Notes from the VC’s Desk: Direct from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brigid Heywood
Notes from the VC’s Desk
Friday, 21st May, 2021
A year ago I spent my working week in the UNE Dixon Library, in an office on my own, connecting only through Zoom. In contrast, this week I spent most of my time travelling from point a to point b, trying to politely avoid shaking hands with people.
A big push this week to get the vision document for the STEM Precinct project completed – the plan to shape the purpose and define the scope of our future investment in infrastructure to upgrade UNE’s ageing estate and develop opportunities for growth. Now to be formally launched as STEM_Q – the mapping of a pan regional STEM Quarter, centred around and connected to our Armidale campus. The working group were collectively relieved and excited to see this activity completed; step one in a ten year plan.
The Funding Deed for UNE Tamworth finally arrived from the NSW Government so a part of the week was focused on collating all our Tamworth information into one place. Whilst it does seem that all of these matters take such a long time we are still ahead of schedule; the first UNE Tamworth students have just completed their initial work-integrated experience and our industry tutors are very much on board.
After my Monday meetings I headed south to Sydney and transferred my place of work to a hotel room. The Executive meeting this week was busy (nothing new) with discussions around reforecasting the budget as we gather data on T1 and T2 load. I know we all feel nothing is following the usual life patterns at the moment and that is certainly true of recruitment. T1 load started lower than predicted but recovered within the envelope of the funding cap; the balance of continuing vs commencing students and competitive pitch of other institutions all laying down different patterns from previous years. T2 is proving equally if not more challenging with interesting factors like the gender ratio of applicants, the impact of the 2021 Job Ready Graduates funding model and the external/internal ratios introducing other variants. We now have some 83% of our students enrolled as external candidates in some form.
A meeting with the NSW Ministers for Education and the Treasurer featured big in the week as the VCs group met with them to review progress of the Higher Education Strategy, consider the details of plans to support the return of international students once conditions allow for an uplift in the state cap of ‘fortress Australia’ and share ideas around proposals for new Institutes of Technology across the state.
A team of UNE staff also joined me for a meeting with the group working on benchmarking regional Universities both locally and globally. As we develop the case for partnership co-funding of our emerging initiatives and pitch for growth, we will be better served if we can define the success of UNE on a scale which recognises the particular role of regional universities, not just the plus and minus of our role in comparison to the Go8 institutions, for example.
In the middle of all of this I also met with a large group of UNE Professors, including those affiliated specifically with the UNE Chapter of the national organisation. Topics in the mix were scholarship, research and the leadership contribution through mentorship that our senior academic staff might make in supporting promotions this year. A ‘call to arms’ if you will, to help support junior colleagues navigate their career paths. The fact that my mailbox soon started pinging with offers to step up was most pleasing and will be good news for those seeking academic recognition this year. This week’s UNE In Conversation focused on the UNE Academic and the 2021 Academic Careers Week kicks off next week.
Whilst waiting for my flight north on Wednesday evening I enjoyed a wicked but delicious bitter caramel tart and cup of tea at the airport and sorted out the large pile of papers which had accumulate in my briefcase during Sydney travels. Upside of Zoom – it appears to be the lower quantum of paper that attaches so readily to one’s life.
Thursday was defined by a quick flurry of morning meetings, telephone interviews, more travel to attend a social event and then dinner with Council. I also signed copies of a thesaurus I am donating to the young citizens who participated in our recent English literacy outreach program and participated in an interview with one of the national news reports, they were interested in the regional perspective and how the opportunities of demographic shifts might be realised. The prevailing model still seems to be that of developing a monolithic industry presence by offering critical incentives and support – it used to be mining, steel making, car building etc, now solar power and hydrogen production; what next I wonder? I am an unashamed advocate of incentivising diversity from day one – slower initial growth perhaps but longer term builds more resilient communities and stronger employment opportunities.
UNE Councillors hosted a meet and greet with the Tamworth Regional Council and representatives from Tamworth University Steering group collective, visited the Tamworth SRI with its amazing founders on hand to welcome us and then put our heads down to the business of a big agenda. Shaping the new campus masterplan, strategic investment in critical technical infrastructure and the progress of the 2021 budget in the context of implementing Time for Change and responding to COVID-19 all featured in our discussions. Council members also toured AELEC and the Sports Dome, where UNE has new industry embedded classrooms. One of the critical highlights of the meeting was Council’s endorsement of the new Student Consultative Committee Terms of Reference and Constitution; a student led initiative presented to Council by some of our students. They were happy, so was I – a great piece of work and a great step forward.
As the sun started to set I headed up the New England Highway with the Chancellor acting as chauffeur. A meeting-free weekend ahead of me with birthday cake and a Zoom-party with my distant family and friends. Happy birthday to me!
Professor Brigid Heywood
Vice-Chancellor & CEO