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

Published On September 6, 2020 | By Amy | General News, Latest News, News, Notes from the VC's Desk

 

My week was due to start with a journey to Sydney and then time spent catching up around Parramatta, with NSW Government officers and with fellow VCs. The increased COVID risk around the Sydney CBD required a change of plans so spent the time connecting using the ‘old technology’ of Zoom as opposed to the interesting new process of ‘space to space’ human contact.

The first part of my week also included a reflection on the outcome of Council subcommittees – Audit & Risk and Finance & Infrastructure from the previous week. After multiple attempts to get key processes relating to project management and risk profiling resolved as an embedded part of how we operate, Council has agreed to support a more holistic engaged approach. This will involve work to secure appropriate systems support which is now underway. Given what we hope to achieve through Time for Change and the launch of UNE21+, the development of and investment in, quality business support systems and the release of resource is a critical part of what needs to be done. 

With VC colleagues from across the State, I committed time to discussing the ongoing issues and challenges that we are all trying to resolve as we work our way through a tectonic shift in the design and operation of Universities. All institutions are experiencing financial challenges which require the re-profiling of business operations in some way or another. Plans laid over the last decade must be re-calibrated and re-designed to accommodate the new ‘normal’. Given the poor line of sight recovery and re-start, all are pursuing conservative approaches. On reflection UNE has maintained a better balance than most – we are not slashing our research programmes despite the considerable investment we make each year over and above block grant funding. We have been able to develop a plan for cost reduction and progress a measured programme for change, rather than just pull out critical base costs and adopt a survival posture. The landscape is challenging for us all but feedback across UNE highlights the strong engagement with and support for the majority in our future plans.

I approached the prospect of a day locked in a Zoom room with advisors and consultants with little enthusiasm if truth be told and made sure a life supporting supply of Maltesers were close to hand. The box remained closed; I was drawn into rich conversations about what makes UNE different and our ambitions to better connect across the state to support economic recovery. With points of engagement in Tamworth, Taree and Moree all linking to our base in Armidale, as well as our contribution to the growing network of regional and country study centres plus our node in Sydney, we are now one of the most connected and most distributed Universities across NSW. The way in which we move forward to strengthen the regional profile of our research and teaching, and realise opportunities from linkages into key national growth pivots such as the Western Sydney Aerotropolis are critical dimensions of our UNE21+ discussions. The effort invested in building relationships and working out how UNE can help others solve their problems is proving worthwhile as more agencies reach out to promote conversations with us. 

Time for Change – Update 
 11.30am Thursday 10 September
 
Staff can join the webinar via Zoom here (password 781407).
The webinar will also be recorded and loaded to the UNE in Conversation webpage for those who cannot join live.
 
During the Q&A session, staff can type questions in the Q&A area. Staff can also submit questions, comments, observations, etc. ahead of time via email to media@une.edu.au.  
 
Please submit your feedback regarding the proposed changes to the workforce and organisational restructuring on the Time for Change website.
Resolving the accommodation issues around our Sydney study centre and placing UNE at the heart of Parramatta as the city expands is another challenge. Being clear about how we differentiate what we do from other providers and making sure that we leverage the distinctive capabilities of UNE to best effect is not a trivial exercise. The impact of COVID on our international student recruitment has been most keenly felt in Sydney and demands that UNE designs forward with resilience and sustainability at the forefront of decision making whilst honouring and protecting the commitments we have made.

Some will have noticed that power supplies at UNE Armidale were a bit unstable this week; let me reassure you that we have paid the electricity bill! The Solar Farm is close to operational completion and the testing process is progressing to ensure that we take best advantage from this development as it comes online. 

I visited another solar farm as part of my engagements this week; the live tracking solar facility at Moree is one of the largest of these facilities to be situated in NSW. I also toured the new water ski park and a range of other innovative industrial developments being considered as part of the Moree Special Activation Precinct proposals. The morning finished with a quick review of the UNE SRI Hub being located in Moree where a new generation of entrepreneurs will be fledged. 

This was all very exciting but even more so were my meetings with UNE students based in Moree and those connecting from further afield through the Country Universities Centre (CUC) network. From Moree, we had a virtual ‘party’ and shared experiences of studying during COVID, coping with major changes in study models and the shape shifting of life to accommodate working and studying from home over the last few months. The value of the CUCs was clear and the value of their partnership with UNE was made fully, and sometimes emotionally, visible in the stories that our students shared. I was very proud of the role that UNE plays in so many lives to empower, support and enable success through education and all that follows. In partnership with the CUC we lift the tyranny of distance and create amazing valued opportunities. Madgwick would be very proud to see how his vision has been realised.

And so my week finished with the team heading south over green pastures of the Northern Tablelands, watching the sunset paint the sky over Armidale and the New England. As the spring temperatures rise, it is time to shed the fleece jackets and merino leggings and venture out more. My plans for this weekend include, as always, some adventure in the wilderness, morning coffee with friends and a kitchen challenge involving cabbage. I have harvested a LOT of cabbages so all ideas welcome…

Sincerely,

Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO

UNE

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