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This has been one of those weeks when my inner ‘swan’ featured more than other latent genetic ancestry.  With some 60 odd per cent of shared avian DNA ruffling my proverbial feathers, I was overwhelmed by a sense of gentle gliding across critical and known issues, whilst also paddling madly to keep up with the unexpected. No frenetic ambling about searching for grubs and worms though – nice people delivered ‘bread’ (actually small round crunchy chocolate covered balls) whilst I fretted in various ways about the tasks to be done and those as yet unknown but looming…

In truth, vast amounts of information processing to be done this week and a lot, I mean a lot, of committee papers to work through. I also spent a fair bit of time following the debate on the proposed Higher Education Reforms – compelling and depressing in equal measure. With support drifting away, the Reforms will now struggle to secure sufficient support to give them purpose. Not sure what plan B looks like and thus all very depressing. The announcement of $326M of additional places was therefore the good news highlight of this week.

In the midst of a lot of paper work there have been moments of relief. Morning tea with Minister Payne who was here to recognise and celebrate the brilliant work UNE does with ACIAR around international leadership and development. The opportunity to gather (safely) on the Booloominbah lawns was something of a treat. 

Time spent with business leaders from across NSW discussing innovation models to underpin economic recovery was both fruitful and enlightening. The recognition of the role universities could and should play in economic recovery and growth is very much in focus now. The opportunity to talk about the UNE Tamworth model as one exemplar of how it might be done going forward proved useful. The fact that we can also demonstrate significant impactful contributions through UNE Armidale and our much lauded CRC programs and related effort was another valuable point of reference. and the UNE SRI invited me to join their Steps2Grow pitch night – this proved to be a real highlight of the week. Listening to the young entrepreneurs who have progressed their ideas over the past weeks was so uplifting. More so because instead of focusing on technology and widgets, they more often sought to address social inequities created through disability, mental health issues, access and the various challenges of equitable social engagement. Another common theme was the creation of a small business that addressed individual needs without losing sight of the requirement to understand wider market opportunity. The commitment of and the contributions of their staff as mentors and advisors over the lifetime of the program demands a shout out too. 

I would be less than honest if I did not say that my feathers were a little ruffled by a series of orchestrated complaints posted through various portals this week. As an academic I have been well trained in gathering data and making an informed evidence-based case. Open minded debate and meaningful engagement to secure an agreed mutually beneficial outcome are, for me, the defining characteristics of a civil society and universities should hold themselves accountable to those standards. As noted in earlier thought pieces, I am struggling with the wilful and vexatious use of disinformation, innuendo and fake news. These practices serve but a few and harm many. I am too often the provider of Kleenex, comfort and reassurance to those who have been unnecessarily burdened by these behaviours. My determination to review, resolve and improve how we all communicate on key a matter is undiminished.
Feather Friends (UNE 2020) by Elizabeth Taylor
As ever I close the week counting my ‘worms’ (read here blessings!); I am lucky indeed to be doing something I love for most of the time, surrounded by gifted and talented people who share both a passion and an interest in education broadly and UNE in particular. 

After a failed attempt last week to bury myself under the duvet and binge watch movies my plan for the long weekend includes (1) determined attack on the vegetable garden at Trevenna; (2) watch Ammonite; and (3) the purchase of new swimsuit, whilst listening of course to the music of Helen Reddy.


Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO