Sunday, June 27, 2010

It all started here

I like to think that we inspired Julia Gillard… A month ago, in Mackay, when the now PM graciously opened our new Technology and Information Resources Centre we encouraged her to seize the moment and be what she wanted to be….

The sudden shift in leadership, of course, reminds me of how things can quite literally change overnight… I expect, however, little will differ in policy on the higher education front. Chatter is that Steven Smith – the current Foreign Minister and former Shadow Minister for Education and Training in the last years of the Howard Government – could take over the Education portfolio. We’ll know for sure, I expect in the coming days…
Despite, or perhaps in spite of these and other unknowns, I’m resolved that CQUniversity determine its own future; that we seize the moment, as it were, and go where we want to go and be what we want to be. Clearly – after talking to people all over the uni for the last 10 months and people outside the organisation who have an interest in our development – all of us we want to be of more service to our communities and have more mutually beneficial relationships with individuals and organisations in the places in which we live and work.
I was in Gladstone twice this week interviewing candidates for the Dean of Engineering & Built Environment and the PVC Research/Head of Campus positions, both of whom will be posted in Gladstone. Clearly these two positions are largely about increasing our level of services to industry and building more robust research capability within the organisation. From my estimation, these appointments and all Deans of Schools and Heads of Campus across CQUni have the most crucial leadership and engagement roles in our organisation. Deans and HOCs if you’re reading this blog -- no pressure at all…
I continue to believe that one of the best ways to service our communities and have more mutually beneficial relationships with individuals and organisations is to expand down the Dual Sector path. I’ve spoken again this week with many government officials and representatives, central Queensland industry and community stakeholder, members of the media and university colleagues… There’s seems to be momentum developing and a consensus forming that Dual Sector operations here would be enormously beneficial to Central Queenslanders. It’s reassuring to me that we’re getting support from many corners…
For now, we’ll continue down this path and I’ll keep you posted on our progress. Stay tuned. As we know, thing can develop overnight….


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

When you see a fork in the road, take it

That’s sage advice, I think. There’s no doubt that the higher education road ahead will be pock-marked with “under construction” signs, with more on-and-off ramps being built, increased areas of merging traffic , and more Driver Reviver spots installed as the Australian government moves to increase traffic flow, accommodate different vehicles and enable more “drivers” to access higher education during their education journey.

The fork ahead of which I write, however, is not a fork that diverges and directs traffic in separate ways. My GPS tells me it’s not a bypass or a run-around, but a different pathway that could extend our University beyond its main part; adding, developing and multiplying what we do to enable more Central Queenslanders to get where they want to go and be what they want to be.

The term used in Australia for this structure is dual sector higher education, which I believe, will become more common and desirable among Australian universities. Five universities already operate in this fashion (Charles Darwin, Swinburne, RMIT, Ballarat and Victoria University.) And dual-sector seems, to me, an area in which federal and state governments, given common goals of increased access and participation, would welcome more activity.

Think of it as a cross-over uni – our University could be more flexible, less conventional and better tuned for the evolving work requirements and lifestyle of Central Queenslanders.

Dual sector means we could give more Central Queenslanders manoeuvring in and out of careers more optimism, more options, and more opportunities.

And, if you excuse the continuing automotive analogy, we could put more, better-skilled drivers on the road.

So, what makes a dual sector entity? The five I mentioned here teach and have large numbers of students in each Vocational Education & Training and Uni – some hovering around 50/50 in terms of student load; they conduct research and they offer awards up to PhDs. Other universities, too, have offered vocation-level educational programs for decades including English language preparation, on a smaller scale. There are different models too, here and overseas, in which traditional VET providers and private operators offer degrees.

To some extent we operate in this space around the fringes, through partnerships with other organisations, our own enabling programs and Pathways, the federally funded projects designed to get people into mining careers based at Gladstone and Mackay. Professional Development, an area in which we operated in years ago (Direct Edge) is back on the agenda, too.

Why build-up our dual sector presence? I could write a paper on this (in fact we have commissioned a detailed report and analysis by my office which will be available in the coming months) but some of the short reasons are:

  • Dual sector broadens accessibility to CQUni (we want uni to be more attainable), which operates in communities which appear to be more active in training and skilling for requirements of local industry
  • Dual sector maximises ease and opportunities for students to take full advantage of the education /training spectrum
    Dual sector fits within our existing Renewal Plan in which CQUniversity will – within 5 years – become a strong regional university meeting the needs of its communities ; and, within 10 years, a university that is well respected and one that is a role model to other universities throughout the world
The Renewal Plan also specifically refers to strategies that fit with the notion of dual sector:
  • Continue to develop links with local and other TAFEs
  • Move from being a multi-campus university to a multi-city university. Campuses in Mackay, Bundaberg and Gladstone must be developed. They will move from being feeder campuses to being campuses on an equal footing with Rockhampton – delivering to the needs of their communities.
  • Promote engagement at all levels – until CQUniversity becomes known as Australia’s most engaged university.
  • Take a leading role in the development of the HE sector in Australia

I have no doubt that we will be working more in the dual sector space. How we make that transition and what forms a ‘real’ dual sector university in Queensland are unknown factors at this time and areas which we are exploring.

We’ll be looking to our colleagues at other institutions, consulting with government and community stakeholders and learning more from each other as we discuss the challenges and opportunities that dual sector presents.

One option I don’t see is us pulling off the highway and onto the shoulder to watch the traffic go by.