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As the UNE ‘return to campus’ plans unfold, we are reminded this week of the need to maintain vigilance and act with caution and care in the company of others. 

The Parramatta team are gearing up for the managed return of full services over the next few weeks if local conditions allow. The report of a second wave crashing across Melbourne and provoking new restrictions is a reminder for us all to be restrained in some measure when we step out into the big wide world. Students returning to Armidale and Tamworth this week have been joyous at their release; they are enjoying the uplift in their social lives and are anxious to get on with the studies. Our online students have maintained a steady level of engagement with shared experiences overlaying queries about T2 study options. This week the rhythm of life on our campuses also up-ticked with more staff returning under the stage 1 planning. The first of our ‘welcome back’ coffee mornings was well supported and provided an opportunity for senior team members and staff to catch up – the catering teams are to be congratulated for working out how to manage a safely shared muffin and the distribution coffee vouchers.

Having envisaged a week of routine engagements across a diverse range of topics, it quickly turned into a Zoom-fest focused around discussions of Minister Tehan’s proposals for Tertiary Education Funding across teaching and research. These reforms are in part designed to be enabling of the recommendations of the 2019 Napthine Education Review of Remote, Rural and Regional Australia. As per usual, in these situations there are institutions that will benefit from the proposed reforms and those who will suffer a shift in their overall funding across the next four to five years. The national dialogue through the University sector is intense, given the overlaying issues which COVID-19 has triggered. Consequently, the number of meetings with advisors, ministers and officials have ramped up so that all opinions and thoughts can be placed on the table – the calculations are deeply complex as you might expect and small adjustments make a big difference to the allocated funding.

The week was not all Zoom and gloom; I joined the Faculty of Medicine and Health executive to discuss what is needed to support their plans for progress and how they might grasp key opportunities, given all the options that they have to consider. I was also a participant in two of the online forums for ‘Academic Excellence’ which kicked off this week as part of the UNE 21+ Strategic Plan Conversations. I am uplifted by how many people have logged in to engage and by the focus groups forming around the hosted conversations. There will certainly be no cause for people to claim that they have not had the opportunity to be involved.

Looking forward was also a feature of my time spent with the Place-based Education Task Force. Discussions around options for a new location in Sydney are reaching a critical decision point. Details of a potential new study centre in Adelaide, to support transnational engagement with India, are now on the table. There is also work to be done in conceptualising how we engage with Taree given the recent approval of a new Regional Universities Study Centre; it was a pleasure to welcome senior industry members of the Taree Universities Campus Steering Group to Armidale to showcase some of UNE’s facilities.

Our discussions with Tamworth Regional Council and NSW Government around the expansion of our offerings in Tamworth is also very much on point – in this instance our emerging plans around industry embedded education have captured the imagination of both UNE staff and industry stakeholders. A review of the UNE Armidale STEM Precinct plan also figured in part of this week’s agenda, the provisional plans now require updating so that we can progress to developing the business case.

In the middle of all of this, it remains a matter of daily concern to monitor our budgets and unpick all the underlying elements so that I can be confident UNE will be able to plan forward for this year and all that follows. UNE is not immune to the economic burdens of the pandemic and, with the likely extension of restrictions and associated business risks, managing through the immediate and longer term issues is not a trivial exercise. Here again different parts of the Tertiary Education sector (Regional Universities Network, NSW Vice-Chancellor’s Committee etc.) come together on an almost daily basis to share information and work through key problems. This progressive lowering of the interfacial energy between organisations and institutions is one positive outcome of recent months.

I walked the Wollomombi Falls track last weekend – a great stretch of the legs in the winter sunshine with layers of green moss, fungi and winter flowering plants all there to lift the spirits. 

I also acquired a professional kitchen blow torch (!) so my plans for this weekend include (as ever) food – incinerated in some carefully artistic, chef-like manner. Australia Post have also advised that my new ice-cream maker is Armidale-bound, so I am planning another walk to offset the effects of consuming too much home-made dairy product.  

My arm is now free from the sling which has kept it safe for some weeks. The hard task of recovery is now ahead as the fracture mineralises and I work on regaining muscle strength. At this stage, the weight of an appropriate social beverage carefully raised at repeat intervals is a critical exercise.

Whatever your choice of distraction and relaxation, enjoy the break over the weekend; stay safe, stay well and stay apart!


Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO