has proved to be a good window for highlighting what has worked well and where we need to re-engineer what we do to better support staff and students. For example, UNE managed to support staff in the migration to working at home but it was clear that we were not fully prepared for dual site working in terms of technical resources. ITD did an amazing job but UNE could not always resolve the issues of connectivity and resource provision (e.g. printing, duplicate desks etc.) in a manner consistent with individual expectations. These are the questions to be resolved as we re-engage with designing the ‘new normal’. The Pulse feedback also highlighted the success of the overall COVID-19 communications strategy but also reminded me that at a time of challenge people need repeat messaging. Staff also want to see all of the executive, rather than just be assured they are working behind the scenes to keep the organisation safe and productive. Equally the feedback reflects the need to make more visible the operational demands of the business under a range of circumstances – a view that the individual needs of staff are not understood or considered must be challenged. 

This question of perspectives and lines of sight has been on much of my mind this week.  News from across the global theatre creates layers of anxiety when you read about the various cultural, social, political and economic challenges which are being foregrounded. Whilst COVID-19 has brought out the very best in people and communities, it has also fostered a different kind of focus on self and our responsibility to care for all, hear their voices and recognise their contributions. Damien Hirst was provoked to reflect on the value and purpose of a caring, sharing connected community and I have decided to use his ‘free’ butterfly rainbow to iterate the message.

As I close this week’s notes, I would like to invite all staff returning to work at each stage over the coming months to join the Senior Executive Team and I for a coffee and delicious treat – the first of these for Stage 1 returning staff will be at 11am next Wednesday 8 July in the Stro. If you’re on campus, please come up to collect your goodie bag and coffee voucher! Staff who have been on campus for the last couple of weeks or months are of course welcome to join. It will be wonderful to reconnect with colleagues at a socially appropriate distance!

As ever, be safe and look out for those who need our support.

Sincerely,

Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO

UNE

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